meta-scriptTouring In A Post-Pandemic World: How Costs, Personnel & Festival Culture Have Affected 2023 Performances | GRAMMY.com
crowds at coachella
Crowds at the 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella

feature

Touring In A Post-Pandemic World: How Costs, Personnel & Festival Culture Have Affected 2023 Performances

The live music business is still dealing with the repercussions of the pandemic. GRAMMY.com spoke with a cross section of professionals about the industry's most profound changes, how they’re being addressed, and what it all might mean for the future.

GRAMMYs/May 19, 2023 - 02:51 pm

The pandemic wreaked global havoc on many levels. Beyond the human toll, the disruptions brought on by the spread of COVID-19 caused deep and lasting damage to nearly every business sector, including live entertainment. Virtually overnight, workers lost their livelihoods, businesses closed their doors or drastically curtailed operations, and supply chains were hobbled. 

Within days of lockdown, multiple outlets published sobering articles detailing the tours, concerts and festivals that had been affected by the outbreak; Insider.com article identified at least 170 postponements or cancellations. In a flash, every artist across the globe witnessed the live performance side of their careers vaporize. Crews were sent home, and all of the businesses that served the sector — logistics, audio gear, food service and more — found a barren landscape.

During the pandemic, major promoter Live Nation saw a drastic drop in the number of concerts and festivals under its banner: from over 40,000 events in 2019 to just over 8,000 in 2020. But by the end of 2022, Pollstar.com reported that the year’s top 100 tours sold approximately 59 million tickets — more than 2019's sales. 

Three years after the beginning of the pandemic, life is in many ways returning to normal. Yet the costs associated with putting on a concert have risen dramatically, due to both the pandemic's inflationary pressures and a surge in demand for the goods and services necessary to sustain tours. For those working in and around the live music business, the "new normal" means some things work as they did before COVID-19 while others have altered radically — either temporarily or for good. 

GRAMMY.com spoke with a cross section of industry professionals about some of the most profound changes, how they’re being addressed, and what it all might mean for the future. 

New Touring Paradigms

With the return of live music has come a corresponding, pent-up surge in demand, notes Christy Castillo Butcher, Senior VP, Programming & Booking at the 70,000 seat SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. "To satiate that demand, you have to have a bigger venue." 

In 2023 alone, SoFi Stadium is hosting several megashows: Billy Joel & Stevie Nicks, Grupo Firme, Romeo Santos, a five-night Taylor Swift residency, Metallica, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and P!nk are all on the venue’s calendar, with additional shows awaiting announcement. Madison Square Garden saw multiple sold-out performances by Janet Jackson, and will host a seven-night Phish residency. 

Since the pandemic, some artists have taken different approaches to touring. Tandem tours and residencies are just two of the phenomena that seem to be increasing in popularity with touring artists and their management teams.

Teaming up for a tandem tour isn’t a new idea; package tours have been part of the concert landscape from the days of Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars in the mid 1960s. And in an era when post-pandemic-related shortages and logistical snags make touring even more challenging, the practice is finding renewed interest.

One of the highest-profile tandem tours of 2023 is the ZZ Top/Lynyrd Skynyrd Sharp Dressed Simple Man tour. Visiting more than 22 cities across the U.S, the tour brings together three-time GRAMMY nominees ZZ Top with the popular Southern rock band.

"You want to give the fans the value of seeing two bands together," says Ross Schilling, Lynyrd Skynyrd's Tour Manager. (Pollstar reported an average ticket price for the top 100 North American tours in the first half of 2022 at more than $108. Meanwhile, ticket prices for megastars such as Beyoncé and Swift have reached astronomical levels.)

Schilling acknowledges that there are pros and cons for the artists as well. "You're sharing the expenses and the revenues," he notes, adding that the production is often halved. "Video, pyro, smoke, whatever kind of elements you want to add" can be shared on a tandem tour.

Read more: 5 Reasons Why Taylor Swift's Eras Tour Will Be The Most Legendary Of Her Generation

Another option experiencing a renaissance is the concert residency. "Residencies are not new, of course," says Phil Carson, a touring and management veteran who spent many years on the road with high-profile rock bands including Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, AC/DC and Yes. "They started with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. when there was really only one place to go: Las Vegas." 

Today there are many more options, but the motivations are often the same as before. "Sammy, Dean Martin… all those guys wanted to hang out together, and didn't want to go on the bloody road," Carson explains. As their audiences grew older, they too were interested in the idea of going to one place to see their favorite performers.

And Carson thinks that the multi-night approach may well be part of a trend for the future. "We’re starting to get two-and three-night runs in casinos across America," he says. Adele, Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood and Carlos Santana are just a few of the artists eschewing the road in favor of a series of dates in one venue. 

The trend is extending to smaller venues as well. Singer/songwriter James McMutry and his band launched a residency at Austin' Continental Club in November 2021; that booking continues to the present day. And just last August, Robert Glasper announced a 48-show residency at the Blue Note Club in New York City; it’s his fourth extended run of dates at the famed jazz venue.

Festivals Return En Force

Following increased demand for live entertainment post-lockdown, major music festivals returned with a force in 2022 and continue to do so in 2023. Coachella and Lollapalooza were among the multi-day, multi-weekend events returning after COVID-forced cancellations, while mid-level events such as San Francisco's Outside Lands also saw over 220,000 attendees in 2022 — a major boon for a live music industry that had been in crisis only a year before.

Celebrating and featuring a multigenerational lineup of Latinx artists and performers, the Bésame Mucho Festival premiered in December 2022 at the 56,000 capacity Dodger Stadium. Tickets sold out within 70 minutes. The lineup for the 2023 event was announced in February; once again, the event sold out almost immediately.

Read more: Latin Music's Next Era: How New Festivals & Big Billings Have Helped Bring Reggaeton, New Corridos & More To The Masses

Ashley Capps has been wholly immersed in the festival scene; former head of AC Entertainment, for many years he oversaw the annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. These days he has scaled back his activities but still curates the adventurous Big Ears Festival which he founded in 2009 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

"The post-pandemic Big Ears has seen extraordinary growth," he says, noting a pre-COVID trajectory of growth, with an annual 20 percent increase in ticket sales. The 2022 Big Ears — the first after a two-year pause — experienced a 35 percent growth. "That led us to declare our first full-on sellout," he says, "five weeks before the festival happened." 

In 2023, Big Ears noted another surge in ticket sales, surpassing 50 percent over the previous year. The multiple-venue festival added additional larger venues to accommodate the increased demand. Concertgoers "are certainly hungry to get back into the live music experience," Capps says. "And the artists we’re working with at Big Ears are eager to be back out and in front of appreciative audiences."

That pent-up demand on both sides of the equation can result in a crowded field, with many events — even beyond music — competing both for attention, staffing and gear.

The Cost Of Making Music

Global logistical bottlenecks that plagued every industry continue to take a toll on the live music industry. Worldwide economic inflation — which hit 8.8 percent in 2022, nearly doubling year-over-year, a partial result of the pandemic — has increased costs and cut profits, laying the groundwork for a "rocky road to recovery." Finding themselves without opportunities for work during the pandemic, untold numbers of skilled tour technicians left the business. 

"People got out of the industry across the board, from musicians to agents to managers to bartenders to production staff," says Morgan Margolis, CEO/President of Knitting Factory Entertainment. "'I’ve got to do something else.' I saw a lot of that." Some never returned, causing a personnel shortage once live touring resumed.

All that affected live music venues, too. "We were shuffling around tour managers, production managers, box office personnel," says Margolis. He characterizes his company — active nationwide in venue operations, festivals, artist management, touring and more — as an "all hands on deck" operation. "I actually slung some drinks in Walla Walla at an Aaron Lewis concert," he says. 

Increased costs mean it’s essential to run the leanest operation possible while maintaining quality. Margolis recalls the landscape when live music started coming back in 2022. "Vans and buses: everything was running out, even rental cars," he remembers. "And everything — generators, lighting rigs, staging rigs – was now 20-30 percent more expensive, because everybody was spread so thin."  

But like many in the business, Margolis simply made the best of things. "Personally, I was excited to be on the ground again," he says. "I wanted to be around people." 

After a nearly overwhelming surge of music artists getting back into live performance, he says that he is seeing a "more methodical" mindset taking hold. That compares to how he characterizes 2022: "Throw it all against the wall: we’re going everywhere!"

Read more: Beyond Coachella: 10 Smaller Festivals Beloved For Their Homegrown Vibes & Huge Lineups

Another new wrinkle: proposed rule changes by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) would increase the costs to international musicians of obtaining a U.S. visa by as much as 260 percent. "The more these policies are made, the harder it is for us to share our music,” says Sampa the Great. The Zambian singer/songwriter and rapper notes that the proposed changes will hit independent artists especially hard: "Touring is the only way our music gets heard globally."

