In case your Instagram feed has spared you and you’ve failed to notice, Coachella 2019’s first weekend has come and gone, bringing us Ariana Grande‘s headlining performance with it. It was also, of course, her attempt to live up to last year’s headliner, Beyoncé, making it no surprise that she called in plenty of backup to the first of her two performances on Sunday night, from Diddy to Nicki Minaj to, as she hinted at on a Instagram of herself singing along to “Tearin’ Up My Heart” a few days earlier, NSYNC. (Well, at least four-fifths of the group—Justin Timberlake, who wrapped up his own tour in Connecticut the night before, apparently couldn’t make it.)
Perhaps because she couldn’t wait to stand in for Timberlake, NSYNC led the many cameos of Grande’s headlining set, starting off with a mashup of “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.” It was no Destiny’s Child reunion, but it definitely marked a milestone for Grande, who apparently has “been rehearsing [her] entire motherfucking life” to join the boy band.
Whereas Beyoncé stuck to custom Balmain for her five costume changes, Grande repeatedly riffed on a combination of flared mini skirts, crop tops, and knee-high platform boots. All, of course, were accented by her signature ponytail, which swung accordingly when Minaj joined her onstage to perform “Side to Side.” (Maybe it was the technical difficulties that cut her off at one point, but Minaj didn’t seem overly enthused to be there: She appeared to forget the words to her verse on “Bang Bang,” and didn’t reappear for their later collab.)
Next up cameo-wise were Diddy and Mase, who joined Grande for a rendition of “Mo Money Mo Problems,” as well as a tribute to Nipsey Hussle, Tupac, Biggie, and Grande’s late ex, Mac Miller. (Things also got emotional earlier in the night, with Grande crying mid-performing her song “Needy.”)
The duo’s appearance marked the last of Grande’s guests, a group that was definitely smaller in size than the full marching band and choir that joined Beyoncé. No shortage of celebrities bore witness to that, but whereas Beyoncé’s A-list fans were mostly taking in her performance from the comfort of their living rooms, a notable number of Grande’s VIPs were there in person. Billie Eilish might not be too familiar with the Spice Girls, but the fact that she was born in 2001 apparently didn’t hamper her awareness of NSYNC: She was spotted dancing to the band along with Justin Bieber, whose interpretation of festival style included a surgical mask.
All in all, it was quite the valiant effort, but definitely a departure from #Beychella—particularly in the choice of tributes, seeing as Beyoncé’s entire set was an homage to black history and culture. The only true parallel between the pop stars’ sets seemed to be their primary shared concern, Coachella or otherwise: a tendency to be very controlling of their images. Extreme as it may seem that Grande barred, presumably among many other publications, the Los Angeles Times from photographing her set, Beyoncé actually set the precedent the year before, when she requested that news outlets only use official photos of her performances. That may have been Grande’s intention as well, but at least the video of Bieber and Eilish is out there for us to enjoy.