Last Saturday, Billie Eilish went onstage at Coachella. She had already played the previous weekend before, on April 16, and despite performing in front of tens of thousands of people, she seemed as comfortable as if she were alone in her bedroom. She began to jump like a child jumping on the bed, getting so carried away that she fell over. As she lifted herself up, she reassured the audience: “I just ate shit,” she exclaimed, pointing to the cube that she tripped over. “It was pitch black!”
Eilish, whose career so far seems unstoppable, thus starred in one of the event’s memorable moments. (There were also other kinds of viral incidents, like the video of Paris Hilton being chased by her bodyguard.) Coachella returned to the grounds of the Empire Polo Club, in the town of Indio, three years after its last installment. Like so many other events, the pandemic prevented the festival from returning in 2020 and 2021, and its slogan was “Let’s get back.” In addition to Eilish, the festival featured headliners including Harry Styles, who stole the show on the first weekend alongside the singer Shania Twain, and Swedish House Mafia with the Weeknd, who replaced Kanye West, a last-minute dropout.
According to the organization, the festival attracted some 125,000 people per day over its six days (Friday, Saturday and Sunday of two consecutive weekends). The numbers recall the pre-coronavirus era. The pandemic devastated the live music industry. Coachella, which ended early this Monday, was a test run for the industry’s return–and an opportunity for tens of thousands of young people to renew their Instagram feed with filtered sunset photos.
Reminiscent of an elite high school prom in the desert, Coachella has marked the opening of festival season for years. This year, the sector has seen it as a testing ground to predict the future of the million-dollar industry. After a timid return last year, concerts in the United States are now making a strong comeback. And so far, the live music industry has reasons for some optimism.
If predictions pan out, 2022 will eclipse 2019 as a record year for ticket sales. Just take a look at the programs of venues in cities like New York or Washington, where the lineups could make a multi-genre music festival every night. Performers are eager to make up for lost time. The pandemic is not over, but vaccination appears to have encouraged concert-goers to return.
Some tours have, however, been postponed or canceled, such as that of reggaeton star J Balvin, who alluded to “unforeseen production challenges” caused by the pandemic. Indie legends Superchunk have also changed their mind, this week announcing their tour’s postponement, saying, “When the band are the only masked people in the venue, it’s clear that this stage of the pandemic is going to be around for a while.”
This Coachella will likely also be remembered for the unexpected duets and unlikely appearances. In addition to the Styles-Twain tandem, the festival witnessed the birth of several other pairings: Lizzo joined the Styles concert on the second weekend; the local hero Kendrick Lamar took the stage by surprise during the show of the rapper Baby Keem, who is also his cousin; Eilish brought along the lead singer of the pop punk band Paramore, Hayley Williams; and Colombian Karol G was joined by J Balvin.