With three prizes each, BTS, Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion were the top winners at the 2021 American Music Awards, which were presented November 21 at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Cardi B was the host of the ceremony. ABC had the U.S. telecast of the show. The American Music Awards are voted for online by fans.
BTS won the American Music Awards for Artist of the Year; Favorite Pop Song (for “Butter”); and Favorite Pop Duo or Group. Doja Cat received the prizes for Collaboration of the Year (for her “Kiss Me More” duet with SZA); Favorite R&B Album (for “Planet Her”); and Favorite Female R&B Artist. Megan Thee Stallion won the awards for Favorite Trending Song (“for Body”); Favorite Hip-Hop Album (for “Good News”); and Favorite Female Hip-Hop Artist.
Several artists won two awards each, such as Olivio Rodrigo, Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, Cardi B, Carrie Underwood and Gabby Barrett. (See the complete list of winners at the end of the article.) Rodrigo went into the ceremony with the most nomnations (seven), followed by The Weeknd with six nods. The Weeknd ended up winning the award for Favorite Male R&B Artist. New categories this year were Favorite Trending Song (with nominees from TikTok on the year’s most viral songs); Favorite Gospel Artist; and Favorite Latin Duo or Group.
According to a press release from ABC: “Nominees are based on key fan interactions—as reflected on the Billboard charts—including streaming, album sales, song sales and radio airplay. These measurements are tracked by Billboard and its data partner MRC Data, and cover the time period September 25, 2020, through September 23, 2021.” The 2021 American Music Awards ceremony was produced by MRC Live & Alternative and Jesse Collins Entertainment.
The following is from an ABC press release:
Show performance highlights included:
Multiple Grammy Award winners Bruno Mars and Anderson.Paak, who just dropped their debut album as Silk Sonic, kicked off the night with an energetic opening performance of their recently released hit “Smokin Out The Window.”
It was a night of AMA debut performances, with Olivia Rodrigo taking the stage for a powerful performance of “Traitor,” the fourth single from her record-smashing album, “Sour.”
Pop megastars BTS joined legendary British band Coldplay for the world television premiere performance of “My Universe.”
Tyler, The Creator performed “Massa” off his sixth studio album, “Call Me If You Get Lost.”
This year’s new “My Hometown” segments included spectacular performances byCarrie Underwood and Jason Aldean and an epic “Battle of Boston” as iconic boy bands New Edition and New Kids On The Block shared the stage together for the very first time and had everyone on their feet.
Italian rock band and first-time AMA nominee Måneskin made their U.S. awards show debut when they performed their global No. 1 hit “Beggin.’”
Three-time AMA winner Jennifer Lopez delivered a magical performance of her newly released song “On My Way” from the soundtrack of her upcoming film “Marry Me.”
Country music star Mickey Guyton wowed audiences with her performance of her newest single “All American.”
Chlöemade her AMA performance debut from the Xfinity Stage with her debut single, “Have Mercy.”
Walker Hayes marked his AMAs debut with a fun performance of his viral song “Fancy Like.”
This year’s “AMA Song of the Soul” segment honored German singer/songwriter Zoe Wees for her powerhouse performance of “Girls Like Us.”
Five-time AMA winner Kane Brown performed his hit “One Mississippi” at Tennessee State University (TSU), a notable HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Brown also gave fans a look into his Tennessee and Georgia roots leading into his performance.
Diplo took on a special role and served as the first-ever AMAs musical curator, DJing his iconic tunes throughout the night.
Winner Highlights of the “2020 American Music Awards”:
Tonight, BTS made history at the AMAs as the first Asian group to win in the Artist of the Year category and won Favorite Pop Duo or Group and Favorite Pop Song for their record-breaking hit “Butter.” The group now has nine AMAs.
Now 34-time AMA winner Taylor Swift took home the awards for Favorite Female Pop Artist and Favorite Pop Album for her No. 1 album “Evermore.”
Following her breathtaking debut performance on the AMAs stage, Olivia Rodrigo won her first-ever AMA with New Artist of the Year.
Bad Bunnywas named Favorite Male Latin Artist at this year’s AMAs and won Favorite Latin Album for “EL ÚLTIMO TOUR DEL MUNDO.”
Kali Uchis, now first-time AMA winner, won Favorite Latin Song with her hit single “telepatía.”