Such across-the-board cost increases can mean that some international artists have to have tough conversations. If not through touring, Sampa the Great wonders, "How else do we connect with the people who support our music? And how else do we independent artists sustain our careers making music?"

Schilling admits that during the worst of the shutdown, he thought about retiring — and so did one of his biggest clients. Skynyrd began a farewell tour in 2018, which was ultimately cut short by the pandemic, prompting serious soul searching. "When everyone’s livelihood was ripped out from under them, they decided 'We want to go out on our own terms.'" This year’s tandem tour with ZZ Top puts things right, Schilling adds. 

That kind of thinking is widespread among the professionals who remain in the game post-COVID. From many working as venue owners to tour managers to crew to artists, the chance to get back on the road outweighs the challenges that they will inevitably encounter. There are many career paths easier than working in the live music industry, but few can compare with its rewards.

Changes Backstage And Post-Show

Before the pandemic, many touring artists arranged meet-and-greet sessions before or after their shows. They provided an opportunity for interaction between fans and artists, and represented an additional revenue stream for the artists. During the pandemic era, those sessions disappeared, even for the new shows that could still take place. Today, even while enforced social distancing has largely disappeared, the state of meet-and-greets is not what it was. 

"My last three artists aren’t doing meet-and-greets, because there's still that concern of COVID," says David Norman, a longtime promoter, tour director, manager and accountant currently on tour with Evanescence; his past clients have included Prince, John Fogerty, Earth Wind & Fire, Green Day, Alicia Keys, Tyler, the Creator and many others. 

Norman points out that his artists take a financial hit by eliminating the meet-and-greets. "But it’s better to be safe than sorry," he says, noting that a musician who tests positive for COVID can "shut down [performances] for weeks. Then you have to reroute [the tour], and refund money to people who aren’t able to come to rescheduled shows."

Others take a different approach. "Lynyrd Skynyrd will do meet-and-greets," says Schilling, adding that his team "wants to get back to as normal as we possibly can, as fast as we possibly can." André Cholmondeley is a musician, longtime tour manager and tech support professional who worked as guitar tech for Yes guitarist Steve Howe

Before 2020, "if you bought the meet-and-greet package, you could shake their hands," he says. "There were lots of hugs and pictures." Now the experience involves more waving and fist-bumping. Foreigner, meanwhile, has recently swapped meet-and-greets for Q&A sessions. “Everybody has a great time, and the band is not bored with it because it's different every night," says Phil Carson, the band's Tour Manager. 

Life away from the audience has changed, too. 

"One major change across the board is the huge difference in catering," says Cholmondeley, who has recently toured with Pat Metheny and Ani DiFranco. Before COVID, touring artists and their crews would typically find a buffet backstage. "We order a lot more food now," Cholmondeley explains. "You get a couple of menus texted to you each day."

Carson notes that the band has found an alternative solution that works for them. "Our singer Kelly Hansen is a chef who won an episode of Food Network’s 'Chopped,'" he says with pride. "He's got a whole kitchen range on our tour bus. He makes breakfast, he makes tacos after the show." 

Carson readily admits that such an approach stands in sharp contrast to rock‘n’roll road dining in the ‘70s. "Back then," he says with a hearty laugh, "it was a few lines of coke and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s!"

Bridging The Gap

Beginning in March 2020, the cancellations and disruptions brought upon by the pandemic reverberated throughout the live music industry. But as the business sector enters the third quarter of 2023, the focus is once again on the future, and guarded optimism is the prevailing perspective. 

Festival season is officially underway, with Coachella wrapping up two weekends of massive-scale excitement, and a host of other events slated throughout the summer promising an active several months for touring musicians and crews. Taylor Swift's Eras tour is selling out fast, while Beyoncé's Renaissance tour has only just begun (to much fanfare, as expected). It seems as if touring as we once knew it is falling back into place. 

Even with her focus on recording — she counts two albums, an EP, two mixtapes and nearly 30 singles — Sampa the Great emphasizes the appeal of live music for both audience and entertainer. 

"Performing is the best way to connect with an audience," she says. "You're translating your music from audio to something visual, something physical. It bridges that gap from just hearing an artist or seeing them on social [media] to actually experiencing the artist." 

TXT, Blackpink, Aespa & More: Here Are All The K-Pop Tours And Events You Can Catch This Summer

Taylor Swift Songbook Hero
(L-R) Taylor Swift in 2023, 2008 and 2012.

Photos (L-R): Buda Mendes/TAS23/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management, Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel

feature

Songbook: An Era-By-Era Breakdown Of Taylor Swift's Journey From Country Starlet To Pop Phenomenon

Before the arrival of Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department,' take a deep dive into her discography and see how each album helped her become the genre-shifting superstar she is today.

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 08:40 pm

The world now knows Taylor Swift as a global pop superstar, but back in 2006, she was just a doe-eyed country prodigy. Since then, she's released 10 (and soon to be 11) studio albums, re-recorded four as "Taylor's Version," and cultivated one of the most feverish fan bases in music. Oh, and she's also won 14 GRAMMY Awards, including four for Album Of The Year — the most ever won by an artist.

Swift has become one of music's most notable shapeshifters by refusing to limit herself to one genre, moving between country, pop, folk and beyond. A once-in-a-lifetime generational storyteller, one could argue that she is music's modern-day maverick, constantly evolving both her music and the culture around her.

Every album era has seen Swift reinvent herself over and over, which has helped pave the way for artists to explore other musical avenues. In turn, Swift hasn't just become one of the biggest artists of all time — she's changed pop music altogether.

Ahead of Taylor Swift's newest era with The Tortured Poets Department, GRAMMY.com looks back on all of her albums (Taylor's Versions not included) and how each era shaped her remarkable career.

Taylor Swift: Finding Her Place In Music

In a genre dominated by men, the odds were already stacked against Swift when she first broke into country music as a teenage female artist. The thing that differentiated her from other writers — and still does to this day — is her songwriting. She didn't want to be just "another girl singer" and knew writing her own songs would be what set her apart. 

Written throughout her adolescence, Taylor Swift was recorded at the end of 2005 and finalized by the time Swift finished her freshman year of high school. Serving as a snapshot of Swift's life and teenhood, she avoided songwriting stereotypes typically found in country music. Instead, she wanted to capture the years of her life while they still represented what she was going through, writing about what she was observing and experiencing, from love and friendship to feeling like an outsider. 

As a songwriter, Taylor Swift set the tone for what would be expected of her future recordings — all songs were written by her, some solely and others with one or two co-writers. One writer in particular, Liz Rose, applauded Swift's songwriting capabilities, stating that she was more of an "editor" for the songs because Swift already had such a distinct vision. 

The album's lead single, "Tim McGraw," an acoustic country ballad inspired by Swift knowing her relationship was going to end, represents an intricate part of Swift's songwriting process; meticulously picking apart her emotions to better understand them. With its follow-up, "Our Song" — which spent six consecutive weeks on the top of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart — she became the youngest person to solely write and sing a No. 1 country single; she also became the first female solo artist in country music to write or co-write every song on an album. 

Although Swift's eponymous debut is underappreciated now — even lacking its own set on Swift's Eras TourTaylor Swift's forthcoming rerecording is arguably the most anticipated by fans, who are eager to hear the songs with the singer's current and more refined vocals. Still, for fans who haven't properly explored Taylor Swift, it's easy to tie together Swift's earlier work to her current discography. 

On the track "A Place In This World," a song she wrote when she was just 13, Swift sings about not fitting in and trying to find her path. While her songwriting has developed and matured, feeling like an outsider and carving her own path is a theme she still writes about now, as seen on Midnights' "You're On Your Own, Kid." 

Even as a new country artist, critics claimed that she "mastered" the genre while subsequently ushering it to a new era — one that would soon see Swift dabble in country-pop. 

Fearless: Creating A Different Kind Of Fairytale

If Taylor Swift was the soundtrack to navigating the early stages of teenhood, Fearless is Swift's coming-of-age record. More than its predecessor, Fearless blurs the line between country and pop thanks to crossover hits like "Love Story" and "You Belong With Me," yet still keeps the confessional attributes known in country songwriting. 

Most of Fearless is Swift coming to terms with what she believed love to be. On the album's liner notes, Swift says Fearless is about "living in spite" of the things that scare you, like falling in love again despite being hurt before or walking away and letting go. The 2008 version of Taylor wanted to "believe in love stories and prince charmings and happily ever after," whereas in Swift's Fearless (Taylor's Version) liner notes, she looks back on the album as a diary where she was learning "tiny lessons" every time there was a "new crack in the facade of the fairytale ending she'd been shown in the movies." 

