The first weekend of Coachella came to a close Sunday night with what appeared to be a live rendition of the latest volume of Now That’s What I Call Music! With Calvin Harris as the closing-night headliner, the festival has proudly made the full cosmetic transformation from music and arts celebration to a twenty-something version of My Super Sweet Sixteen.
Now, that’s not to say there weren’t some fine moments out in the “desert” of Indio, California. The full weekend brought passionate performances from notable acts like LCD Soundsystem, Sia, and The Kills, while fans were also treated to rising talent in the form of Gallant, Kamasi Washington, Anderson Paak, and Bob Moses. But it was the head-scratching decision to close out the weekend with a notoriously bland EDM artist that epitomizes the fest’s steadfast commitment to pandering to the simplest of its flower crown flock.
Over the course of its 17 years, Coachella has presented its devoted attendees to closing performances by artists such as Beck, The Cure, Rage Against the Machine, Radiohead, and Kanye West. Harris’s performance marks the first time a person holding their hands a few inches above a keyboard and decks—or what we now refer to as a “DJ”—was given the honor, thus placing him among the ranks of the top artists in music.
Calvin Harris is not that. The 32-year-old is may have ranked No. 1 on Forbes’ “The World’s Highest-Paid DJs” list last year by earning over $66 million, and has had his profile considerably raised by dating one of the most popular musicians in the land in Taylor Swift, but he’s not much of a live performer (if you call turning the occasional knob and waving your hands “performing”).
The 90-minute set consisted of nothing more than a collection of tried-and-true crowd-pleasing hits—made popular by other musicians, mind you—and the quintessential representation of “playing it safe.” There was his collaborative track with Florence and the Machine, “Sweet Nothing,” as well as a remix of Major Lazer’s hit single “Lean On”—even though the actual DJ duo had performed it with singer Mø and DJ Snake just a couple hours earlier.There were samples galore, really. The chorus to Adele’s “Hello,” Drake and Future’s “Jumpman,” the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll,” and even Daft Punk’s “One More Time.” We’ve all heard this playlist before, whether at the local bar or the gym mix you painstakingly crafted, which raises the question of how anyone can make millions from reappropriating actual artists’ music for massive crowds. In between the chart-topping hits, Harris did manage to squeeze in a few of his own—“Summer” and “Feel So Close.”
Per customary Coachella tradition, an A-list cameo—in the form of the inimitable Rihanna—joined the stage to help perform their 2013 Grammy Award-winning track “We Found Love” (she belted out the notes, he pressed play). Kanye West protégé Big Sean also made an appearance for ”Open Wide” and “I Don’t Fuck with You.” And again, not to belabor the point, but it’s truly strange when the most interesting parts of your show consist of you blasting other people’s music, and hosting other performers onstage to perform. Nevertheless, Swift seemed to have a blast at her beau’s dance party, Instagramming a video of RiRi with the caption: “I’ll NEVER forget this moment.”
Although Harris’s grandiose laser light show was a sight to behold, with passes starting at $399, fans have come to expect something better than that which can easily be replicated on a Rihanna Pandora station. It’s frankly demoralizing to have such a basic performance serve as the curtain-closer to a weekend filled with artists striving for originality and exploring new sounds.
We deserve better than this.