Presenters included Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Anthony Ramos, Billy Porter, Brandy, JB Smoove, JoJo Siwa, Liza Koshy, Machine Gun Kelly, Marsai Martin, Madelyn Cline and Winnie Harlow.
The following is the complete list of winners and nominees for the 2021 American Music Awards:
ARTIST OF THE YEAR Ariana Grande BTS* Drake Olivia Rodrigo Taylor Swift The Weeknd
NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR 24kGoldn Giveon Masked Wolf Olivia Rodrigo* The Kid LAROI
COLLABORATION OF THE YEAR 24kGoldn ft. iann dior “Mood” Bad Bunny & Jhay Cortez “DÁKITI” Chris Brown & Young Thug “Go Crazy” Doja Cat ft. SZA “Kiss Me More”* Justin Bieber ft. Daniel Caesar & Giveon “Peaches”
FAVORITE MUSIC VIDEO Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak) “Leave The Door Open” Cardi B “Up” Lil Nas X “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”* Olivia Rodrigo “drivers license” The Weeknd “Save Your Tears”
FAVORITE MALE POP ARTIST Drake Ed Sheeran* Justin Bieber Lil Nas X The Weeknd
FAVORITE FEMALE POP ARTIST Ariana Grande Doja Cat Dua Lipa Olivia Rodrigo Taylor Swift*
FAVORITE POP DUO OR GROUP AJR BTS* Glass Animals Maroon 5 Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak)
FAVORITE POP ALBUM Ariana Grande “Positions” Dua Lipa “Future Nostalgia” Olivia Rodrigo “SOUR” Taylor Swift “evermore”* The Kid LAROI “F*CK LOVE”
FAVORITE POP SONG BTS “Butter”* Doja Cat ft. SZA “Kiss Me More” Dua Lipa “Levitating” Olivia Rodrigo “drivers license” The Weeknd & Ariana Grande “Save Your Tears (Remix)”
FAVORITE MALE COUNTRY ARTIST Chris Stapleton Jason Aldean Luke Bryan* Luke Combs Morgan Wallen
FAVORITE FEMALE COUNTRY ARTIST Carrie Underwood* Gabby Barrett Kacey Musgraves Maren Morris Miranda Lambert
FAVORITE COUNTRY DUO OR GROUP Dan + Shay* Florida Georgia Line Lady A Old Dominion Zac Brown Band
FAVORITE COUNTRY ALBUM Chris Stapleton “Starting Over” Gabby Barrett “Goldmine”* Lee Brice “Hey World” Luke Bryan “Born Here Live Here Die Here” Morgan Wallen “Dangerous: The Double Album”
FAVORITE COUNTRY SONG Chris Stapleton “Starting Over” Chris Young & Kane Brown “Famous Friends” Gabby Barrett “The Good Ones”* Luke Combs “Forever After All” Walker Hayes “Fancy Like”
FAVORITE MALE HIP-HOP ARTIST Drake* Lil Baby Moneybagg Yo Polo G Pop Smoke
FAVORITE FEMALE HIP-HOP ARTIST Cardi B Coi Leray Erica Banks Megan Thee Stallion* Saweetie
FAVORITE HIP-HOP ALBUM Drake “Certified Lover Boy” Juice WRLD “Legends Never Die” Megan Thee Stallion “Good News”* Pop Smoke “Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon” Rod Wave “SoulFly”
FAVORITE HIP-HOP SONG Cardi B “Up”* Internet Money ft. Gunna, Don Toliver & NAV “Lemonade” Lil Tjay ft. 6LACK “Calling My Phone” Polo G “RAPSTAR” Pop Smoke “What You Know Bout Love”
FAVORITE MALE R&B ARTIST Chris Brown Giveon Tank The Weeknd* Usher
FAVORITE R&B ALBUM Doja Cat “Planet Her”* Giveon “When It’s All Said And Done… Take Time” H.E.R. “Back of My Mind” Jazmine Sullivan “Heaux Tales” Queen Naija “missunderstood”
FAVORITE R&B SONG Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak) “Leave The Door Open”* Chris Brown & Young Thug “Go Crazy” Giveon “Heartbreak Anniversary” H.E.R. “Damage” Jazmine Sullivan “Pick Up Your Feelings”
FAVORITE MALE LATIN ARTIST Bad Bunny* J Balvin Maluma Ozuna Rauw Alejandro
FAVORITE FEMALE LATIN ARTIST Becky G* Kali Uchis KAROL G Natti Natasha ROSALÍA
FAVORITE LATIN DUO OR GROUP Banda MS de Sergio Lizárraga* Calibre 50 Eslabon Armado La Arrolladora Banda El Limón De Rene Camacho Los Dos Carnales
FAVORITE LATIN ALBUM Bad Bunny “EL ÚLTIMO TOUR DEL MUNDO”* Kali Uchis “Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios)” KAROL G “KG0516” Maluma “PAPI JUANCHO” Rauw Alejandro “Afrodisíaco”
FAVORITE LATIN SONG Bad Bunny & Jhay Cortez “DÁKITI” Bad Bunny x ROSALÍA “LA NOCHE DE ANOCHE” Farruko “Pepas” Kali Uchis “telepatía”* Maluma & The Weeknd “Hawái (Remix)”
FAVORITE ROCK ARTIST AJR All Time Low Foo Fighters Glass Animals Machine Gun Kelly*
FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL ARTIST CAIN Carrie Underwood* Elevation Worship Lauren Daigle Zach Williams
FAVORITE GOSPEL ARTIST Kanye West* Kirk Franklin Koryn Hawthorne Maverick City Music Tasha Cobbs Leonard
