Tuesday, 3rd October 2023
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Coachella globalizes in step with international music trends

The original 1999 Coachella lineup was decidedly oriented towards rock acts and full of white men, but today, the premier music festival's lineup is more diverse and international than ever.

People walk by the “Molecular Cloud” installation by Vincent Leroy during the first weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, on April 16, 2023. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) / /

The original 1999 Coachella lineup was decidedly oriented towards rock acts and full of white men, but today, the premier music festival’s lineup is more diverse and international than ever.

The 2023 edition of the massive desert festival is a showcase of global talent, with more than half of the performing artists hailing from outside the United States, including artists from Puerto Rico, South Korea, Belgium and Pakistan.

The centring of genre-spanning music performed in a variety of languages highlights the US industry’s evolving response to global tastes, as streaming and social media offer obvious metrics on what’s popular, and profitable.

Bad Bunny, the Puerto Rican reggaeton master and the world’s biggest star, headlined the weekend’s opening night with an adrenaline-pumping performance that paid homage to Caribbean music’s influential lineage and had his fans screaming with delight.

On Saturday night, the K-pop megastars BLACKPINK put on one of the weekend’s buzziest shows — and made history as the first Asian act to headline the festival — with tens of thousands of revellers descending on the main stage for a bombastic set of pop bangers preceded by a mesmerizing, drone-powered light show and punctuated by pyrotechnics.

For CedarBough Saeji, a professor of Korean and East Asian studies who specializes in K-pop, the festival lineup emphasizing the hottest acts from across the globe is long overdue.

And when it comes to K-pop, “we’ve reached a point where the ongoing public demand for K-pop… is clear, even to people who may be watching the financial bottom line much more than they’re watching trends,” she said.

“America’s a very large music market, there’s a lot of people there,” Saeji continued. “It’s a very, very important tastemaker — but world cultural flows have shifted.”

“You don’t have to be American to be the top group in the world.”

– ‘A new trip’ –
Major artists, including Spain’s Rosalia, Iceland’s Bjork and Nigeria’s Burna Boy received top billings on the festival’s main stage, while India’s Diljit Dosanjh and Pakistan’s Ali Sethi drew large crowds to their high-energy sets.

“When I saw those brown faces in their best, sort of like, South Asian regalia with a twist, it gave me so much courage,” Sethi told AFP following his set.

For “those of us who are coming from other places, coming from other traditions, who are speaking languages — musical languages, visual languages, and literally languages that haven’t been heard here before — that Coachella welcomes us and has us here, it’s a new trip.”

Sethi was already wildly popular prior to his Coachella performance: his song “Pasoori” was Google’s most searched song in 2022 and boasts more than half a billion views on YouTube.

According to scholar Saeji, the internet has played a vital role in “levelling the playing field.”

“The internet is the reason why worldwide audiences have so much more awareness now of artists coming out of countries that aren’t traditional hegemons,” she said.

“I predict that no matter how much the US music industry may try to continue to try to gatekeep, eventually, we’re going to see a situation where we have charting music coming from multiple languages all the time.”

“And that’s beautiful.”

– Colourful –
Also on feature were France’s Christine and the Queens, Argentina’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Belgium’s Angele.

And Palestinian-Chilean Elyanna broke ground as the first artist to perform a full set in Arabic at the festival.

Turkish electronic artist Omer Mesci, who performs under the name Minus the Light, was born and raised in Turkey and told AFP after his set that it’s particularly “inspiring” as a DJ to encounter an international slate of performers.

“Music is music,” he said. “That’s what makes it beautiful. It’s so colourful in terms of the music, in terms of the people.”

Rosalia — the Spanish superstar who made her name as a flamenco revisionist before soaring to the top of pop with her blockbuster third album, “Motomami” — was among the weekend’s most hotly anticipated acts, with fans clamouring for her as she blasted through a set of her daring, kaleidoscopic songs blending styles.

“Buenas noches, Coachella!” she shouted as cheers cascaded through the crowd. “You fill my heart with your presence. I come from Barcelona, that’s why this stage is so special. It’s because of you that I’m here.”

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