Much of Fearless also sees Swift being reflective and nostalgic about adolescence, like in "Never Grow Up" and "Fifteen." Still wistful and romantic, the album explores Swift's hopes for love, as heard in the album's lead single "Love Story," which was one instance where she was "dramatizing" observations instead of actually experiencing them herself. 

Unlike the slow-burn of Taylor Swift, Fearless went straight to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and stayed there for eight consecutive weeks. It won Swift's first Album Of The Year GRAMMY in 2010, at the time making her the youngest person to win the accolade at age 20. To date, it has sold 7.2 million copies in America alone. It might not be the romantic tale Swift dreamed of growing up, but her sophomore album signalled that bigger things were to come.

Speak Now: Proving Her Songwriting Prowess

Everything that happened after the success of Fearless pushed Swift from country music's best-kept secret to a mainstream star. But this meant that she faced more publicity and criticism, from naysayers who nitpicked her songwriting and vocals to the infamous Kanye West incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

For the first time since becoming an artist, she was forced to reckon with the concept of celebrity and how turning into one — whether she wanted it or not — informed her own writing and perception of herself. No longer was she the girl writing songs like "Fifteen" in her bedroom — now she was working through becoming a highly publicized figure. Speak Now is the answer to those growing pains. 

Along with having more eyes on her, Swift also felt pressured to maintain her persona as a perfect young female role model amid a time when her peers like Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato were attempting to rebrand to be more mature and sexier. During her NYU commencement speech in 2022, she reflected on this era of her life as one of intense fear that she could make a mistake and face lasting consequences, so the songs were masked in metaphors rather than directly addressing adult themes in her music. But that also resulted in some of her most poignant lyrics to date.

Read More: For The Record: How Taylor Swift's 'Speak Now' Changed Her Career — And Proved She'll Always Get The Last Word

Writing the entire album herself, Swift used Speak Now to prove her songwriting prowess to those who questioned her capabilities. Much like her previous two albums, Swift included songs that were both inspired by her own life and being a fly on the wall. The album's title track pulled from the saying, "Speak now or forever hold your peace," inspired by a friend's ex-boyfriend getting engaged; meanwhile, "Mean" was everything Swift wanted to say to a critic who was continuously harsh about her vocals.

Retrospective and reflective, Speak Now is an album about the speeches she could've, would've and should've said. From addressing the aforementioned VMA incident in the forgiving "Innocent" to a toxic relationship in "Dear John," Speak Now also hinted that her rose-colored glasses were cracked, but Swift (and her songwriting) was only becoming stronger because of it.

Red: Coming Into Her Own

Highly regarded as Swift's magnum opus, Red sees the singer shed the fairytale dresses and the girl-next-door persona to craft a body of work that has now been deemed as her first "adult" record. On Red, Swift focused on emotions evoked from a hot-and-cold relationship, one that forced her to experience "intense love, intense frustration, jealousy and confusion" — all feelings that she'd describe as "red." 

Unlike most of her previous writing that had been inspired by happy endings and fairytales, Red explores the lingering pain and loss that can embed itself within despite trying your hardest to let go. In her liner notes, she references Pablo Neruda's poem "Tonight I Can Write," stating that "Love is so short, forgetting is so long" is the overarching theme for the album. She plays with time — speeding it up in "Starlight," dabbling in the past in "All Too Well," and reframing it in "State of Grace" — to better understand her experiences. 

After releasing country-pop records, Red toed the line between genres more than ever before. Swift leaned further into the full pop territory by working with esteemed producers Max Martin and Shellback for the dubstep-leaning track "I Knew You Were Trouble," the punchy lead single "We Are Never Getting Back Together," and the bouncy anthem "22." But even when the pop power players weren't involved, her country stylings still leaned more pop across the album, as further evidenced with the racing deep cut "Holy Ground" and the echoing title track. 

The slight change of direction became polarizing for critics and fans alike. Following the more country-influenced Speak Now, some critics and fans found the pop songs on Red were too pop and the lyrics were too repetitive, possibly indicating that she might be selling out. If that wasn't enough, Red became an era where Swift's personal life went from speculation to tabloid fodder, with misogynistic headlines and diluting her work to just "writing about her exes." It's an era that would eventually inspire many tracks on Red's successor, 1989, like "Blank Space" and "Shake It Off."

Commercially, Red debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold 1.2 million copies in its first week, becoming the fastest-selling country album and making Swift the first female artist to have three consecutive albums spend six or more weeks at the top of the chart. The impact of Red extended beyond its own success, too. Often mentioned as a record that inspired a generation of artists from Troye Sivan to Conan Gray, Swift's confessional, soul-bearing authenticity set a new standard for straightforward pop music. 

1989: Reinventing Into A Pop Genius

The night Red lost the GRAMMY for Album Of The Year in 2014, Swift decided that her next album would be a full-on pop record. After years of identifying as a country artist and flirting with pop, Swift departed her roots to reinvent herself, no matter what her then-label or critics had to say. And in true Swiftian fashion, turning into a pop artist didn't just prove her genre-shapeshifting capabilities — it further solidified her as an artist who is at her best when she freely creates to her desires and refuses to adhere to anyone.

1989 was lauded by critics for its infectious synth-pop that was reminiscent of the 1980s, yet still had a contemporary sound. Swift opted to lean more into radio-friendly hits, which resulted in songs like "Style," "Wildest Dreams," "Blank Space," and "Shake It Off," all of which became singles. And where some might trade a hit or two at the expense of their artistic integrity, Swift didn't falter — instead, her lyrics were just as heartfelt and intimate as they were on prior albums.

After exploring pop-leaning sonics she first found with Red, Swift worked with Martin and Shellback again on most of 1989. This reinvention brought new (and very important) collaborators as well. Swift's now-frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff credits her as the first person to take a chance on him as a producer with "I Wish You Would" and "Out Of The Woods"; both tracks exemplified how future Antonoff-produced songs would sound on albums like reputation, Lover and Midnights.

At the time, 1989 became Swift's best-selling album to date. It sold nearly 1.3 million copies within release week in the U.S., debuting atop the Billboard 200 and reigning for 11 non-consecutive weeks. The album also earned Swift several awards — including her second Album Of The Year GRAMMY, which made her the first female artist to ever win the award twice. 

Following the release of 1989, Swift became a cultural juggernaut, and the album has had an omnipresence in music since. Swift didn't just normalize blending genres, but proved that you can create a sound that is uniquely yours by doing so. In turn, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa and more pop stars have refused to conform or stick to what they've done prior. 

reputation: Killing The Old Taylor

For years, Swift was on a strict two-year cycle — she'd release an album one year, tour the next, and then release a new album the following year. But following the heightened scrutiny and highly publicized tabloid drama that followed the end of the 1989 era, Swift completely disappeared for a year. She stayed away from public appearances, didn't do any press, and missed the album schedule fans became accustomed to. It wasn't until summer 2017 when she returned from her media (and social media) blackout to unveil the fitting title for her new album: reputation.

Born as a response to the naysayers and name-callers, reputation follows Swift shedding her public image — which includes the pressure to be perfect, the drama, and the criticism — by declaring, "There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation." Leaning on the same tongue-in-cheek songwriting techniques she used while penning "Blank Space," Swift wrote from the mindset of how the public perceived her.

When Swift released the lead single "Look What You Made Me Do," a song she initially wrote as a poem about not trusting specific people, many assumed the album would center on vengeance and drama. Although Swift said that the album has its vindictive moments — even declaring that the "old Taylor" is dead on the bridge of "Look What You Made Me Do" — it's a vulnerable record for her. Swift described reputation as a bait-and-switch; at their core, the songs are about finding love in the darkest moments. 

Swift still remained in the pop lane with reputation, largely leaning on Antonoff and the Martin/Shellback team. The sound almost mirrored the scrutiny Swift faced in the years prior — booming electropop beats, maximalist production and pulsing synthesizers dominate, particularly on "End Game," "I Did Something Bad," and "Ready For It…?" But the "old Taylor" isn't entirely gone on songs like "Call It What You Want," "So It Goes…" and "New Year's Day," where she lets her guard down to write earnest love odes.

Even after Swift spent some time away from the spotlight, the public didn't immediately gravitate toward her return. And even despite matching the 1.2 million first-week sales of her previous releases, some concluded that the album was her first commercial failure when compared to 1989. With time, though, it became clear that the response to reputation became muddled with the public's overall perception of her at the time — some even claimed that Swift was ahead of her time with the album's overall sound.

For her 2023 TIME Person of the Year profile, Swift described reputation as a "goth-punk moment of female rage at being gaslit by an entire social structure." For years, she felt the pressure to be "America's Sweetheart" and to never step out of line. Writing reputation became a lifeline following the events that catalyzed it  — a way to shed the so-called snakeskin and make peace with however the public wanted to view her. 