FAVORITE DANCE/ELECTRONIC ARTIST David Guetta ILLENIUM Marshmello* Regard Tiësto
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Los Angeles, the comedy/drama “The High Note” features a racially diverse cast (white, African American, Asian and Latino) representing the middle-class and upper-class.
Culture Clash: A personal assistant to a superstar music diva comes up against obstacles when the assistant tries to become a music producer.
Culture Audience: “The High Note” will appeal primarily to people who like formulaic movies about showbiz that have a predictable ending.
It’s a pretty well-known fact at “The High Note” stars Tracey Ellis Ross and Dakota Johnson grew up in the upper echelons of show business, since they both have parents who are famous entertainers. Ellis Ross’ mother is Diana Ross. Johnson is the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. So with all that knowledgeable background, it’s too bad that Dakota Johnson and Ellis Ross have chosen to be in such a hollow and predictable dramedy about the music business. The irony of this movie being called “The High Note” is that there aren’t too many highlights for this film, when it comes to authenticity, laugh-out-loud humor or outstanding original songs.
However, one of the notable consistencies of the film is Ellis Ross—who does her own singing in the film and is very good at it— in her performance as spoiled superstar Grace Davis, who’s reached a crossroads in her career. Grace, who lives in Los Angeles, is famous enough to still be on the covers of People, Rolling Stone and Billboard, but she’s been coasting on her past hits because she hasn’t come out with an album of new songs in about 10 years. She still keeps herself in the public eye and continues to make millions by doing tours.
Grace’s long-suffering personal assistant Margaret “Maggie” Sherwoode has been working for Grace for three years, but what Maggie really wants to do is to be a music producer. Grace is coming out with a live album that Maggie has been secretly mixing in a recording studio in her spare time, in order for Maggie to practice her producer/mixer skills. Maggie has been able to get access to the studio, thanks to her recording engineer acquaintance Seth (played by Eugene Cordero), who’s worked with Grace and has been training Maggie in the studio.
“The High Note,” directed by Nisha Ganatra, hits a lot of the same cringeworthy beats of Ganatra’s 2019 comedy/drama “Late Night,” a movie that flopped with audiences because it was easy to see how phony and pandering the story was. Both movies are about a plucky young woman with a big dream who thinks she can take a shortcut to that dream, just by being in the right place at the right time. The young woman works for an egotistical, middle-aged diva who’s worried about becoming a has-been. The diva boss also has to choose between continuing with a familiar and safe work routine or going outside her comfort zone to do something new.
Along the way, people discourage the young woman from following her dream because she has no real experience. And then, she and her boss end up clashing in a big way because the young woman does something that the boss really hates. (Viewers have to wait until the end of the movie to see if or how this conflict is resolved.) And this young woman ends up dating someone she works with, even though dating a co-worker is a tricky issue in this #MeToo era, when a consensual affair between co-workers can be described in very different terms later if the relationship ends badly.
In “Late Night,” which was set in the workplace of a New York City-based late-night talk show, Mindy Kaling (who wrote the “Late Night” screenplay) played the show’s inexperienced and unqualified writer Molly Patel, who’s a “diversity hire,” while Emma Thompson played the prickly boss Katherine Newbury, the show’s host/executive producer. Except for the cities and types of work in the entertainment industry, “The High Note” and “Late Night” have the same premise and are basically the same type of movie, but “The High Note” is much worse than “Late Night.”
