Beyoncé might be the closest thing we have to real life superhero, but it turns out she’s only human. Originally scheduled to headline this year’s Coachella, the festival’s organizers Goldenvoice announced yesterday that the singer has cancelled her headlining performance, owing to her pregnancy and “the advice of her doctors to keep a less rigorous schedule in the coming months.” Instead, Beyoncé will headline next year’s edition.
While it’s completely understandable that Beyoncé has to do what’s best for her health and family, she was a major coup for the festival, and it’s going to be tough for Goldenvoice to find the right replacement. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival started in 1999, and for the first several years of existence focused on alternative rock acts for headliners, but lately organizers have also incorporated hip-hop and dance music into the mix much more prominently. Replacing the most beloved performer in popular music is difficult enough, but the organizers also have to get someone who will appeal to the pop and R&B fans who bought tickets hoping to see her. Plus, the festival is two months away. No pressure, right?
Here’s our guests for the most likely replacements, as well as who you should not expect to see.
THE LEAST LIKELY REPLACEMENT: RIHANNA
On paper, Rihanna is the most logical replacement. Like Beyoncé, she’s an extremely popular R&B singer that’s also beloved by hipsters and indie rock fans, and like Beyoncé, she’s been touring in support of her most creatively ambitious and acclaimed album yet, last year’s Anti. Heck, she covers Tame Impala on that album, and bringing out Kevin Parker for a duet would kill. But Rihanna and Beyoncé are so evenly matched in popular culture, that it’s hard to imagine that Rihanna would want her first Coachella headlining gig to exist in the shadow of Beyoncé. No matter how great the show was, it would still be remembered as a last-minute replacement. There’s also probably not enough time for Rihanna to put together the spectacular stage show she would want to bring to the desert. Rihanna’s beloved enough, and the ideas of the type of acts Coachella audiences want to see is changing so rapidly, that it’s inevitable that she will headline sometime in the next few years, and Rihanna surely knows its best for her to wait and do it on her own terms.
DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH: FRANK OCEAN
If Coachella organizers wanted to continue in the vein of “Creatively Ambitious Visionary Whose Work Can No Longer Be Confided To Just R&B,” then Frank Ocean would be a great pick. His 2012 performance at the festival helped raise the anticipation for his “official” debut album Channel Orange to a fever pitch. But at this moment in time, it’s unclear if Ocean would even be interested in the gig. He released two albums last year (Endless and Blonde) and didn’t tour or do much press for either of them. He’s scheduled to do a handful of music festivals this year, including New York’s Panorama Festival, which is booked by the same organizers as Coachella and is designed to be the festival’s East Coast counterpart, so there’s a chance he could be talked into the gig, but at the moment it seems that the elusive Mr. Ocean would rather stay out of the spotlight.
THE MOST LIKELY REPLACEMENT: LADY GAGA
Two months isn’t much time to put together to a technically demanding stage show. But if there’s anyone with the drive and ambition to get it done, it’s Lady Gaga. She has enough hits to make people not feel too bad that they’re not getting in formation, and like Beyoncé, she can bring out a small army of Coachella-friendly guest stars that collaborated on her most recent album (including Beck, Florence Welch, and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme) for cameos, which might make up for the fact that Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar aren’t doing “Freedom” together. And unlike Rihanna, Lady Gaga actually needs this. Her most recent album Joanne failed to catch fire on radio or in sales, but as demonstrated by the response to her wonderfully weird Super Bowl performance, people still love her, and she still knows how to get attention. Joanne wasn’t a bad album per se, but the arrangements and production often worked against Gaga’s strengths; a live set that featured reworked version of her songs could remind people that she’s still one of the boldest pop stars working today.
THE SECOND MOST LIKELY REPLACEMENT: A TRIBE CALLED QUEST
The Panorama Festival is a good indicator of the talent that Goldenvoice has on tap, and could potentially move up to the big leagues. Let’s go through the headliners. As stated above, Frank Ocean could go either way. Solange isn’t quite popular enough (yet) to be a full-on headliner, and since she’s worked hard to establish her own career, she likely wouldn’t want to be seen as filling in for her sister. Nine Inch Nails have headlined before and are reliably great, and Tame Impala are one of the most popular and respected bands of their generation and will probably headline when they release their next album, but neither acts would really satisfy the pop fans disappointed with Beyoncé absence. For the past few years the festival’s organizers have been trying to change its reputation as being ruled solely by white dudes with guitars, and as much as they’re beloved, both Trent Reznor and Kevin Parker would be a step backward in this regards. For basically the same reasons, don’t expect Alt-J either. (Plus, Alt-J is super boring.)
That leaves A Tribe Called Quest. Now, Coachella has never had two hip-hop acts headline the festival before (Kendrick Lamar is also on the bill), but it’s also never had a pop/R&B star headline before, so clearly the rulebook is out the window. A Tribe Called Quest’s album zeitgeist-capturing album We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service not only reminded older fans that Q-Tip and company are one of the best rap groups to ever do it, but proved to younger fans that they can still hold their own with the new jacks. They are a beloved institution with an acclaimed new album and iconic back catalog, and they should have headlined years ago.
THE MOST LIKELY BACK-UP PLAN: LORDE
But let’s say that none of the above work out. Perhaps the replacements want a bit too much money, or worry that they won’t have time to put together an impressive enough stage show, or fear that Beyoncé’s shadow is too much to overcome. Lorde is already on the bill, and she drew such a big crowd at her 2014 performance that it wouldn’t be too surprising if Coachella just promoted her up to headlining status. Her set will be one of her first live shows in years, and her new album is reportedly due soon. There’s a hunger for new music from her, and she’s already become an icon to the generation that buys Coachella tickets, so why not capitalize on the excitement? There’s worse back-up plans to have.
OH GEEZ, EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE THESE DAYS SO IT WILL PROBABLY BE: THE CHAINSMOKERS