Lover: Stepping Into The Daylight

After finding love amongst chaos with reputation, Swift was learning to deal with the anxiety and fear of losing her partner — became a major theme of another aptly titled album, Lover. Both sonically and visually, Lover was a complete change from reputation. After touring reputation, Swift found that her fans saw her as "a flesh-and-blood human being," inspiring her to be "brave enough to be vulnerable" because her fans were along with her. Stepping away from the dark and antagonistic themes around reputation encouraged Swift to step into the light and be playful with her work on Lover.

Swift also found a new sense of creativity within this new mindset, one where she aimed to still embed playful themes in her songwriting but with less snark than that of "Blank Space" and "Look What You Made Me Do." Leaning into Lover being a "love letter to love," Swift explored every aspect of it. Tracks like "Paper Rings" and "London Boy" exude a whimsical energy, even if they center on more serious themes like marriage and commitment. Other songs, including "Death By A Thousand Cuts" and "Cornelia Street," are Swift at her most vulnerable, reflecting on a love lost and grappling with the extreme worry that comes when you could potentially lose someone. 

Looking at Lover retrospectively, it's an album that almost symbolizes a bookend in her discography. She was playful yet poignant, picking apart her past lyrics and feelings and looking at them with the perspective of someone who was once on top of the world, hit rock bottom, and survived in spite of it. This evolution is mentioned throughout Lover, particularly in a direct callback to 2012's Red, "Daylight," which sees her describe her love as "golden" rather than "burning red." 

Lover also marked the first time Swift divulged into politics and societal issues, like campaigning against Donald Trump, releasing the Pride-infused "You Need To Calm Down," and feeling disillusioned by the political climate with "Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince." Swift's documentary Miss Americana explores this change further, discussing how she regrets not being vocal about politics and issues prior, in addition to opening up about her body image issues and mental health struggles.

Lover became Swift's sixth No. 1 album in America, making her the first female artist to achieve the feat. But Lover was more than any accolades could reflect — it was Swift's transitional album in many ways, notably marking the first album that she owned entirely herself following leaving Big Machine Records for Republic Records in 2018.

folklore: Looking Beyond Her Personal Stories

After the pandemic started and Swift cancelled her Lover Fest, she spent the early stages of quarantine reading and watching a myriad of films. Without exactly setting out to create an album, she began dreaming of fictional stories and characters with various narrative arcs, allowing her imagination to run free. The result became folklore, 2020's surprise archetypal quarantine album.

Crafting a world with characters like the folklore love triangle between those in "betty" and "august," as well as Rebekah Harkness from "the last great american dynasty" (who once lived in Swift's Rhode Island mansion), was Swift's way of venturing outside her typical autobiographical style of writing. She'd see visceral images in her mind — from battleships to tree swings to mirrored disco balls — and turned them into stories, sometimes weaving in her own personal narrative throughout, or taking on a narrator role and speaking from the perspective of someone she had never met. 

She worked remotely with two producers — again working with her right-hand man Jack Antonoff, and first-time collaborator Aaron Dessner from The National. Some songs, like "peace," were recorded in just one take, capturing the essence and fragility in the song's story, whereas the lyrics for the sun-drenched "august" were penned on the spot as Swift was in her makeshift home studio in Los Angeles.

Another aspect that separated folklore from her previous work was the obvious decision not to create hits made for radio play, so much so that Dessner claimed that she made an anti-pop record at a time when radio wanted clear "bops." Sonically, it ventured into genres Swift hadn't explored much outside of a few folkier tracks on Lover. Rather than relying on mostly electronic elements, Swift, Antonoff and Dessner weaved in soft pianos, ethereal strings, and plucky guitars.

folklore's impact on the zeitgeist at a time where everyone was stuck at home helped shape people's quarantine experience. Fans rejoiced at having songs to comfort them during difficult times, and artists like Maya Hawke, Gracie Abrams, and Sabrina Carpenter credit folklore for inspiring them to create and be even more emotionally honest in their songwriting. After its release, folklore became the best-selling album of 2020 after selling 1.2 million records. At the 2021 GRAMMYs, folklore took home Album Of The Year, making her the fourth artist in history to win three times in the Category. 

evermore: Embracing Experimentation

It was exciting enough for Swifties to experience one surprise album drop from Swift, an artist who typically has an entire album campaign calculated. So when evermore was released just six months after folklore, fans were in shock. 

Like its (literally) folklorian sister, evermore was a surprise release at the end of 2020, marking the first time Swift didn't have distinct "eras" between albums. She felt like there was something "different" with folklore, stating in a social media post that making it was less like she was "departing" and more like she was "returning" to the next stage of her discography. In turn, the album served as a similar escape for Swift as folklore did.

Bridging together the same wistful and nostalgic themes as heard on its predecessor, evermore sees Swift venture even further into escapism. She explores more stories and characters, some based in fiction like "dorothea," and some real, like "marjorie," written in dedication to Swift's grandmother. 

Evermore follows folklore's inclusion of natural imagery and motifs, like landscapes, skies, ivy, and celestial elements. In contrast to the fairytale motifs and happy endings of Fearless, evermore saw Swift become fixated on "unhappy" endings — stories of failed marriages ("happiness"), lifeless relationships ("tolerate it"), and one-time flings ("'tis the damn season"). 

Sonically, evermore is a slight departure from its sister record; where folklore relies on more alt-leaning and indie-tinged sounds, evermore takes the sonics from all of Swift's past records — from pop to country to indie rock — and features all of them on one album. Country songs like "cowboy like me" and "no body, no crime" reaches back to Swift's earlier work in narrative building, seamlessly crafting a three-party story with ease. "Closure" is a "skittering" track that has the same energy as tracks like Lover's "I Forgot That You Existed," whereas the ballad "champagne problems" is thematically reminiscent of Swift's Speak Now track "Back To December" where she takes responsibility for her lover's heartache. 

Working mostly with Dessner on evermore, Swift was emboldened to continue creating and opted to embrace whatever came naturally to them rather than limiting themselves to a sound. Swift felt a "quiet conclusion" after finishing up evermore, describing that it was more about grappling with endings of all "sizes and shapes," and the record represented a chapter closing. Even so, its poetic lyricism and mystical storytelling cleverly foreshadowed what was to come with subsequent albums, particularly The Tortured Poets Department.

Midnights: Encapsulating Her Artistic Magic

After coming out of the folklorian woods following folklore and evermore, fans and critics alike were intrigued to see what direction Swift would take on her next studio album. On Midnights, Swift leaves behind indie folk sounds and returns to the pop production of 1989 and Lover.

Her most conceptual album to date, Midnights charts 13 sleepless nights and explores five themes, from self-hatred and revenge to "what if" fantasies, falling in love, and falling apart. They are the things that keep her up at night, like the self-critiquing in "Anti-Hero," her rise to fame in "You're on Your Own, Kid," and the anxiety of falling in love again in "Labyrinth." Similarly to Swift's cheeky songwriting style that sees her create caricatures of herself in songs like "Blank Space" and "Look What You Made Me Do," she doubles down on claims she's "calculated" on "Mastermind," a song about devising a plan for her and her lover. 

Although the album is a departure from the two pandemic sister albums, the overall creation process didn't differ too much. In addition to working alongside Antonoff (and bringing Dessner in for the bonus-track-filled 3am Edition), Swift's worldbuilding is still the throughline that connects Midnights and Swift's recent albums, whether she's dreaming of a Parisian escape in "Paris" or using war imagery as a metaphor for the struggle of love in "The Great War."

Read More: 5 Takeaways From Taylor Swift's New Album 'Midnights'

Following the success with folklore and evermore, Swift's intrigue was at a then-all-time high upon the release of Midnights. Along with breaking several streaming records — including becoming the first album to exceed 700 million global streams in a week — it was Swift's 11th No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200, and was the highest-selling album of 2022 (and, remarkably, the second best-selling of 2023).

To say that Swift's celebrity has become otherworldly since the release of Midnights would be an understatement. Celebrating her genre-defying and varied discography through The Eras Tour has resulted in old songs having a resurgence, new inside jokes and Easter eggs within the fandom, and a plethora of new listeners being exposed to Swift's work. 

As a result, there has arguably never been more excitement for a Taylor Swift album than for The Tortured Poets Department — especially because the announcement came on the heels of her lucky 13th GRAMMY win in February. Midnights helped further solidify Swift's larger-than-life status at the finale of the 2024 GRAMMYs, too, as she became the only artist in history to win Album Of The Year four times. 

The Tortured Poets Department: Check back on April 19!