Fortunately, Maggie in “The High Note” (written by Flora Greeson) isn’t as clueless about music as Mindy Kaling’s Molly character in “Late Night” is clueless about writing for a late-night talk show. Maggie is a true music trivia buff, who can easily name songs and albums from classic artists to contemporary hitmakers. (Sam Cooke and Carole King are among her favorite classic artists.) Maggie also comes from a music-oriented family: Her father Max (played by Bill Pullman) is a longtime radio DJ, while Maggie’s mother (who died when Maggie was 6) was a singer.
But knowing a lot of music trivia and being a talented music producer are two different things. What will make people’s eyes roll about the dumb aspects of “The High Note” is that Maggie thinks she can go from these training sessions in the recording studio to becoming Grace’s producer, without actually putting in a lot of real work as a producer to pay her dues.
Grace’s harsh and cynical manager Jack Robertson (played by Ice Cube, in yet another in his long list of cranky, foul-mouthed character roles) essentially tells Maggie that she’s acting like an entitled brat in one of the few realistic scenes in the movie. This verbal takedown of Maggie’s ego comes after Maggie insults a smarmy and pretentious but experienced hitmaking DJ/producer named Richie Williams (played in a somewhat hilarious cameo by real-life hitmaking DJ/producer Diplo), who’s recruited by Jack to work on Grace’s live album. Maggie, who’s revealed her secret mixes to Grace at this point, wants Grace to choose Maggie’s mixes instead.
Jack doesn’t particularly like Maggie for another reason. While Jack has been finagling and pressuring Grace to do a Las Vegas residency, Maggie has been encouraging Grace to make an album of new songs instead. The Vegas residency would be easy money for everyone, but Maggie thinks Grace has a lot more to say as an artist instead of doing the same show every night in Vegas for an untold number of years. In a candid conversation with Grace, Maggie tells her that she once saw Grace say in an Oprah Winfrey interview about Grace’s career: “If there are no more surprises, who am I doing it for?”
Although the Jack character is greedy, attention-hungry and generally unlikable, his persona as a manager is actually one of the more realistic things in the movie. One of the other things that “The High Note” accurately portrays is how personal assistants of rich and famous people are often treated like 24-hour-a-day on-call servants. Grace is also one of those “lonely at the top” celebrities who has no real friends and has shallow dating relationships that don’t last, and that’s why her life revolves around her career.
“The High Note” also has a pretty good send-up of the false sense of superiority that employees who work for the same celebrity can have toward other employees. Grace has a materialistic and not-very-smart house manager named Gail (played by June Diane Raphael), who acts as if she’s better than Maggie, simply because Gail gets to have reasonable working hours while Maggie does not. Gail is also the type of “yes”-person leech that Hollywood is famous for attracting when people want to be close to celebrities.
Meanwhile, Maggie has a smart and likable roommate named Katie (played by Zoe Chao), who thinks Maggie is wasting her talent by being a personal assistant. Maggie’s excuse for continuing to be stuck in the dead-end existence of being Grace’s assistant: “It’s the gateway to my dream job.” Katie’s reply: “It’s the gateway to Stockholm syndrome.” That’s one of the funnier lines in the movie.
As for Maggie’s love interest (because you know a movie like this has to have a love interest for the ingenue), his name is David Cliff (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.), an aspiring rock/pop musician who happens to be rich enough to own a mansion without working at a “real” job. Of course, Maggie doesn’t know all of that about David when they “meet cute” at a Laurel Canyon grocery store. While they’re standing near each other, Phantom Planet’s “California” song is playing over the store’s speakers, which leads Maggie and David to have a lively conversation about music.
When Maggie mentions Sam Cooke, she’s appalled that David says he doesn’t know who Sam Cooke is. They go their separate ways. But lo and behold, when Maggie leaves the store, she sees David playing a guitar outside the store’s entrance and singing Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me” while he gives her a sly look. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.
At some point, Maggie and Katie are invited to a big house party at David’s place, and that’s how they find out that he’s a musician who’s not financially struggling. So why is this rich guy playing substandard gigs, such as singing cover songs in front of a grocery store? It turns out that David lacks confidence to record his own music and take his career to the next level. And guess who convinces David that she can be his producer?
