Coachella survives a fire scare, and K-pop act Blackpink rules the early going

Blackpink performs in concert
The members of Blackpink wowed Coachella on Friday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

It’s usually frowned upon to wear the shirt of a band to their own concert. But for Marilyn Morales of Palmdale, Blackpink’s debut Coachella performance warranted an exception.

“I wasn’t going to come to Coachella until I saw the [lineup] with Blackpink,” she said, just before the K-pop group took the Sahara tent stage. She wore a well-broken-in shirt featuring the quartet, and while she’d been having a good time at the fest, they were far and away the reason she came. “It was really surprising. It’s pretty cool that they’re thinking outside the box,” she said.

“I love this new direction, it’s so unique for Coachella,” added her brother Helder Morales.

Coachella has hosted popular South Korean acts before (the hip-hop group Epik High performed in 2016). But Blackpink’s set was the first time a K-pop idol group at the height of its powers performed in Indio. It drew a mix of mind-shattered fans of the Korean pop culture scene known as hallyu who couldn’t believe their luck, and plenty of curious onlookers who might not have seen a K-pop show otherwise.


It also represents a new era in which the festival isn’t just recruiting bands who fit the Coachella mold from around the world. Its promoters are expanding their definition of what qualifies as a Coachella act to meet a younger, globalized and diverse audience where they are. Not every band can have a set livestreamed on the side of a building in Times Square like Blackpink did.

Friday night wasn’t all futuristic global pop.

A fire that broke out in the mobile showers around 2 a.m. at the Coachella campgrounds briefly frightened campers but was contained within half an hour, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Dominique McClean is a two-time Coachella camper from Boston. The 27-year old didn’t learn of the fire until Saturday morning, when she was in line for the shower.

“The showers were taking extra long,” she said. “The line was out of control.”

While festival-goers around her were spooked by the incident, McClean was more relaxed — and a bit fatalistic. “We’re all going to go sometime,” she said.

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The crowd watches Blackpink at Coachella.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)


But by and large, Blackpink was the talk of the festival early on, and little could dampen the enthusiasm.

Emery Vu flew in from Edmonton, Canada, for the festival, largely on the promise of finally seeing Blackpink in person. “I was super excited, and there were so many Blackpink billboards on the drive out here,” Vu said. “But I’m not surprised there’s a K-pop band here, it’s so huge right now.”

If any K-pop group could make this kind of debut here, Blackpink was a savvy choice. They’re already megastars across Asia (and have a Forum date coming soon), and their music covers a waterfront of modern hip-hop, EDM, synth ballads and even heavy rock. Their onstage rapport hits a sweet spot between K-pop’s cheery, futurist veneer and hip-hop’s bravado and prowess.

It’s easy to imagine fans of Billie Eilish or Janelle Monáe hearing word of something crazy happening at the Sahara tent and leaving after the Blackpink show to go straight down a YouTube rabbit hole of K-pop videos.


BTS might be a bigger act, and 2NE1 might have covered similar terrain before them. But it’s likely that no other K-pop group could have handled a Coachella gig quite as well.

From the first kicks of “DDU-DU DDU-DU” through the deep-sunk hooks of “Whistle” and “Forever Young,” they brought the rigor and charm of K-pop to a festival founded on punk and indie ideals. That they so successfully translated it to tens of thousands of fans — many of whom didn’t share Morales’ devotion yet — instantly put them in the canon of K-pop crossovers, and they’re probably just getting started.

Anyone who has been to L.A.’s KCON event for Korean pop culture knows that it’s hardly news that K-pop is enormous in Southern California. But there’s something different about Coachella acknowledging it. K-pop’s not just a fan-driven phenomenon anymore, but one the larger music industry in the West has been forced to take seriously and appreciate for its own particular virtues.

“There’s been this Korean crossover, but for them to be playing an American festival is so dope. People have this taste for other cultures now,” said James Deperalta, whom came down from San Francisco for the set. “They take a lot of influences from EDM, and I think people will love that energy. Plus Lisa’s rapping is just hella dope.”


The band seemed a little stunned by the reception. They’re already an arena act in the states, but the sight of the acres of Coachella fans clearly did something to them. The members — Lisa, Jennie, Jisoo and Rosé — sprinted across the stage just to underline how huge it was, and how different. “This is so much fun, I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life,” Lisa said, before signing off with the booming EDM-inspired hits “Boombayah” and “As If It’s Your Last.”

If Friday was any sign, they certainly won’t be the last K-pop act to have a major slot at the festival. They may well be the first of many.