When the 2022 Coachella lineup was announced back in early January, Swedish House Mafia had rare, almost unprecedented placement in the hierarchy of the festival’s all-important official poster: in a headliner-sized font, but at the bottom of the lineup, and with no specific date listed.
Variety unspooled several hundred words speculating about what that might mean, one possibility of which was that the festival was hedging its bets in case headliner Kanye West — who’d pulled out of a previous Coachella lineup literally days before it was announced — pulled out again, which is exactly what happened on Monday.
Yet in the hours after news broke that West would not be performing at the festival, which starts in 10 days, speculation was rife about who — if anyone — might fill his slot. Variety has been blowing up phones for the past 24 hours trying to find out what’s what (as has Hits magazine), and while we don’t have any definitive answers, we’ve got some interesting off-the record perspectives.
It is important to note that not just anyone can pull off a headlining set at North America’s biggest and most popular music festival. The gold standard, of course, is Beyonce’s 2018 “Homecoming” set, a visually and musically electrifying spectacle that made waves all across the world.
Headliners also must bring their A-game or risk being upstaged by acts lower on the bill: In 2006, Daft Punk premiered their pyramid show, one of the pivotal concert performances of the decade, at Coachella, but they were billed below Depeche Mode. In 2019, Billie Eilish truly established herself as a superstar on the Coachella stage; she was sixth on the bill for that day.
Four realistic major names have been bandied about as potential replacements for West — we’re just going to go ahead and eliminate the Weeknd, who many have mooted as a possibility, because he’s deep in filming his HBO series — which he is co-writing and co-directing and stars in — and his own stadium tour doesn’t start until July. Abel Tesfaye doesn’t do anything by half, so scratch him from the list as a headliner — although, as noted by Hits, it’s entirely possible that he could join Swedish House Mafia for a song or two. Eyes below…
Justin Bieber: While he seems like the opposite of a traditional Coachella performer, Bieber did take the festival’s stage with fellow Scooter Braun managee Ariana Grande in 2019 — and, not for nothing, a lot of Gen Z-ers grew up with him so there’s a budding nostalgia factor there. (To put that in terms that Gen X would understand, it’s kind of like Lionel Richie playing a headlining set at South by Southwest a few years back.) While Bieber is currently on tour and there’s a six-day gap that coincides with the first Coachella weekend, he’s got a show in Austin, Texas on the Sunday of the second weekend, which makes him unlikely.
Travis Scott: He was one of the headliners of the four-times-postponed 2020 Coachella, but was dropped from the bill after 10 people died when the crowd surged toward the stage during his headlining set at Astroworld festival last October. While his agents worked to keep him on the bill and there was even a fan petition, holding Scott’s first concert after the tragedy at the biggest festival in North America just six months later seems like an absolutely terrible idea.
Silk Sonic: The ‘70s-throwback duo of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak won two Grammys over the weekend and they’re currently on a month-long break from their popular residency in Las Vegas, which conceivably could be transformed into a production worthy of a headlining set at Coachella — which is just a couple of hours’ drive from Vegas. However, the duo’s album is just half an hour long, and they’d have to fill out their set either with material from Mars or .Paak’s solo catalogs — or, conceivably, some of the covers they performed during a surprise set in Vegas after the Grammys. Still, it feels like a stretch, and expanding the show — both musically and visually — from the 5,200-capacity Dolby Theater in Vegas to the 125,000-capacity Coachella festival would be a daunting, although not impossible, task.
Tyler, the Creator: The wildly imaginative rapper seems like the best, most feasible and most on-brand option of the new names in play: He just finished a North American tour, and he would bring some much-needed hip-hop to the bill in the wake of West’s departure. He’s also an AEG artist — the company that owns Coachella promoter Goldenvoice, which certainly doesn’t hurt. However, sources tell Variety that he’s been made an offer but wants to save himself for his own Camp Flog Gnaw festival, which traditionally takes place in the fall (in other words, he’s probably holding out for more money).
Swedish House Mafia + Special Guests?: As discussed above, the EDM titans are already on the bill, and they know how to put on a big show. However, unless the music and visuals are at Daft Punk levels, electronic acts have a tough time headlining a not-exclusively-dance-music festival like Coachella — unless they’re bringing some major guests. And what do you know: SHM have collaborated with the Weeknd, Sting and Ty Dolla Sign in recent months — and songs featuring them are on the reformed group’s first official album, “Paradise Again,” which drops on the Friday of the first Coachella weekend.
So unless one of the above (or another) headliner pops into Kanye’s slot, this one seems the most likely.
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