Of course, in a movie like this, there has to be at least one “big lie/secret” that someone will tell early in the relationship, so that the couple will fight about it later if the secret is revealed. For Maggie, her big lie is that she tells David that she’s an experienced and busy producer, which is why he agrees to let her produce his first demo recording.
And this is where the plot goes down the toilet: David believes Maggie’s claim that she’s an experienced producer, without even asking to hear other music she’s produced, without asking for references, or without doing a background check. Cue to the predictable scene of David and Maggie singing together in a recording booth. (Harrison and Dakota Johnson also do their own singing in the movie. He’s a much better singer than she is.)
As for Maggie, she doesn’t seem that curious to know how or why David is so wealthy. All he’s told her about his family background is that he was raised by his father (a saxophone player named David Cliff Sr.) after David’s mother left them when he was a very young child. For a movie that’s supposed to take place in the present-day music business, it strangely and unrealistically has no scenes of David and Maggie using the Internet to check each other out when they show an interest in each other.
After Maggie and David start sleeping together, she comes up with a dumb idea to trick him into being the opening act for Grace’s record release party—without telling David, Grace or Jack. And in order to do that, Maggie secretly convinces star singer Dan Deakins (played by Eddie Izzard, in a cameo that’s a waste of his talent), who was booked as the opening act, to back out of the gig. How does Maggie convince Dan to cancel this high-profile job? Just by playing David’s demo for Dan and asking Dan to do her this favor, even though Maggie and Dan just met. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.
Whether or not this moronic plan works or backfires is spoiler information that won’t be revealed in this review. But that stupidity is nothing compared to the ludicrous plot twist that comes toward the end of the film. It’s a plot twist that’s not too surprising because all the signs were there, but it’s still the worst part of the movie.
There’s not much originality in “The High Note,” even in the movie’s soundtrack, which has mostly cover songs or hit songs that were previously released. “Bad Girl,” which is supposed to be Grace’s biggest hit, is a cover version of the Lee Moses song. In “The High Note,” the Grace character has two original songs that are prominently featured in the movie and are performed by Ellis Ross: “Stop for a Minute” and “Love Myself,” which is the tune heard during the end credits.
“Stop for a Minute” was co-written by Rodney Jerkins, who executive produced “The High Note” soundtrack. “Love Myself” was co-written by Greg Kurstin, who’s best known for his work with Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Beck and Sia. But even the contributions of these Grammy-winning hitmakers don’t make these songs particularly outstanding or likely to be nominated for any Grammys.
In fact, there’s a lot of things about “The High Note” that are dull (including the too-long running time of nearly two hours), forgettable or just plain awful. The stars of “The High Note” should not consider it a high point of their careers, because the reality is that the movie is a lackluster low point that they’d probably like to bury.
Focus Features released “The High Note” on VOD and digital on May 29, 2020.
Culture Representation: This official documentary about the first 20 years of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (an annual event in Indio, California) includes interviews with a racially diverse group of Coachella employees, artists and other associates.
Culture Clash: Coachella was a money-losing festival in its first few years and has grown into a major money-making event in pop culture, even though some critics believe Coachella has become too trendy and high-priced.
Culture Audience: “Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert” will primarily appeal to music fans and people who want to learn more about Goldenvoice, the concert-promotion company behind Coachella.
If you’re looking for shocking behind-the-scenes stories in the documentary “Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert,” then you’ll probably be disappointed. But this feel-good movie, directed by Chris Perkel, is a traditionally made chronicle of one the world’s most famous music festivals. The reason for this family-friendly portrayal of Coachella’s history (besides the fact that it’s available for free viewing on YouTube) is because Goldenvoice, the Los Angeles concert-promotion company behind Coachella, is one of the production companies that made this movie. In other words, this is not really an investigative documentary as much as it is a feature-length promotional video for Coachella.
Although some people in the movie talk about the festival’s early problems, there is absolutely no criticism of Coachella. Pretty much everyone who’s interviewed in the film gives praise to Coachella is some way. The movie’s biggest strengths are the musical performances that are in the film, as well as some interesting tidbits of information that aren’t very surprising, since most of the information in the movie has already been revealed in previous media coverage of Coachella.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, like most pop-culture phenomena, didn’t start out as something that people immediately thought would be a hit. The festival was launched in 1999, the same year that large-scale music festivals got a very bad name because of the disastrous Woodstock ’99 Festival, which ended with riots, arson, assaults and thefts. The first Coachella, which took place in October 1999, was announced the Monday after Woodstock ’99 (which took place in August in upstate New York) got a lot of backlash for ending in such a catastrophe. And the site for Coachella was an unorthodox risk—the Empire Polo Club in the desert city of Indio, California, which is about 128 miles east of Los Angeles.