All Things Taylor Swift

Excited fans in a crowd shot at Coachella 2024
Fans at weekend one of Coachella 2024

Photo: Christina House / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

feature

Meet The Coachella Die-Hards: 5 Super Fans You'll Find In The Desert

It's not only influencers and celebrities heading to Indio, California. The "real Coachella" brings together people from across the country, including super fans who come year after year for the killer live show, community, and the occasional beer chug.

GRAMMYs/Apr 16, 2024 - 01:32 pm

After 25 years, Coachella is like a live music holiday. Every year, thousands of people from all walks of life descend upon the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California to enjoy artists whose music is as diverse as the crowd assembled. No matter what style anyone prefers, an artist they love is playing at Coachella.

This year alone, attendees can enjoy the classic Britpop sounds of Blur, trendy house music beats from John Summit, a reunion of the ska-punk icons, Sublime (featuring the late frontman's son, Jakob Nowell), and a headlining set from enigmatic rapper Tyler, The Creator.

Coachella also offers the opportunity for audiences to see artists they may never see elsewhere, like a rare American performance by the jazz-house master St.Germain, a shared set from the now-defunct dance music supergroup J.E.S.u.S. (Jackmaster, Eats Everything, Seth Troxler, and Skream), or pop legend Jai Paul’s first live show ever. 

Then, of course, there are the Coachella sets that will live in infamy: From Daft Punk’s debut of The Pyramid, which is largely credited with launching the popularity of electronic music in the United States, to Tupac’s resurrection in hologram, to Beyoncé's marching band of HBCU students soundtracking a reunion of Destiny’s Child.

The people of Coachella revel in these eclectic and epic offerings. Approximately 125,000 people per day touch down on the grass at the Empire Polo Club, and upwards of 100,000 have been reported to gather for a single set. And while hundreds of thousands of people are on the ground worshiping the music, 40 million people are watching the magic through YouTube, wishing they were there.

Coachella is a spectacle. So often the people who went one year bring their friends or family the next, and those people become obsessed. Others meet people at the festival and become best friends, family, and lovers — relationships born from a shared reverence for live music. 

With its massive popularity, it's easy to assume influencers and celebrities have taken over the polo grounds. A key moment in Billie Eilish’s documentary, Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry, the young pop sensation meets her lifelong hero, Justin Bieber, for the first time at Coachella. But any long-time attendee will tell you, that the celebrities and influencers don’t engage with the true Coachella.

"The Kardashians are having one experience, and I’m having a different experience out in the field," says Ashton Aellarose who’s attended Coachella 12 times in eight years. "If you don’t want to be that, then you don’t see that…there’s the real Coachella for real people."

Real fans of Coachella stay all day and night, braving the heat and the dust, to engage with the epic performances and their fellow music lovers. Alaskan Alex Rodriguez creates an Artist of the Day post on the Coachella Reddit, posting every day from when the lineup drops until the festival. He flies in from the Last Frontier because Coachella provides something that other festivals simply can’t.

"Whether it be over-the-top productions, unexpected guest appearances or simply the chance to let others hear your unfamiliar sound to others, Coachella invites performances that you simply won’t see anywhere else," Rodriguez tells GRAMMY.com via email. 

Coachella’s community is built on the idea that music is the universal language. Whether you’re coming for the first time or the 25th time, whether you’re a senior citizen, a new parent, or a college kid on spring break, Coachella is a space for live music fans to celebrate what they love more than anything, and celebrate each other. GRAMMY.com spoke to five Coachella die-hards — attendees who count Coachella as an annual, important part of their year — to learn what Coachella means to them.

From Fan To Music Industry Professional: The 25-Year Attendee 

Coachella Die-Hards: 5 Fans To Meet In The Desert Josh Brooks

Josh Brooks DJing in 2011┃Josh Brooks

Name: Josh Brooks

Number of Coachellas attended: 26

Favorite set: The Chemical Brothers, 1999

Josh Brooks has attended every year of Coachella since the first edition in 1999, and credits the festival for his career in music. To date, he's worked as a booking agent, tour manager, and DJ who has played Coachella on several occasions. In 2023, he played a slot during the after-hours silent disco in the campgrounds. 

Back in 1999, Brooks had just started college at UCLA and was studying physical science, geology, and geography. He went to Coachella on a whim because tickets were $50 per day to see Rage Against The Machine, Tool, Beck, Morrissey, and the Chemical Brothers. Everything in his musical life snowballed from there. 

"[Coachella] really opened my eyes to this whole world of music that I didn’t know existed," Brooks tells GRAMMY.com. "I’ve played music my whole life. I played clarinet, trumpet, and saxophone. I was in the California Young Musicians Orchestra for a year in high school. Music has always been really important to me. But that’s where I really started to find myself musically." 

In 2011, Brooks found himself as a part of Coachella. That year, Global Inheritance — the nonprofit that organizes all of Coachella’s sustainability efforts —hosted a human-powered stage called the Energy Factory. Brooks submitted a DJ mix as part of a contest to play a slot on that stage, and he won. 

"I just played at the festival that I have been enamored with for the last 12 years. I just made a dream come true," Brooks said.

A year after that, he got laid off as a high school science teacher, and he’s been working in music ever since. Currently, he’s the booking agent and tour manager for respected house music artist Sacha Robotti, and revitalizing their SLOTHACID brand. But in between his workload, he’s still taking time for a trip to the desert for some live music. 

The Fan That Made Coachella A Family Affair

Meet The Coachella Die-Hards: A family affair

The Glazer family┃MIkey Glazer

Name: Mikey Glazer

Number of Coachellas attended:  16

Favorite set: M.I.A., 2008

Every year at Coachella, you see a handful of parents celebrating live music with their children. In fact, there are meetups for families at the festival. Among this somewhat unusual sight, you'll find Mikey Glazer and his 5-year-old son, Axwell. 

Glazer has been attending Coachella since 2003, and used to be one of the festival's more typical attendees (a 20-something attending for the party and the tunes). Now, at age 47, Coachella has become his yearly family vacation. Glazer and his wife, Melissa, brought Axwell to the festival four times: three in the flesh, and once in utero.

During the pandemic, Mikey, Melissa, and Axwell listened to music as a family. Especially electronic artists like Skrillex and Tiësto. (Axwell is also the artist moniker of one of the members of the GRAMMY-nominated electronic trio Swedish House Mafia.) When the family went to Coachella together, they saw Axwell express that love of music in full force.

"Seeing a DJ and the visuals, he just loved it. To see it through his eyes is absolutely amazing," Glazer says. "Nobody who doesn’t have kids would ever want to have a kid with them at Coachella. But when you spend every day with your kid, you’re going through new music Friday; he’s picking out songs he likes, and you listen to music together every day; when you get to Coachella, to see him enjoy it is great."

Ranking Coachella: The Fan Who Listens To Every Single Artist 

Fans inside the ferris wheel at Coachella

Brian Downing (second from right) with friends from Cincinnati┃Brian Downing

Name: Brian Downing

Number of Coachellas attended: 4

Favorite set: Madeon, 2022

For decades, Brian Downing has been ranking all the live artists he sees. He saw hundreds of artists the year he turned 50, and condensed all of them into a top 20 list.

When he comes to Coachella, he does the same thing, except instead of creating a list over the course of a year, he does it for three days. In the weeks leading up to the festival, he listens to every one of the 150 artists performing at the festival and gives them all a ranking.

"There are so many acts I don’t know going into it," Downing says. "Someone else might look at [the lineup] and go, ‘Oh my god, this is so overwhelming.’ I look at it and go, ‘Oh my god, I get to rank so many things’."

He ranks every artist on the lineup 1–10 and organizes the rankings on a spreadsheet that he shares with his friends who come to Coachella with him. A 10 is reserved for someone he is going to see, no matter what; one signifies someone he’s going to skip. That way, his group will know who they may or may not enjoy as well. 

Brian also frequently adds commentary to each artist. Here’s what he has to say about the drag-ready pop star Chappell Roan, who is performing on Friday at Coachella this year:

"I do loves me some Chapell Roan! She is an indie pop darling, and for good reason. Red Wine Supernova is an absolute bop! But she has so many other great songs too that haven't been hits yet. Don't want to miss this fun show! Side note: Remember to learn the entire H-O-T-T-O-G-O dance. You’re gonna thank me later. 10’s all day, baby! - 10."

The Fan Who Would Spend Eternity At Coachella 

Coachella Die-Hards: 5 Fans To Meet In The Desert Ashton Aellarose

At Coachella 2011┃Ashton Aellarose

Name: Ashton Aellarose

Number of Coachellas attended:  9

Favorite set: Postal Service, 2013

Throughout her life, Ashton Aellarose has lived in many places: Northern California, North Carolina, Colorado, even a few extended stints abroad. But no matter where she was residing, Aellarose would see the Coachella lineup in copies of SPIN magazine and dream of going somewhere with such vast musical offerings.

