With Coachella 2023 on the sandy horizon, we look over some of the most memorable performances since it started out in 1999.
Rage Against The Machine: where it all started
It’s cool enough that Killing In The Name Of punk heroes headlined the first ever Coachella – but it’s even cooler what they did next. Hard to imagine now, but when Coachella was starting out, it lost money. A lot of money – Consequence of Sound reported that organisers lost approximately US$850,000, with only 37,000 turning up (by contrast, these days we’re looking at 200,000 attendees). Hey, festivals are expensive.
RATM member Tom Morello told Tuna on Toast in a new interview that Coachella organisers asked for half of their fee back, and that the band were happy to comply with the then “punk-rock promoters” out of solidarity and friendship. Pretty solid behaviour.
Beyoncé reinvents the headline set
There’s not much gushing to do about Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella performance that hasn’t already be done. Becoming the first Black woman to headline Coachella isn’t something she took lightly, and went on to produce one of the most historic, radical performances… possibly at a festival, ever? Five different costumes. 26 songs. Over 100 dancers – and a concert film, Homecoming, which is also well worth the watch.
Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre bring back Tupac
Revolutionary and controversial in equal measures, Tupac’s digital return to the stage at Coachella 2012 – over 15 years after his death in a drive-by shooting – is still one of the festival’s most infamous moments. Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre had Tupac’s mother’s blessing to bring a projection of Tupac on stage to spit Hail Mary and 2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted, but the stunt still sparked debate about using the images of departed artists. It also sparked rumours that Snoop planned to take Tupac’s image on tour with him – something he later debunked. The digital asset has been archived, and only Tupac’s estate now has access, according to ANDSCAPE.
Hayley Williams and Billie Eilish revisit Misery Business
Back in 2018, Paramore’s Hayley Williams denounced Misery Business after receiving criticism for ‘anti-feminist’ lyrics (to be fair, “once a wh*re, you’re nothing more” didn’t even slap back in 2007, and has dated pretty terribly). Anyway, despite Hayley’s best efforts to quash it, the track regained popularity on TikTok (in part due to comparisons with Olivia Rodrigo’s Good 4 U, but that’s another story…). Anyway, Billie Eilish invited Hayley to perform with her at Coachella last year’s Coachella (though she opted to skip over the song’s most controversial lyric)... and now the song’s officially got a place back in Paramore’s tour setlist. I guess it’s… vintage now?
Morrissey gets mad
13 words for you. “I can smell burning flesh, and I hope to god it’s human”. Morrissey in 2009, everyone.
Prince covers Radiohead’s Creep
An honorable mention goes to Prince’s performance at Coachella, not just because it’s a dazzling 8 minute cover, and not just because he charged an unprecedented fee of $4.8 million for the performance – but also because of the scandal caused when a fan uploaded a video of his Creep cover.
Long story short, Prince’s team pulled all copies of the performance off the internet, before Radiohead’s Thom Yorke weighed in, asking an interviewer: “Really? He’s blocked it?...Surely we should block it. Hang on a moment. Well, tell him to unblock it. It’s our song.” Anyway, all disagreements were smoothed out, the video now lives on, and Prince eventually tweeted an NME article which featured it (probably why it’s now at over 12m views).
Are you exhausted? I’m exhausted.
Björk makes history
It’s unclear why it took until 2007 for a woman or non-binary person to headline Coachella, but shade aside, Björk was a very cool place to start. She dominated the Saturday slot, bringing almost an hour and a half of avant garde greatness to the desert. Snippets are available on YouTube and well worth a watch, if only to whet your appetite for her return to the Coachella stage in 2023 with an ‘orkestral’ set, spanning her 30 years discography.
BLACKPINK pop off (and will pop off once more)
OK, while we’re taking note of history-making Coachella moments – this year BLACKPINK will be the first ever Korean act (not to mention K-Pop act) to headline Coachella, and the first girl group to headline Coachella. But it’s not the first time they played the festival – you can see their inaugural appearance on YouTube for a taste of what’s to come. And it’s… utterly iconic? Long overdue? Completely perfect? Etc.