According to Goldenvoice president/Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett (the person with the most screen time in the movie), Coachella had two things going for it that most other large-scale music festivals did not: The promise of a laid-back California vibe and California’s sunny weather, which made the chances very slim that Coachella would be plagued by the kind of rain that often wreaks havoc on festivals that are east of California.
Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) founder Pasquale Rotella, who says his business models for EDC and his other festivals were heavily influenced by Coachella, had this to say: “Some people who see Coachella now think, ‘Oh, that’s a no-brainer.’ Coachella is beautiful now [but] it was difficult. It took the concert promoter Goldenvoice several years to make it happen. And if it wasn’t for Goldenvoice’s roots, I don’t think Coachella would be what it is today.
“Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert” is divided into five chapters, with two chapters focused on specific music genres: “Chapter One: Origins,” “Chapter Two: The Early Years”; “Chapter Three: The Rise of Robots” (focusing on electronic dance music); “Chapter Four: The New Beats” (focusing on hip-hop); and “Chapter Five: The Next Generation.”
“Chapter One: Origins” has the history of the early years of Goldenvoice, which Gary Tovar launched in 1981 as an independent concert-promotion company whose specialty was booking punk and alternative rock bands at small venues in the Los Angeles area. Tovar says in the documentary: “When I started doing concerts, the punk rock that I did was too wild for some people.” Slamdancing and violence were very common at these shows, so many venues were reluctant to have shows that Goldenvoice was promoting.
By the mid-1980s, Goldenvoice’s influence grew to booking larger venues and helped launch the careers of acts such as Jane’s Addiction, Fishbone and Red Hot Chili Peppers. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, many of those acts had outgrown Goldenvoice, which was still mainly booking nightclubs and small theaters. But the relationships that Goldenvoice had with these artists were the foundation of what would become Coachella.
Tollett got his start booking ska shows in Pomona, California, in the mid-1980s. When he first met Goldenvoice’s Tovar, he thought Tovar would be an unfriendly rival, but “We hit it off instantly,” Tollett remembers. Later, “He gave me a box of flyers to pass out, and that was the first day that I worked at Goldenvoice.”
Dani Lindstrom, a longtime Goldenvoice employee, remembers that back in the late 1980s, the Goldenvoice office, which was located at the time above The Palladium, was “basically about five people booking shows.” Tollett adds that in the early 1990s, it looked like Goldenvoice was doing well, but the reality was that company was struggling financially.
And then, Goldenvoice experienced a major blow when Tovar was busted for what he describes in the documentary as his “side business”—smuggling and selling marijuana. In 1991, he was arrested and later sentenced to seven years in prison. The scandal effectively ended Tovar’s career as a concert promoter, but he refused to let Goldenvoice go bankrupt while he was in prison. Tovar sold the company to Goldenvoice employees Tollett and Rick Van Santen, who became presidents of the company.
The documentary names two events that also planted the seeds of Coachella. First, during Pearl Jam’s feud with Ticketmaster in 1993, the band was looking to do a gig in Southern California at a venue that wasn’t associated with Ticketmaster. Goldenvoice stepped in and booked Pearl Jam at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio. The concert was a sold-out success (25,000 people attended), and it put the concert industry on notice that a show of this size could be done without Ticketmaster.
The other important event that helped give birth to Coachella was Goldenvoice’s involvement in the Organic Festival for rave music. After bands like Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine became too big to book for Goldenvoice in the 1990s, Tollett says that the company began to focus more on booking rave acts. The concept of Coachella was for it to be a combination of a big rock festival and a rave party.
Moby, one of the performers at the first Coachella, says that he was one of the people who thought that bringing a “European-style festival to the U.S.” was an interesting idea, but at the time, he wasn’t sure if it was going to work in the California desert. Meanwhile, sound engineer Dave Rat of Rat Sound admits that he was one of many people who thought even the name Coachella was a bad idea at the time.