Now she’s attended nine Coachellas, and Coachella is the one place she calls home. Simply put, her life wouldn’t be the same without Coachella.

When she attended in 2014, Aellarose worked at an on-site lemonade stand. Not only did the experience lead to her working in festival vendor management for a time, but Aellarose met her best friend during her very first shift at the stand. That same friend introduced Aellarose to her boyfriend, whom she brought to Coachella for the first time last year. 

When she brought him, she showed him all the traditions she’d developed over numerous editions: Picking up last-minute camping supplies at the Wal-Mart in Indio; watching the first sunset performance of the weekend (one of her favorites was Violent Femmes in 2013); enjoying her favorite foods like the spicy pie and the arepas.

"It’s nice to have this place that’s so spiritual and consistent in such an inconsistent world," Aellarose says. "I thought it was cool when Skrillex said during the TBA set [in 2023], ‘This is the biggest party in the world right now where you’re at.’ I say that every year."

Coachella is such an important place for Aellarose, that she would like it to be her final resting place: "When I die, I want my ashes thrown around Coachella. No joke."

Creating Community With Beer & Cheer: The Fan Who Learned To Love At Coachella 

Coachella Die-Hards: 5 Fans To Meet In The Desert Joe Stamey

Joe Stamey and friend┃Joe Stamey

Name: Joe Stamey

Number of Coachellas attended: 16

Favorite set:  Beyoncé, 2018

At 1:32:14 in the Coachella documentary, Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert, Joe Stamey says:

"I come because I genuinely love music. I’ve seen more music here than I’ve seen in my entire life in other places. I see acts here that I will never see at the other festivals all over."

The filmmakers followed multiple attendees around the festival in 2019. Stamey is the only one who made it into the documentary. His love of music is a significant factor in why.

But more than his love of music, he genuinely wants everyone at Coachella to have an amazing time enjoying the live music like he does. Before our call is over, he even offers me to stay at his campsite. 

"​​I meet people that are my friends now forever because of things that I've done like that. Caring for people," Stamey says. "The festival did that to me."

Every year, Stamey organizes a beer chug at 10:40 a.m. on Friday in the campgrounds through the Coachella subreddit. Mikey Glazer (who you met above) attends every year as well. 

"It's literally just hundreds of people sitting around chugging beers at 10:40 a.m. And I just give everyone I can as big a hug as I can," Stamey says. "It’s a huge friend reunion. I run into so many people from 15 years of my life, and I love them all."

Coachella Weekend 1 Recap: 20 Surprises And Special Moments, From Billie Eilish & Lana Del Rey, To Olivia Rodrigo With No Doubt

Doja Cat headlines at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Sunday, April 14, 2024
Doja Cat headlines at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival

Photo: Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

list

7 Incredible Sets From Coachella 2024 Weekend 1: Doja Cat, No Doubt, Raye & More

With a weekend full of surprise guests, exciting reunions and breakout performances from first-time performers, this weekend in Indio was one for the books. Read on for seven of the top performances at the first weekend of Coachella 2024.

GRAMMYs/Apr 16, 2024 - 02:37 am

While every headliner at last year’s Coachella held some sort of historical cultural significance, Coachella 2024’s roster instead represented a series of graduations from opening slots and side stages to top-tier main stage titan status.

Friday featured Lana Del Rey, whose sole previous Coachella performance was at the Outdoor Theatre in 2014. Saturday was capped by Tyler, The Creator appearing for the third time in Indio (his last appearance as runner up to Haim and Beyoncé on the main stage in 2018). And on Sunday, Doja Cat occupied the uppermost spot after her penultimate main stage appearance in 2022.

Yet Coachella Weekend 1 this year’s attendees got astronomically more bang for their buck than they counted on, due to a surprise-guest-heavy lineup. The bulk of those special moments came from  A-list talent, from Billie Eilish with Lana Del Rey to Olivia Rodrigo with No Doubt, Justin Bieber joining Tems, Kesha with Reneé Rapp, most of the Fugees performing alongside YG Marley, Will Smith performing "Men in Black" with J Balvin … the list goes on. 

When all was said and done, the diversity, quality and impact of the weekend’s performances were tremendous. Even without elite bonus appearances, there were plenty of performances — quite a few of them newcomers, recent buzzbands and imminent breakthroughs — that made this year’s Coachella more than worthy of an early accolade for one of the first-rate fests of 2024. Read on for seven of the best sets from Coachella 2024.

Faye Webster Thrills Loyal Fans With Supreme Confidence

Underneath the shaded canopy of the Mojave Tent, Faye Webster held her sprawling audience in the palm of her hand during her Coachella debut on Friday. Deafening cheers rang out at the start of every song, which seemed to infuse the 26-year-old singer/songwriter with a level of energy unparalleled up to this point in her career.

Webster deftly worked her way through 11 tracks, each one received with wild cheers from fans, who sang with such gusto that they often nearly overpowered her own vocals. The crossroads of her confidence and creativity fully manifested during closing tune "Kingston," which saw her pausing to let the audience belt out the remainder of the line, a beckoning gesture that exuded self-assuredness. 

Notably, three of six new songs ("Wanna Quit All the Time," "He Loves Me Yeah!" and "Lego Ring") from her recently released fifth album Underdressed at the Symphony were live debuts. The fact that Webster saved them for Coachella showed a clear intention to ensure the set was extra special. Beyond any shadow of doubt, she succeeded. 

Lana Del Rey Taps Billie Eilish, Jon Batiste & Others For Standout Friday Set

With her notoriously downtempo demeanor, Lana Del Rey wasn’t the obvious choice for a Friday headlining spot on the main stage, but when all was said and done, her 20-song set delivered plenty to position her as a standout performer. 

Dressed in an elegant baby blue gown, her entrance — a slow ride on the back of a motorbike through the lanes of the crowd all the way to the stage — worked wonders to build excitement. And her first three song choices, a shortened version of "Without You" (not performed since 2014) and two more gems from the vault — "West Coast" (debuted 10 years ago to the day at her first Coachella appearance) and her superb cover of Sublime’s "Doin’ Time" — signaled her intention to make this show a truly special occasion (neither of the latter two tunes have appeared on a setlist since 2019).

From there it was a parade of hits culled from her robust catalog, as the GRAMMY-nominated singer waltzed her way across the expanse of a fairytale palace stage production, at several points venturing up flights of stairs to a towering terrace. Four of her 10 albums feature production from Jack Antonoff (who played with Bleachers on Saturday), so it was unsurprising when he took the helm of the white grand piano toward the end for a strikingly serene duet with a hologram Lana on "Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have — But I Have It."

Jon Batiste (who performed his own set on Saturday) also assisted on piano for an alluring take on "Candy Necklace," but the pinnacle moment arrived during performances of "ocean eyes" and "Video Games" alongside surprise guest Billie Eilish. Sitting side by side atop a balcony, the two harmonized through much of those tracks, and the occasions when Lana sat back to let Billie sing several sections solo were absolutely arresting. The two superstars stared adoringly at each other throughout, clearly just as awe-inspired by the unprecedented collaboration as the audience, which erupted with rapturous applause that rivaled the decibels of the set’s glittering fireworks finale.

Raye Races Toward Superstardom During Emotional Debut

After just one song of Raye’s Saturday afternoon performance, there was no question that her Coachella debut would be remembered as one of the most striking in recent years. The British songwriter and chanteuse, who shattered the record for most wins and nominations in a single year at this year’s BRIT Awards, poured every ounce of her soul into her 45-minute set. The crowd inside the Mojave tent hung on every note and went absolutely berserk all the way from the sultry intro of "The Thrill is Gone" to gloriously anthemic closer "Escapism."

Backed by a powerhouse band of eight backup singers, three string players, four brass aces and the standard guitar, drums and bass, each song was a showstopper. Without question, the most impactful moment came on "Ice Cream Man," which deals with her own experience with sexual assault and rape.

"I want you to know it’s not an easy song to sing," she started. And before she could continue, the audience released a loud roar of support, to the point that the singer shed tears. When she composed herself, she continued, "But it’s important to be loud .. and to be brave. This allows me to be loud about something I’ve been quiet about my entire life. I am very f—ing strong."

That moment — which culminated into a big band-style belter that evoked the power of Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday — likewise drew tears from many in the audience. Further, it defined Raye as an artist destined for superstardom on the merits of genuine talent, an infinitely infectious spirit, and incomparably hard work ethic. To that end, it should be no surprise she’s the songwriter behind tunes from GRAMMY-winning artists including Beyoncé, no big deal. 

