Make no mistake. It was no random choice for Ariana Grande to open up her headlining show at Coachella with “God is a woman;” it was a resounding shot fired. The festival has long been a place where rock music dominated, only recently shifting to some pop and hip-hop programming. It’s also long been a festival that has relegated women down the bill and into the DJ tents. Grande was the fifth woman headliner and the youngest ever, and it was a power move to start the song in a capella; it told audience that while this would be both a large-scale production and the work of a talented, once-in-a-generation vocalist.
And then, Grande set out to build a fantasy world. Through her performances of “bad idea” and “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” she started the first half of a show that didn't have the hallmarks of the average pop concert. The stage setting was surprisingly dark and space-themed while she blends into her dancers with no glamour spotlight, just the lights reflecting off the highlighter that runs in a sharp line down her cheekbones.
Imagine a world where a woman reunites one of the most successful boy bands of all time at her whim, takes the place of one of their members, and then they thank her for helping them accomplish something they were never able to do in her own career. Or, rephrased: Grande then brought out *NSYNC - with herself playing the role of Justin Timberlake. “I’ve been rehearsing my whole motherfucking life for this moment,” she says before joining them for a rendition of “Tearing Up My Heart,” choreography and all.
The boy band marked the first of several guest appearance. Grande would also bring out her frequent collaborator Nicki Minaj, for a performance unfortunately fraught with sound issues, a full orchestra to accompany her on “breathin’,” and Diddy and Mase for another shot of ‘90s nostalgia and an ingenious segway from her own “Break Your Heart Right Back” into the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo Money, Mo Problems” based on their shared sample of Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out.”
After all that guest star power (and three wardrobe changes), Grande took over for the last third of her set bringing out some of her big hits like “Dangerous Woman,” “Break Free,” and hitting the audience with an encore of “thank u, next.”
Arichella is a passing of the torch. Coachella has been around for 20 years and for most of the time aimed at a Gen X-to-Millennial audience mostly concerned with indie cred, whose idea of a hot ‘90s reunion was the Pixies rather than *NSYNC. Last year, Beyoncé broke down the idea of what a Coachella headliner could look like Grande didn’t follow that path this year. Instead, she gave us what the next generation wants from Coachella: a show that Justin Bieber and Billie Eilish could both enjoy while dancing together in the audience.