The documentary portrays Coachella as a groundbreaking large-scale U.S. music and arts festival for alternative rock and other artists whose careers were helped by college radio, but the movie doesn’t properly acknowledge that Lollapalooza had the same concept and did it years before Coachella existed. Lollapolooza was a touring festival that began in 1991 and continued to 1997, and was resurrected in 2003. Lollapalooza was then revived in 2005 as a non-touring festival, with the U.S. edition taking place in Chicago. It’s obvious from the timeline of when Lollapalooza was on hiatus that Coachella was created to fill the void left by Lollapaolooza.
Jane’s Addiction lead singer Perry Farrell, who co-founded Lollapalooza and performed as a solo artist at the first Coachella, is interviewed in the documentary. As influential as Lollapalooza was in the 1990s, even Farrell acknowledges that Coachella has a much higher profile in the consciousness of the media and pop culture: “You’re going to be judged, man, when you hit the Coachella stage, and it’s going to be talked about for the rest of the year.”
“Chapter Two: The Early Years” is one of the more fascinating parts of the documentary because it covers the years that didn’t get the level of media attention that Coachella does now. The headliners at the first Coachella Festival (which was only a two-day event back then) included Beck, Morrissey (footage of his performance is in the documentary), Rage Against the Machine, the Chemical Brothers, Tool, Farrell and Ben Harper.
Tollett says that Coachella was such a financial disaster in its first year (he estimates the festival lost between $850,000 to $1 million) that he had his bank card taken away and “I got kicked out of a bank.” He adds that Coachella was able to continue because of Goldenvoice’s good relationships with people in the music industry. “The only reason why we were able to keep going was because we had a good reputation,” he says, adding that people such as Lollapalooza co-founders Don Muller and Marc Geiger lent money to Goldenvoice.
The financial losses of the first Coachella caused the festival to go on hiatus in 2000. But then, the financial fortunes of Goldenvoice changed in 2001, when the company was bought by AEG Live (now called AEG Presents) for about $7 million. Goldenvoice then became part of the AEG subsidiary Concerts West, with Tollett and Van Santen retaining their presidential roles at Goldenvoice. AEG had recently constructed the Staples Center arena and wanted to have a major festival as part of its portfolio, so the company gave the go-ahead for Goldenvoice to revive Coachella. And the rest is history.
The documentary then goes over some of the biggest highlights in those early Coachella years. In 2001, there was the reunion of Jane’s Addiction, which Tollett says largely happened because Van Santen convinced the band to get back together. But the festival had a serious garbage-disposal problem that year because, as Tollett says, they didn’t have enough trash cans on the site.
However, the reunion of Jane’s Addiction at Coachella set a precedent for Coachella being a leading festival for bands to stage reunions. Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA says in the documentary that seeing Rage Against the Machine’s 2007 reunion performance at Coachella was when he knew that Wu-Tang Clan would eventually do a reunion show at Coachella, which happened in 2013. Other artists who have done reunion performances at Coachella include N.W.A., Pixies, Guns N’Roses and OutKast.
Coachella in 2002 was “the first year we didn’t make a mistake,” Tollett says. That year, Björk became the first female artist to headline at Coachella. Goldenvoice employee Stacey Vee remembers that the early 2000s were a great time for alternative rock bands, and that only helped Coachella. The documentary includes footage of 2003 headliners the White Stripes.
The year 2004 was the first time that Coachella made a profit, according to Tollett. Radiohead, Pixies and Kraftwerk were among the headliners. In 2005, there was another big alt-rock reunion: Bauhaus, which included lead singer Peter Murphy entering the stage hanging upside down like a bat for the song “Bela Legosi’s Dead.” The movie has footage of this performance. The documentary includes interviews with Bauhaus members Murphy (in an audio interview), Daniel Ash and David J, who remembers that Bauhaus wanted to release live bats during the band’s performance but couldn’t because it was illegal.
It was in the mid-2000s that Coachella became a very hot ticket. Coachella culinary director Nic Adler remembers in the first few years of Coachella, Goldenvoice was literally giving away tickets to him and his co-workers to attend. By the sixth or seventh year of Coachella, he says, those free tickets stopped. “There was that switch in the festival where you literally saw it was something you had to do, something you had to be at,” Adler comments.
Coachella in 2006 was most memorable for Madonna’s performance, which was booked on such relatively short notice that she couldn’t perform on the already-booked main stage. Instead, she performed in the tent for electronic dance music (EDM) artists. The documentary includes footage of Madonna performing “Hung Up” in the tent. Madonna was the first superstar to perform at Coachella, according to Goldenvoice’s Raymond Roker, the former editor-in-chief/publisher of URB magazine.
