Coachella 2018 Was a Sea of Change With Beyonce Leading the Way

For nearly twenty years, thousands have flocked to Indio, California each April and sustained the desert heat for two successive weekends jam-packed with performances from the biggest names in music; it’s the legendary festival known as Coachella. As you’ve probably already heard, this year’s extravaganza was unanimously christened, “Baychella.” Beyonce, who had to cancel last year’s act due to her pregnancy, made it this time around, and managed to eclipse the other myriad artists from around the globe.

At the start of her act, a voice over the speaker, announced the title, “Beyonce Homecoming 2018,” and Queen Bey came out dressed as a bandleader, surrounded by hundreds of dancers, singers, and orchestral musicians. Much of her set was a homage to the culture of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBU’s.) It was filled with the over-the-top, theatrical marching band demonstrations that are famous at such schools, along with skits featuring Black fraternity Kappa probates. Beyonce has announced she will be donating $100,000 to HCBU’s for the 2018-2019 school year, and her performance rung in the news in the biggest way possible. Beyonce is the first black female to headline the festival on the main stage, and her show was appropriately celebratory of everything African American. Her rendition of “Freedom” segued into, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” widely regarded as “the black national anthem.” There was a dance routine to Nina Simone’s “Lilac Wine.” Step squads took over during her numerous costume changes, which were so elaborate as to even include changes of nails. The second weekend featured a whole new wardrobe.

The stunning choreography and the sheer epicness of the production was captured in a YouTube live stream, directed with all the painstaking detail of a Hollywood Blockbuster. This is the same footage that made its way to the screens flanking the stage throughout the act. “Drunk in Love” was a highlight, with Beyonce performing atop a rotating cherry picker, and the crowd losing it completely. The setlist shuttled freely through Bey’s two-decade long career, throwing in snippets of other artists’ songs, such as Juvenille’s “Back That Azz Up,” and Outkast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious.” Hip-hop and R&B’s biggest power couple made an appearance together, as Jay-Z joined her on stage for “Deja Vu,” while Bey’s quirkier sister Solange showed up for “Get Me Bodied.” What eclipsed this all, however, is when Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams took the stage for a Destiny’s Child reunion, performing their 1999 hit, “Say My Name,” and provoking absolute hysteria.

Coachella has traditionally been a predominately  rock-oriented affair. Back in 2004, for example, it featured Radiohead, The Cure, and The Flaming Lips. This year, rock took the backstage, no pun intended, and hip-hop and R&B reigned supreme. Rapper Vince Staples moved up to the main stage this year, and made a joke during his weekend one set, calling it, “the white stage.” Little did he know what was in store ahead of him. Tyler, the Creator, who is touring with Staples, was given the slot before Beyonce’s, and closed out his weekend two set with a guest appearance from A$AP Rocky. Artists from the more trap end of the genre, including superstars Migos as well as Post Malone were, rather oddly, booked at the Sahara stage, normally reserved for electronic acts. Rapper-singer Jidenna made an impact in the Gobi tent, and will likely be upgraded to a different location next year. The biggest hip-hop star turned out, again, to be a female: Cardi B poured an enormous amount of money into her show, and while she couldn’t top Beyonce, her act was one of the flashiest, most high-octane moments. She showed up pregnant and twerking in a TLC-inspired, white jumpsuit. Her star-studded sets featured appearances from Kehlani, 21 Savage, YG, G-Eazy, and Chance the Rapper. Aerialists contorted on stage, and her performance of “Money Bag” was a highlight of both weekends. Eminem was given the coveted closing slot, which turned out to be something of a disadvantage, as Beyonce had already stolen the show. Moreover, Eminem forbade Coachella from broadcasting his set over YouTube, in attempt to retain anticipation for his current tour. There was also much care taken to excite fans for the Coachella performance, with a pop up restaurant called, “Mom’s Spaghetti,” in reference to a lyric from Shady’s hit “Lose Yourself.” Still, it was an impassioned performance from a seasoned artist. 50 Cent came out to perform a few songs, and wreaked havoc, as did Dr. Dre, who showed up to spit his verse on the classic, “Still D.R.E.”

For R&B, The Weeknd was a clear standout, unconcerned with guest appearances, and focused on belting his heart out. He sang songs from his recent EP, “My Dear Melancholy,” which delves heavily into his heartbreak over former girlfriend Selena Gomez. He was caught openly crying during two congs, “Call Out My Name” and “Privilege,” making him simultaneously the butt of many jokes and the most emotionally resonant performer at the festival. Another hit was SZA, who continuously engaged directly with her audience, peppering her late night, main stage slot with little motivational speeches. Kendrick Lamar, who also made an appearance during Vince Staples first set, joined her on the first weekend, for “All the Stars.” Singers Ariana Grande, Kelela, and Kali Uchis were among the numerous other important R&B sensations this year.

For rock, Coachella 2018 might have struck many as a bit of a letdown, although there was still a roster of some serious star power. The legendary David Byrne, always the theatrical performer, performed a colorful set, with much of his new material from “American Utopia.” At one memorable moment, he struck quite a pose, singing while holding a replica of a human heart. Indie sensation St. Vincent played a set, and put on as much of a show as she always does. Many were disappointed that she and Byrne didn’t collaborate at the festival, as they have released an album together before, “Love This Giant.” The biggest rock act was probably A Perfect Circle, who, aside from a few scattered shows, have been missing for fourteen years. Coachella marked only the second performance of their tour in support of their  long-awaited new record, “Eat the Elephant,” and it proved to be an appropriately epic experience for long-term fans. LA punks FIDLAR were another band that stood out, demanding during one song that the mosh pit be turned over exclusively to females.

One of the most memorable performances for many devotees of electronic music was that of French innovator Jean-Michel Jarre, who delivered his set amid a surreal light show. On the dancier side of electronica, Norwegian producer and DJ Kygo stole the show, driving the crowd mad with sets full of illustrious guests. Weekend 1 featured Jamie Foxx and Rita Ora, and ended with Conrad Sewell. Weekend 2 included appearances from Ariana Grande, J Balvin, and SZA. Kygo closed his set with a passionate tribute to the late Avicii, and it’s hard to imagine a more epic ending for EDM. Dubstep, which was ubiquitous just a few years earlier, was markedly absent this time, except for at some liquor tents. The Yuma tent, a mecca for electronic fans, was largely a house and techno event. There were Detroit techno names like Moodymann, Kyle Hall, and the legendary Carl Craig. Long sets of sweaty minimal beats were greeted by many as a welcome change from the “brostep” mania of recent years. German DJ Michael Mayer’s closing set was a definite highlight.  

Of course, any attempt at providing “highlights” of a festival of this scale is an injustice to countless artists.  After Beyonce, one of the biggest stories this year has been that of the Walmart Yodel Boy. 11-year old Mason Ramsey was captured doing exactly what his assigned name suggested, and went viral with over 20 million views. He needed no introduction when he showed up the first weekend, and he landed a spot on the country stage, Stagecoach, weekend 2. Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy followed up to an enthusiastically received performance last year, graduating to the main stage this year. On the more indie side of things, LA family trio Haim also landed a spot on the main stage. BØRNS played a set in a ridiculous Gucci outfit, with short shorts. Honorable mentions go to eccentric synth academic John Maus, Danish electropop producer and songwriter MØ, and  California punkers Oh Sees, who featured two simultaneous drummers.  Needless to say, Beyonce owned the show. Female empowerment and black pride were common themes throughout the festival this year, coming at a time when such themes need to be heard.

Coachella 2018 took place April 13-15 and April 20-22 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, CA.