Oh no. Does this mean we’re in for a few years of washed-up guitar bands?
When Coachella announced in January that it had booked Ariana Grande as one of its headliners, many old-time festival-goers expressed sorrow that their precious alternative-rock show — the desert blowout that once hosted the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Rage Against the Machine — had gone fully and irredeemably pop.
I was optimistic: As savvy a superstar as the top 40 can claim right now, Grande in my view is perfectly capable of designing a Coachella set to bridge the gap between the festival’s dark-and-edgy past and its bright-and-shiny present.
And given how good she is on “Thank U, Next” — the album she released after Coachella revealed its lineup — I still believe she could’ve done it.
But the disappointing show Grande played Sunday night to close the first weekend of this year’s edition — well, that wasn’t it.
The performance started strong, with the singer belting “God Is a Woman” amid a Last Supper-style tableau; next was “Bad Idea,” which had her dancers writhing as profanely as any NIN fan could want.
Then she sang a tart rendition of “Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored,” a song that samples an old track by ’N Sync. As had been widely rumored before showtime, that was a pretext to bring out four members of the beloved boy band — all of them but Justin Timberlake — who enlisted Grande to join them for their classic “Tearin’ Up My Heart.”
“I’ve been rehearsing my whole … life for this,” Grande said, using a salty adjective, and though she didn’t say it, you could tell how much she was enjoying playing Timberlake’s part after he reportedly bowed out of doing Coachella, which opened the spot up for her.
Unfortunately, the show began to fall apart after that.
Grande’s singing was fine, at least when she bothered to sing. (She relied on a lot of vocal tracks.) And her costumes were fun. (She said she couldn’t decide which one to wear, so she wore them all — none of which you can see here, as Grande barred The Times from photographing the concert.)
But with routines from her current arena tour jammed together with special-for-Coachella numbers, this thing told no coherent story — a must for any pop extravaganza that plays in the wake of Beyoncé’s game-changing performance last year.
Worse, the would-be show-stoppers (other than the collaboration with ’N Sync) were sloppy as hell.
Nicki Minaj turned up to do her verses in “Side to Side” and “Bang Bang,” but rapped so carelessly that it came as no surprise when she didn’t come out later during “The Light Is Coming,” on which she also features.
And though you had to appreciate the thought that went into it, an unannounced appearance by Diddy and Mase to do “Mo Money Mo Problems” — which Grande sampled years ago for her own “Break Your Heart Right Back” — went sideways when the singer’s band seemed unable to settle on a key for the song.
Which meant that the moment, lacking any musical value, registered only as hollow spectacle — precisely the thing that diehard rock chauvinists say Coachella was indulging by booking a pop star in the first place.