Why haven't more progressive musicians denounced Coachella?
Every spring about 100,000 music lovers descend on Indio, California, to take part in Coachella, North America’s highest-profile music festival. Media coverage of the event focuses on music as much as it does on the clothes festival-goers wear and the celebrities who attend. The media rarely covers the fact that the festival’s owner, Philip Anschutz, has donated to Republican politicians, anti-gay organizations, and organizations classified as hate groups.
According to reports and donation tracking services like Open Secrets , Anschutz has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to anti-LGBT organizations over the years, including the Family Research Council and the National Christian Foundation. The billionaire also backed the Keystone XL Pipeline and donated thousands of dollars to Republican politicians, including pro-gun Senator Cory Gardner, Representative Scott Tipton, who opposes both abortion rights and same-sex marriage, and Representative Mike Coffman who is anti-choice and was part of the birther movement.
Anschutz’s support of the far right hasn’t discouraged many artists from performing at Coachella, however. In fact, over the past three years, huge stars like Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, Lorde, and The Weeknd have all performed there. The 2019 lineup boasts Childish Gambino, Janelle Monaé, Solange, and Ariana Grande, just to name a few artists set to perform. Of these artists, many have very vocally and publicly advocated for positions in stark contrast to Anschutz’s political sensibilities. For example, both Lorde and Ariana Grande are outspoken allies to the LGBTQ community, and Beyoncé and Childish Gambino have both promoted gun reform.
This apparent hypocrisy of artists effectively supporting someone who opposes their beliefs raises the question: Do artists who have a political voice, or at least claim to be politically active on certain issues, have a responsibility to align all of their career decisions with their purported political values? Or can their performances exist in a vacuum, and be depoliticized? The general lack of uproar regarding these artists’ decisions to perform at Coachella seems to suggest public opinion sides with the latter conclusion, and that cancel culture has not yet sunk its talons into Coachella.
Of course, this forgiveness among Coachella attendees makes sense given that the event caters to a highly privileged group, and the highly privileged aren’t always known for their accountability to social justice. Tickets for a single weekend sell for around $500, which does not include expenses for traveling to the venue and sleeping accommodations once there. We’ve also already seen how many of these concert-goers lack self awareness when it comes to cultural appropriation. It’s not uncommon to see white festival-goers adorned in Native American headdresses, bindis, and even cornrows. If attendees are willing to make their own ethical compromises in how they show up to the festival, as well as their own decision to tacitly support Anschutz’s agenda, it’s unsurprising that they fail to hold artists performing there to a different standard.
But why the general public, especially those opposed to Anschutz’s political work, hasn’t raised the problem of these artists’ hypocrisy is less understandable. Some public figures, like Cara Delevingne, have spoken out, and media outlets including Jezebel, Pitchfork, and Vulture have all covered this controversy. But overall, Coachella still generally seems to have been given a pass for this problem. Some might argue the festival itself can be separated from its owner’s beliefs and actions, just as some argue that art can and should be considered separately from an artist’s personal decisions. On the other hand, many people have demonstrated how this approach is, in some cases, downright asinine. Take, for example, R. Kelly’s music. This artist has both created influential music over the past two decades and has also been accused of being morally and ethically repugnant. Many R. Kelly supporters continue to separate the mountain of sexual abuse charges wielded against him from their appreciation of his music. It seems Coachella supporters use the same logic as R. Kelly fans in their ability to separate Anschutz’s homophobic principles from his festival.
The onus to call Coachella’s owner out, therefore, is on the major stars that agree to perform at Coachella and their fans. Artists who choose to take political stances should be expected to walk the walk; Fans and consumers must hold them accountable for doing so. Moreover, audiences need to better educate themselves about who they’re giving their money to and how that entity is, in turn, using those funds. Ultimately the decision comes down to this: hHow much hypocrisy or inconsistency can a fan stomach from an artist before asking them to do better or abandoning them altogether?
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