With long-rumored headliners Frank Ocean, Travis Scott and Rage Against the Machine, the Coachella 2020 lineup is a contemporary yet familiar combination of several of the festival’s traditional, interchangeable elements. The elusive Ocean is the big get, while Scott reps hip-hop (mandatory in 2020) and Rage checks both the Influential Throwback and Big Rock boxes; even better, their frontman is a rapper. But for all the inevitable online chatter about font sizes on the poster (the genitalia of any festival lineup) and who was robbed (Lil Nas X on line 3?!), one thing stands out.
Female-heavy festival lineups are so 2019.
Yes, there are lots of female-fronted acts performing at Coachella and that’s awesome, but looking at the 10 top-billed artists on each day, Friday’s is 2/10 female, Saturday’s is 3/10, and Sunday’s rockets the XX-chromosome ratio to 4/10. Sure, it’s just a poster, but we say this with love: With no shade to those three headliners, take a look at the world in 2020 and consider the statement and moment a top billing for Lana Del Rey (or an equally empowered and empowering female artist) could have made.
And yes, like sixth-billed Billie Eilish last year, Del Rey could well steal the night and end up a de facto headliner anyway. But after Beyonce’s world-beating “Homecoming” in 2018, Coachella could get a bespoke, mind-blowing set from so many stellar female artists: a Bjork or Dolly Parton or Janelle Monae or Karen O or Mary J. Blige or so many others. No one remembers that the 2018 Grammys — a.k.a. the “Step Up” Grammys — had the most racially and musically diverse nominee list in the show’s history. If “optics” and reading the room means that Lil Nas X — who had the biggest song in the entire world in 2019 — is on line 3, shouldn’t it also mean a female headliner at Coachella every year until quite a few things in this world change?
With that, er, caveat, the 2020 lineup is strong and reflects a keen awareness of popularity and near-impeccable musical taste. Hip-hop and R&B dominate, with rappers Scott, 21 Savage, Lil Nas X, Megan Thee Stallion, Swae Lee, Big Sean, Lil Uzi Vert, Run The Jewels, City Girls, Denzel Curry, Rex Orange County, Brockhampton and YBN Cordae, while Ocean, Summer Walker, Amber Mark, Ari Lennox, Daniel Caesar and Pink Sweat$ hold it down for soul.
In fact, the lineup can be organized like a record store. In the Alternative section is Thom Yorke, FKA Twigs, Weyes Blood, (Sandy) Alex G, 100 gecs, Snail Mail and Yaeji. Those thumping sounds in Dance and Electronic come from Calvin Harris, Disclosure, Fatboy Slim, Duck Sauce, Duke Dumont, Caribou, Floating Points and Flume. Under Alt-Pop are Charli XCX, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kim Petras, Mika and even faith-leaning singer Lauren Daigle, while the small international section includes Latin artists Anitta and Matoma and K-pop’s Bigbang. Over in Esoterica (previously stocked with Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer and electronic pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre) is former Oingo Boingo frontman and film-score titan Danny Elfman. And off in the corner is the threadbare Rock section, with a giant Rage poster towering over Ireland’s up-and-coming Fontaines D.C. and psych-rockers King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard.
But despite the male-heavy inventory at the 2020 edition of the world’s most important music festival, if Rage Against the Machine’s headlining spot inspires 10 or 10,000 young people to form a rock band and yell at the president as loudly as they can, that’s a Coachella for the good.