Coachella 2024: women save the day as festival suffers an identity crisis

Estimated read time 7 min read

It takes a lot of time, money and willpower to make it to Coachella: the desert locale sits three hours from Los Angeles on a good day (five in the case of my drive) and general admission passes for the festival start at $499. Then there’s the cost of lodging, food and booze to consider – no small expense, considering a cup of black coffee at the food court costs $10, a large pizza set campers back $65, and White Claws went for $16. In this economy? Not everyone can do it, and maybe that’s why ticket sales lagged this year amid a less-than-buzzy lineup. In the lead-up to the festival, fans and press alike dubbed 2024 a flop year, with the Daily Beast going so far as to publish a curtain-raiser obit last month with the headline, “Is this the end of Coachella?”

As someone who attended (for free, as press … though I did succumb to the call of the $16 Claw), I can confirm that rumors of Coachella’s demise are a little premature. Yes, there were fewer people. But the diehards still showed up – with a notable exception being the so-called Queen of Coachella, Vanessa Hudgens, who skipped out this year due to her pregnancy.

Some of the attendees I spoke to were there for the fifth, eighth, or 10th time. It’s a tradition they admitted to planning their year around, no matter who plays. One college-age woman I spoke to ahead of the gates opening on Friday night said she had come since childhood with her dad, noting with a straight face that, “He’s an OG. He has a vintage Coachella shirt from 2008.”

But a flop year remains valuable for the feedback it gives us. Remove the noise of a once-in-a-lifetime, Beychella-esque headline performance and you can take stock of the tradition as a whole. What’s working: booking surprise special guests who bring the nostalgia points.

Kesha and Reneé RappView image in fullscreen

My soul left my body for a moment when Kesha walked out to support Reneé Rapp, altering the opening line of her recession-core banger Tik Tok to “wake up in the morning saying fuck P Diddy,” amid allegations of sexual assault against Sean Combs. Not even a rough onstage tumble that left the promiscuous girl herself Nelly Furtado bloodied kept the special guest from working the crowd at Dom Dolla. It was nice to see J Balvin call in a beaming Will Smith, who joined a cast of dancing green aliens for a rendition of Men in Black, reminding us in the wake of the Oscars slap and whatever Jada’s been up to that he’s ultimately a showman at heart.

One attendee, an influencer-in-her-own-mind type who asked me to film as she delivered a straight-to-camera monologue for TikTok, declared that this year was “for the girls!” I agree, unless said girl was Grimes, whose disastrous, issue-plagued DJ set was ultimately just cut off in a satisfying display of schadenfreude. Or Lana Del Rey, who also did not fare well during her Friday headline set due to constant audio issues and what appeared to be old-fashioned nerves.

But overall, the best of this year’s acts projected girl power, not in the corny, superficial way that’s all too common in pop, but by simply showing up and tearing up. Gwen Stefani climbing on top of stage scaffolding while leading the call-and-response chorus of I’m Just a Girl during No Doubt’s headline set was one of the highest highs of the festival, and Doja Cat’s sapphic mud pit closer alone was worth the price of admission.

Raye, a UK star who’s now on a US ascension, gave early Amy Winehouse during a tight, mid-century styled set. When it came time for Ice Cream Man, a raw and unflinching account of Raye’s sexual assault at the hands of a music producer, she left every woman I could see in my section wiping away tears – myself included – and the many of the men staring solemnly down at their feet, unable to make eye contact.

Erika de Casier performs during the the first weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on Saturday, April 13, 2024, in Indio, Calif. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)View image in fullscreen

Coachella is such a well-oiled machine that moments of real emotion can be hard to come by – it’s essentially the music industry’s Disneyland. Raye’s admission served as a rare gasp of authenticity. Ditto for Victoria Monet’s loud and clear call for an end to the genocide in Gaza, a plea that received one of the longest and loudest rounds of applause I heard all weekend. (Levant, a 23-year-old part-Palestinian DJ also roused a crowd with his full-throated call for a free Palestine, and it’s a shame his set conflicted with No Doubt’s reunion.)

The Danish R&B singer Erika de Casier’s early 2pm death slot started with only a dozen or so attendees, but grew into a full crowd as she worked through her polished, 90s-tinged slow jams. Anyone in the mood for rave vibes could be found at the South Korean DJ Peggy Gou’s tent, where she slung remixes while a cast of gender-queer go-go dancers hyped up the audience.

Admittedly I only went to see pop star Sabrina Carpenter because I thought I might get a glimpse of her potential boo Barry Keoghan (I did not), but the nascent star won me over with unadulterated pop girl charisma. And then there was Rapp, who not only brought out Kesha, but also enlisted the cast of The L Word to introduce her show and performed in front of a giant pair of scissors (because, you know, lesbians).

a woman in a black lace jumpsuit with long orange hairView image in fullscreen

Ice Spice drew so big of a crowd that I couldn’t even enter her tent. I later learned on TikTok that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce were there, but I’m glad that rumblings of a Swift guest appearance on stage didn’t materialize. Spice had the opportunity to dominate all by herself, actually keeping her mic on and not relying too heavily on backing vocals, as many performers do.

Other flashes at Coachella defied a categorization or trend – Vampire Weekend fully embracing their goofy dad era, bringing out both Paris Hilton and an Abraham Lincoln impersonator for a game of cornhole while they played the Grateful Dead (their range!), Deftones playing so loudly the vibrations made the porta-potty in the press pen shake (I narrowly avoided disaster), the Tuareg rocker Mdou Moctar jumping into the pit to rock out with the front row, and the fratty-but-fun crowd at Neil Frances (shoutout to Andy, the stranger who danced with me during Music Sounds Better With You).

Coachella’s attendees always skew young (duh), but I got the sense of a generational shift this year. Gen Z has officially taken over, causing a bit of an identity crisis for a tradition that’s long catered to millennial tastes. Though screaming my “woo-hoos” during Blur’s performance of Song 2 added years to my life, the crowd of babies didn’t respond nearly as hard as they should have, and I could tell the bored energy wore on a checked-out Damon Albarn.

Gen Z did show up en masse for the French electronic duo Justice, who I guess now count as a legacy act since they got together 20 years ago. While speaking to a millennial music writer in the backstage press area, I learned that a twentysomething Justice fan told her she loves the group because “all that old shit is new again”. It hit me then that maybe Coachella’s former audience didn’t skip out on this year because it was a flop – we’re just all getting a little too old.


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