Sublime Revives Their Definitive Sound Alongside Jakob Nowell

Though many were referring to Sublime’s Saturday afternoon appearance on the Coachella main stage as a "reunion" in the days leading up to the festival, new frontman Jakob Nowell — son of the band’s deceased original singer Bradley Nowell — made it abundantly clear that wasn’t precisely the case.

"My name is Jakob Nowell and this is Sublime," he said following the conclusion of opening song "April 29, 1992," gesturing toward the beloved Southern California ska-punk band’s surviving members bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh.

Read more: Sublime's Jakob Nowell On Leading His Father's Legendary Band & What To Expect At Coachella

His resistance to co-opt his dad’s legacy was admirable, which was an issue for some when Rome Ramirez joined Wilson and Gaugh in 2009 to form Sublime with Rome, a chapter that ended for those original members when Gaugh left the band in 2011 and Wilson subsequently exited in February. With all the pieces in place, the next hour played out as a fantastically fun alliance of old and new.

Jakob sounded strikingly like his dad during most moments, though he asserted his own spin on the classic sound by adding a hardcore-esque growl at various points in the set. Among the 14 songs, they revived early-era material that hadn’t been played live since the mid '90s, including "Date Rape," "Badfish" and "Doin’ Time." One cut, "Romeo," had not been performed live since 1988. The band likewise included tunes that Bradley never got to perform from the band’s final self-titled album, including some of their biggest commercial successes. Tracks such as "What I Got" and "Santeria" were sung by thousands, a chorus oozing with celebratory mass catharsis. 

By the end, there could be only one conclusion: the most definitive version of a revived Sublime has arrived and, should they choose to continue on, they’ll be received by fans with open arms. 

No Doubt Snatches Headliner Status During Jubilant Reunion

Though the reunion of No Doubt was billed as the runner-up to Tyler, the Creator’s Saturday night finisher, it’s absolutely valid to argue that the beloved Southern California outfit — playing their first show since 2015 — was the evening’s true headliner. The eye-popping expanse and unerring enthusiasm of the audience (the largest of the weekend), combined with the group’s sheer joy and explosive energy, drove the feeling home.

Every member of the core group — bassist Tony Kanal, guitarist Tom Dumont, drummer Adrian Young and frontwoman Gwen Stefani — emanated pure exultation, wide grins plastered permanently on their faces. Stefani was especially fired up; after the band powered through five treasured tracks — including opener "Hella Good" (performed at the end of long catwalk), "Ex-Girlfriend," and "Different People" (featured for the first time since 2009) — the singer stopped to address the sea of screaming fans.

"Wow … you showed up to Coachella Saturday night 2024 to see No Doubt play together on this stage for the first time in nine years. Are you crazy?!" Stefani said. "If I could just somehow explain the amount of love [we feel] and how much I wanna slap the s— out of you guys tonight!"

The sentiment was meant endearingly, but every song did hit intensely. In particular, a rendition of "Bathwater" featuring special guest Olivia Rodrigo — as hyped as Stefani with her never-ending spinning and bouncing antics — left a lasting mark. For old school fans, the Return to Saturn single was a special treat, and with Rodrigo in the mix, it elicited equal exuberance from younger audience members.

For the finale of the 16-song setlist, the band fulfilled the promise of euphoric nostalgia with a hard-hitting trio of tracks off 1995 breakthrough third album Tragic Kingdom: "Just a Girl," "Don’t Speak" and "Spiderwebs." The timeless tunes incited a sudden surge of fans toward the stage, and one would’ve been hard pressed to spot anyone not participating in the jubilant singalongs. It was a moment of multi-generational unity and unbridled joy — unquestionably unforgettable, and hopefully just the precursor to a triumphant new era of No Doubt.

Olivia Dean Enters the Stateside Festival Scene With Humbling Authenticity

Watching the first few moments of British neo-soul singer Olivia Dean’s Sunday afternoon performance in the Gobi tent, you’d never know this was her first American festival appearance. And what an incredible debut, at one of the States’ most prestigious festivals with only one album under belt (2023’s Messy) to boot. The 25-year-old stunned with utmost finesse and confidence, working the stage like a long-established diva and immediately eliciting rapturous applause after each of the first two songs, "OK Love You Bye" and "Echo."

While it can sometimes be off-putting when an artist introduces every song with a tidbit explaining what it’s about, this method had the opposite effect for Dean. Her context made each moment feel intensely personal, and the audience reaction was overwhelming. One of many tunes with a distinctly Motown bop, "The Hardest Part," was prefaced with the remark that it "recently changed [her] life," and spoke to the process of overcoming grief. After the final note was sung, she received a deafening standing ovation, prompting her to endearingly cover her face in response. And there was so much power in her anecdote before "Carmen," a tribute to how her grandmother made everything possible for her. 

"My granny came to London when she was 18 … had never been on a plane … left her life behind and had my mom, and my mom had me," she said, already being drowned out by cheers before the final remark: "This song is for my granny and anyone brave enough to move and any immigrant in the crowd right now."

As she wrapped up her short set with the bewitching single "Dive," the sun broke through the clouds, illuminating her with the loveliest natural spotlight to complement a performer who already naturally, effortlessly shines on her own.

Doja Cat Exudes Total Command & Flawless Flow For Sunday Finale 

It cannot be overstated: Doja Cat’s fest-closing performance on the main stage was a visionary masterpiece, and the strongest headlining set of the first weekend. That wasn’t certain from the stripped-down beginning moments when the GRAMMY-winning singer/rapper appeared on a circular b-stage mid-audience, dressed in a hazmat suit and encircled by a black and yellow biohazard pattern.

But excitement built steadily as she bombastically delivered opening song "ACKNOWLEDGE ME," which, even in an abbreviated format, lived up to its title and created a palpable air of anticipation. From there, she strutted back toward the main stage via a connected catwalk, meeting briefly in the middle with South African quintet the Joy (set to release their self-titled debut album on June 21) offering up fiery raps amidst the group’s arresting a cappella.

Shortly after, Doja appeared on the main stage dressed in a knee-length platinum blonde weave, flanked by an army of dancers who all wore matching getups covered in the same synthetic hair. The effect when they all converged, their movements completely in sync, created an optical illusion of one enormous hairy creature moving across the stage to punctuate the ferocity of "Demons." 

That was just the first taste of a breathtaking series of visual sequences over the course of the 70-minute show, each profoundly enhanced by cinematography that created the effect of watching a top-quality music video on the main stage’s massive screens. If you witnessed the camera work during Beyoncé’s Homecoming show back in 2018 or Rosalía’s production in 2023, you’ll understand the aesthetic. 

Other key moments when the video work was utterly astonishing arrived during the live debut of "OKLOSER" (one of five first-time song features) where the previously smooth camera went rogue, shakily weaving through the gang of dancers to create the effect of maneuvering through a chaotic house party; again during "Attention" as the lens wove through dancers in fur coats wielding Cruella de Vil-inspired cabrioles until it settled on Doja at the end of the line; and finally during closing track, "Wet Vagina," where Doja and her dancers rolled and writhed (in perfect choreographed unison) on the b-stage filled with brown mud, the sequel ending in a stunning birds-eye shot. 

Backtracking a few moments earlier, maybe the most jaw-dropping production element came on "WYM Freestyle" in the form of a giant T-Rex skeleton following Doja down the catwalk while flames erupted from the stage behind her. The precise reason for that wasn’t evident, but it certainly boosted the ferocity of her raw rap delivery.

The unending visual feast only served to amplify Doja’s already flawless flow. She never missed a vocal mark, whether singing or rapping. She didn’t even once pause to banter with the audience, creating the effect of total focus and command. Big bonuses: 21 Savage materializing mid-set to serve up "n.h.i.e.," Teezo Touchdown’s cameo on "MASC" and A$AP Rocky (who likewise performed with Tyler, the Creator on Saturday) swooping in for "URRRGE!!!!!!!!!!" before Doja dazzled with super-hit "Paint the Town Red."

When all was said and done, Doja Cat more-than-earned her graduation to festival headliner, and while she’s already set for an arena tour this year, she’s clearly destined to stun at stadiums not far in the future. 

Coachella 2024 Weekend 1 Recap: 20 Surprises And Special Moments, From Billie Eilish & Lana Del Rey To Olivia Rodrigo With No Doubt

Shakira
Colombian singer Shakira performs with Argentine record producer and songwriter Bizarrap on the Sahara Stage during the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, on April 12, 2024

Photo: VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo by VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

list

Coachella 2024 Weekend 1 Recap: 20 Surprises And Special Moments, From Billie Eilish & Lana Del Rey To Olivia Rodrigo With No Doubt

Weekend 1 of Coachella 2024 is a wrap, and the internet can’t stop talking about it. Here are 20 surprises and special moments from Coachella so far, including inspired team-ups, wackadoo moments in the clutch, and much more.

