No female act, no matter how big, has headlined the Coachella Valley Music festival in a decade. Bet you can’t guess who was the last. If you said Bjork without the aid of Google, congratulations. Ten years is a long time, but Lady Gaga, fresh off her massive performance at the Super Bowl, is set to restart that clock.
Sure, she wasn’t producers’ first choice, but Beyonce will likely be a little too pregnant for the grueling performance art that is Coachella. That’s not to say Gaga is a second-string option. She remains hugely popular and carries a strong pop-rock crossover appeal as well as a massive stage presence that can certainly please concertgoers at one of the most popular events of the year.
And, of course, she won’t be the lone female to grace the Coachella stage this year, but not always those you might expect. Coachella built its reputation as being the festival show for the in crowd. Musicians and fans of quirky acts just left of mainstream pop tend to flock there. And while Katy Perry may not have an open invitation, Gaga is just the right mix of cool, weird and popular to get the nod.
The line between who’s in and who’s out at Coachella has always been a little shaky. They want rock acts and art acts and alternative acts, so they stay away from center of the road pop, which is, pretty much always, dominated by diva acts these days. While these acts can have big sets and spectacle, they’re just not stylish enough for the Coach crowd. At least that’s the story producers have given, and they’re sticking with it.
Just about every year since Bjork, the concert promoters have been accused – by someone – of overt sexism for booking so many male acts and eschewing so many headlining women. Producers insist it isn’t intentional, but they have to field the same accusations every year.
So, is booking Gaga, especially after Beyonce bailed out just a PR stunt to get the social justice crowd off their backs? It might be hard to blame them if that was the case, but they swear it really is just the luck of the draw. They get who’s available and who’s willing to play. National tours and artist appearances can create conflicts … they’re happy to have Gaga, and they hope fans will love her show.
Promoters also have raw numbers on their side of the argument. Female acts made up only about 15 percent of the top-grossing pop acts last year, so it’s a cinch if they want to fill the seats, there will be more guys. Just not closing the show … this year.