IIt was just 12 years ago that Harry Styles took the day off at a bakery in Cheshire, northwest England, to sing Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely for Simon Cowell during an audition while quite commonplace for The X Factor. .
This week it was announced that he would join Billie Eilish and Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) as one of three Coachella 2022 headliners – marking the end of a decade of incredible transition from heartthrob boyband to believable rockstar. Other acts announced include Phoebe Bridgers, 21 Savage, Megan Thee Stallion, Lil Baby, Doja Cat and Maggie Rogers.
It must be a pinch moment for Styles, who, like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé before him, has found that happy medium between critical acclaim and mass popularity. Playing in the Indian desert, known for its psychedelic culture and heavy use of magic mushrooms, will be the icing on the cake.
Festival queues aren’t organized from scratch, they’re painstakingly put together – in a New York profile, Coachella boss Paul Tollett discussed the wide range of metrics he’s looking at to decide not only who is reserved, but who can be in larger print on the poster. The final lineup reflects what the audience wants and where the promoters think the music is heading.
No wonder there are very few bands playing. Groups have slowly been erased from most popular music metrics over the past half-decade, as solo artists with big Instagram followings and a powerful sense of image take over. The lineup page on the Coachella website could easily be mistaken for a modeling agency’s directory.
Spotify releases its top five most streamed artists each year and there hasn’t been a band in the mix since 2016 (when US duo Twenty One Pilots ranked it number four). Of the top 20 artists on the streaming service this month, the only non-solo artists are Coldplay and Imagine Dragons. But on festival billboards and in concert arenas, the bands maintained a certain dominance – Rage Against the Machine, Tame Impala, Radiohead, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Metallica, Wolf Alice and Foo Fighters remained dominant.
This year, not only none of the headlining bands, but none of the roughly 20 bands in the tier below, with the exception of Mexican banda artists Groupo Firme and Banda MS – two exciting bands with record-breaking Billboard stays 100 for Mexican artists but, with their heavy use of woodwinds, not typical festival rockers.
While the traditional rock band may have fallen out of favor, Styles’ rise suggests something is rising from the ashes. He’s arguably the most successful independent musician in years – his album draws inspiration from classic Laurel Canyon rock and Pitchfork favorites like Phoenix and M83. His tours are centered on the musicality and the traditional formation of the group.
Styles, like Eilish and Ye, found a way to make interesting music in a culture obsessed with personal brand and influence. He’s an actor, a TV host (he often fills in for James Corden when Corden is away from the Late Late show) and one of the most followed people on Instagram. He acts like a celebrity, but the music he makes, influenced by Peter Gabriel and Crosby, Stills & Nash, is part of the mainstream rock canon. It’s indie without any independence, a rock band while being a solo artist, jumping through the hoops of what it takes to become a hit in 2022. Riding the wave of influence and image that has animated popular culture over the past decade, he has become arguably the greatest rock artist working today.
Ye was something of a trendsetter, constantly trying to move back and forth between music, fashion and fame, furiously fighting for a place at every table. During Trump’s presidency, West’s brand appeared to be under threat, but the Coachella lineup suggests he’s been forgiven for his support of Maga and his comments on TMZ in 2018 that slavery “feels like a choice.” Around this time, influential hip-hop radio personalities, including Hot 97 host Ebro and Detroit’s The Bounce Shay Shay and BiGG, vowed to boycott Ye. These boycotts seem to have faded and after a critically acclaimed album, Ye is back in favor.
But perhaps the most radical thing about the Coachella lineup is how little respect it has for what’s come before. Ten years ago Coachella was still obsessed with golden oldies – the 2012 festival had Madness, Jimmy Cliff, Dr Dre, Buzzcocks, Pulp, Noel Gallagher and Squeeze dotted throughout the lineup.
This time around, this feeling of indebtedness to heritage deeds has almost completely disappeared. The only acts on Bill 2022 who released albums in the 90s are Spiritualized, Fatboy Slim and film composer Danny Elfman. Much more of the programming acts were not even born in the 90s. Eilish, 21, will be the festival’s youngest headliner and reflects a lineup that has managed to balance the genders without making it a song and dance.
For years people have complained about the same headliners playing every year – it feels like a new starting point for live music.