GRAMMYs/Apr 15, 2024 - 09:11 pm

It may be hard to believe, but Weekend 1 of Coachella 2024 is already over. Clearly, time flies when you’re having fun — particularly when beholding the world’s leading artists, convened in the Indio desert in California.

If you weren’t there, the festival was filmed, of course. You can enjoy Coachella from the comfort of your own home, sans-sunburn, undrenched with champagne.

As you survey Coachella’s sold-out first weekend, read on for 20 performances, debuts and moments that surprised and touched us from Coachella Weekend 1.

Lana Del Rey's Headlining Set Brought Out GRAMMY Winners Billie Eilish, Jon Batiste & Jack Antonoff

After rolling deep up to her desert set on a fleet of motorcycles for her Friday performance, Lana Del Rey infused her iconic sad-girl pop persona into every facet of her Gatsby-esque performance. 
Her headlining set also included some special GRAMMY-winning guests: Jon Batiste and 2024 Producer Of The YearJack Antonoff both accompanied on piano, while Billie Eilish joined her idol on stage for duet performances of "Ocean Eyes" and "Video Games." Sharing a moment with her hero on stage at the end of the set, Eilish declared, "This is the reason for half you bitches’ existence, including mine.”

Tyler, The Creator Brings Out Childish Gambino, A$AP Rocky, Kali Uchis and Charlie Wilson

Saturday's main stage event kicked off with a ruckus 80-minute set by creative magnet Tyler, The Creator, who transformed the stage into an ever-changing desert scene to host fellow performers.

First up, Childish Gambino hit the stage to perform a duet of "Running Out of Time," before A$AP Rocky joined for a performance of two tracks, "Potato Salad" and "Who Dat Boy."

Tyler admitted he once saw both as rivals, but now considers them friends. Kali Uchis also returned to the desert stage with Tyler for a quick appearance as well as legendary singer/songwriter Charlie Wilson, who made an unexpected appearance to accompany Tyler on a laid-back version of "EARFQUAKE." 

No Doubt Made Their Grand Re-Entrance (With Olivia Rodrigo!)

No Doubt electrified Coachella with their first performance in nine years, featuring all original members and a blend of eclectic hits that defined their career. Their memorable reunion set highlighted their timeless appeal and was punctuated by a surprise appearance from pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo for a duet performance of No Doubt classic, "Bathwater."

Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce Show Up To Support Ice Spice And Jack Antonoff's Bleachers

The Queen of Pop, Taylor Swift herself, showed up on Sunday with her boyfriend Travis Kelce among the crowds to support her friends: producer and Bleachers band member Jack Antonoff and Eras tourmate Ice Spice

Will Smith Joined J Balvin For The “Men In Black” Theme

What slap? Last year, Will Smith appeared at “A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip Hop” as one half of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. And at Coachella 2024, the world was treated to another throwback, as he and four-time GRAMMY nominee J Balvin performed the immortal theme to Men in Black.

Doja Cat Brought Out A$AP Rocky, 21 Savage and Teezo Touchdown

GRAMMY winner and 19-time nominee Doja Cat turned in a performance heavy on rap — and also puppet dinosaurs. As per the former, A$AP Rocky, 21 Savage and Teezo Touchdown touched down, collaborating with Doja on “Urrrge,” “N.H.I.E.,” and “Masc,” respectively.

Ice Spice Previewed A New Song Onstage

Something’s stirring in Ice Spiceworld. At Coachella, she wowed with her live debut of a new song that sampled Sean Paul’s 2005 track “Gimme the Light.” (She closed out with “Think U the Shit (Fart).”)

As reported earlier in April, Ice Spice is going to make her acting debut in Spike Lee’s new movie High and Low, starring Denzel Washington

Peso Pluma Made His Coachella Debut

¡Corridos tumbados de por vida! In the wake of his big win at the 2024 GRAMMYs — Best Música Mexicana Album (Including Tejano), for GÉNESIS Peso Pluma lit up Coachella 2024 with that signature fusion of folky guitar ballads and modern hip-hop, with special guests including Becky G and Arcángel.

Lil Uzi Vert Previewed A New Song Onstage

Ice Spice wasn’t the only act to preview new material at Coachella 2024. Enter four-time GRAMMY nominee Lil Uzi Vert, who performed a hypnotic and — again — unnamed track, one that seemed to be tailor-made for Coachella.

A Mini-Fugees Reunion Went Down (Thanks To YG Marley)

Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean are no strangers to reigniting the Fugees spirit onstage — they did so at Essence Fest 2022, while GRAMMY.com was reporting on site. This time, they kept it in the family; during Hill’s son YG Marley’s set, both Fugees came out, playing classics like “Killing Me Softly.” (The embattled Pras wasn’t present.)

Blur Announced This Was Their Last Performance Together

Social media is currently abuzz at the allegedly unresponsive audience for Blur — but what’s a viral, out-of-context clip supposed to prove, anyway? Whatever the case may be, after their rollicking set, Damon Albarn and company declared that the Britpop icons were entering another hiatus.

Bizarrap Brought Out Shakira

Mega-watt Argentine producer Bizarrap brought his BZRP Music Sessions to the Coachella stage and included a surprise appearance from superstar Shakira.

Shakira and Bizarrap won the Latin GRAMMY for Song Of The Year at the 2023 Latin GRAMMYs for "Shakira: Bzrp Music Sessions, Vol. 53," a featured track on her fresh-out-the-trap album, Las Mujeres Ya No Lloran

Billie Eilish Threw A Special “Billie & Friends” Party & Hyped Up The Crowd With The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside”

After surprising fans during Lana Del Rey's Friday set, Billie Eilish treated fans and special guests to a preview of her new album, Hit Me Hard and Soft at the Do LaB Stage on Saturday night.

The previewed songs were well-received by an enthusiastic set of attendees who were introduced to yet-to-debut tracks "“Lunch,” "L’Amour De Ma Vie," and "Chihiro." 

"Yo Gabba Gabba!" Showed Up To The Aquabats’ Pool Party

Christian Jacobs, lead singer of the Aquabats, co-created the "Yo Gabba Gabba!" TV show — and the colorful cast of costumed characters showed up to their pool party! This marks yet another example of ska picking up at Coachella — see the transcendent No Doubt and Sublime performances.

Sublime Made Their Coachella Debut With Jakob Nowell

As you may have read, Sublime are back, against the odds — not with Rome, but with Jakob Nowell, original Sublime frontman Bradley’s son. (It must be said: Bradley died at 28, ending the band’s original run; as he takes the guitar and mic, Jakob himself is 28.)

Speaking of the guitar — he wielded his old man’s, in an emotional and electrifying set that proved these songs’ durability and beyond.

Vampire Weekend Brought Paris Hilton Onstage To Play Cornhole

Life imitates Mad Libs! The beloved indie rockers are out promoting their new album, 2024’s Only God Was Above Us — and who better to cheerlead than the one and only Paris Hilton, to play the classic bean bag game with the crew?

Dom Dolla Brought Out Nelly Furtado

Dance/electronic sensation Dom Dolla returned to Coachella for a charged set featuring festival first-timer Nelly Furtado who joined to perform their GRAMMY-nominated track, "Eat Your Man."

Furtado gave her all during the rousing performance, a testament to the duo's synergy after Dom Dolla brought the singer out of a six year hiatus to work together on the song.

Sky Ferreira Made A Surprise Appearance With Kevin Abstract

If Sky Ferreira seems like an unlikely candidate to belt out a Lady A hit, think again. The singer/songwriter brought newfound heft to the five-time GRAMMY winners’ classic hit, “Need You Now,” with Kevin Abstract.

Does this foreshadow a reappraisal of the country mainstays’ catalog? Once the dust settles re: the ska revival, we’ll have that conversation.

Kesha Showed Up To Rock With Reneé Rapp (And Diss A Certain Disgraced Rapper)

“Wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy,” Kesha once rapped, in her inescapable 2009 hit “Tik Tok.” Well, that didn’t age well, and Kesha knew that. So she changed “P. Diddy” to “me” — and if that’s just going to be the official lyric now, that’s fine by the music industry. Reneé Rapp, of Mean Girls fame, bolstered her.

Mac DeMarco Joined Forces With Lil Yachty

Mac DeMarco’s been a savvy chameleon at this stage in his career, prioritizing brainy collaborations over typical album release cycles.

He has two songwriting credits on Yachty’s game changing 2023 album Let’s Start Here, and during Yachty’s performance, he showed up to perform two of his song songs: “On The Level,” from 2017’s This Old Dog, and “Chamber of Reflection,” from his decade-old album Salad Days.

Additional reporting by Nina Frazier.

10 Must-See Artists At Coachella 2024: Skepta, The Last Dinner Party, Mdou Moctar, Cimafunk & More