Coachella‘s annual unveiling of its festival lineup has a way of inducing its own special anxiety amongst anyone considered old by Coachella attendee standards (read: anyone born during or before George Bush Sr.’s time in the White House). Band names you’ll flatter yourself you’ve at least heard of (you skipped over one of their songs on a Spotify playlist once, didn’t you?) blare out at you in a big, important font from the second line. Meanwhile, a band you love and hold dearly and cherish the time you drank a few too many Four Loko before seeing live has apparently been relegated to fourth-line status in font so small its only accelerates your fears about induced eyesight loss. “Wait, doesn’t everyone know that band? They racked up three Best New Musics from Pitchfork in a row.” No. As it turns out, only people who went to college circa 2008 really know that band. Genres that once seemed so cool and cutting edge like Dance Punk, Freakfolk, and Bloghouse are basically considered classic rock by Zoomers.
While the traditional graphic design of the yearly Coachella poster has reached iconic (and highly meme-able) status, it also functions as a sort of meter of subjective hipness, with its decreasing font size seemingly marking relevance. So the placement of an act on the poster becomes its own sort of politic, and reviewing this year’s latest poster reveals some instances of curious shade and snubs.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Line: 4 Previous Coachella Appearances: 0
Jepsen is one of the few artists on this year’s bill who can boast a Billboard number-one hit (as Mariah Carey would point out, not everyone has that), but the trajectory of her career is almost unprecedented. She makes crowd-pleasing catchy pop, but nowadays she’s more popular on critics’ year-end lists than that Billboard chart, and she’s more likely to pop up at discerning festivals than her own arena tours.
So being relegated to the fourth line on her first Coachella appearance feels almost sort of pointed. Yes, we understand she’ll probably never appear on Top 40 radio again, but if she can’t get respect here, where is she supposed to get it?
If we really wanted to rile Stan Twitter up, we’d mention it’s ridiculous that Carly is relegated to the fourth line while Marina sits on the second line, but we would, of course, never.
Lana Del Rey
Line: 2 Previous Coachella Appearances: 1
Lana Del Rey has only played Coachella once before, in 2014, where she was billed on the second line. Since then she’s transcended from seeming music blog fad to bonafide respected artist. This year’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! solidified that. It’s up for Album of the Year at the Grammys, debuted at number three on the charts, and wound up in the top spot on numerous publications’ year-end album rankings. If there ever was a year for Lana to headline the festival, this sure seems like it would be the one.
Let’s also not pretend that social media popularity doesn’t count at Coachella. Her 15.5 million followers on Instagram absolutely dwarfs that of actual headliners Frank Ocean and Rage Against the Machine. It’s a curious choice to keep her from the top line this year, especially considering Coachella’s highly documented troubled history when it comes to elevating female acts to headline status.
Line: 2 Previous Coachella Appearances: 4
It’s oft forgot (and forgiven?) now, but Calvin Harris used to make dance punk music with cheeky lyrics that strained to sound like an LCD Soundsystem tribute act. It was during that era he made his first Coachella appearances in 2008 as a lowly fifth-liner. Shortly thereafter, Harris reinvented himself as a more traditional DJ and promoter, rode the EDM wave, met Rihanna, and eventually ended up headlining Sunday night in 2016 (one of the year’s other headliners: ironically, LCD Soundsystem). Harris will return for the first time since then, but he’s knocked back down to line two status. He may still be a marketable festival draw, but the EDM is clearly over.
Line: 4 Previous Coachella Appearances: 4
Last time this British band graced the stage in Indio in 2013, they were a solid second-line act (they’d previously made it to line three twice before). Now, on their return, they’ve been relegated to the fourth line.
Ellen Allien …and Female DJs in General
Line: 0 Previous Coachella Appearances: 8
No one expects Allien to be a household name anywhere outside of Berlin, but she happens to be a pretty big deal there and in the wider world of techno. She’s also one of the most highly respected DJs who happens to be female in the entire world. So inviting her to the festival for the first time and then sticking her on the bottom line like she’s some local band who won a contest seems a little rude.
Then again, Allien is joined on the bottom line by a surprising amount of female DJs (Ela Minus, GG Magree, ONYVAA, and Sara Landry). Did someone in the bookings department just Google “Good Female DJs”, booked them all to appear as a cheap way of warding off gender balance criticism, and then dump them on the open line?
Lil Nas X
Line: 3 Previous Coachella Appearances: 0
This just feels like Coachella hedging its bets that Lil Nas may be remembered as a novelty hit. Yet, the man had the biggest song of the year, so how are we supposed to pretend that Rex Orange County and Louis the Child are actually going to draw bigger crowds?