However, Madonna at Coachella didn’t happen without some criticism, as some of Coachella’s early fans thought that the festival wasn’t supposed to be for major pop acts. But at this point, so many Hollywood celebrities were flocking to Coachella, that it was inevitable that the festival would start having artists with more mainstream appeal. The documentary has some backstage footage from the 2007 Coachella that briefly shows actor Danny DeVito posing for a picture with singer Amy Winehouse—that pretty much says it all. Hollywood actress Rosanna Arquette, who did backstage interviews for Coachella for several years, says in the documentary: “It was the most favorite job I’ve ever had in my life.”
“Chapter Three: The Rise of Robots” covers the importance of Coachella to EDM acts. While many festivals in the 2000s were afraid to have a rave-style atmosphere, Coachella embraced it and helped boost the careers of many EDM acts. Coachella also helped usher in the era of DJs and other EDM artists staging big productions for their shows, with elaborate lighting and stunning visuals.
Two EDM performances at Coachella are singled out as major milestones: Daft Punk in 2006 (when the group performed a very “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”-inspired outer-space-themed set) and Tiësto in 2010, when he became the first EDM artist to perform on Coachella’s main stage. Steve Aoki raves about Daft Punk’s 2006 Coachella performance: “It changed people’s lives, including mine, forever.” Jason Bentley adds, “Nothing was the same after that performance.”
This chapter also mentions that Coachella influenced how EDM acts began to have more high-tech productions. Paul van Dyk says, “I’m not scared of technology. It’s something I use as a tool.” Tiësto says that the rise of EDM also coincided with the rise of social media: “Social media made a big difference. As soon as Facebook and Instagram blew up, EDM blew up. For years [EDM music] was held down by the people who controlled the [mainstream] media.”
But EDM at Coachella isn’t just about elaborate light shows or movie-quality images on big screens. Also included in this chapter are commentaries from actor Idris Elba (who moonlights as a DJ) and Nina Kraviz, who praise the low-tech vibe of Coachella’s Yuma Stage, which doesn’t have any big screens. Meanwhile, Diplo says that even though headlining sets happen at night, “Sunset is the best time to play Coachella.”
“Chapter Four: The New Beats” covers the evolution of rap and hip-hop at Coachella. Goldenvoice’s Roker notes that in Coachella’s early years, the rap acts booked at the festival tended to be those that were played on college radio and had a largely white fan base. (Jurassic 5 is named as one example.) Roker says, “It took a while for the culture to merge.”
Coachella went from booking mostly independent rap acts to acts that had major crossover success on the pop charts. Kanye West (who showed up 20 minutes late for his first Coachella performance in 2006) is cited as one of the first major crossover rap acts to perform at Coachella. Jay-Z had the biggest breakthrough as the first rap act to headline at Coachella, which he did in 2010.
According to Tollett, Jay-Z was selected for the headlining spot after Goldenvoice promoters saw him perform as a replacement for headliner the Beastie Boys at the 2009 All Points West Festival, which was also a Goldenvoice show. When Jay-Z opened the show with the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” (a rap song with a rock beat), the people at Goldenvoice knew that he could do a show that could appeal to Coachella’s audience, which consisted of mostly rock fans at the time.
As the 2010s became the decade that rap and hip-hop began to have more of a presence at Coachella, so too did social media. It was in this decade that Instagram became the main social-media platform for Coachella attendees to document their experiences and fashion choices. In 2011, YouTube began livestreaming Coachella for the first time.
By 2012, Coachella had become so popular (with the event usually selling out the first day it went on sale) that Goldenvoice did something that was truly groundbreaking at the time: Coachella was extended for a second weekend, with the same acts performing in the same time slots for each weekend. Tollett says that there were many naysayers to this idea at the time, but it turned out to be a major success and catapulted Coachella to become the world’s top-grossing festival, in terms of ticket sales. Although attendance numbers and ticket sales were not mentioned in the documentary, in 2017 (the last year that Coachella publicly reported this information), Coachella was attended by 250,000 people and grossed $114.6 million.
The year 2012 was also a milestone year for Coachella because it featured what Tollett calls “The single most popular thing that ever happened at Coachella.” During Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s performance at Coachella’s first weekend, a surprise hologram of the late Tupac Shakur appeared on stage and performed. The hologram made news worldwide and became a massive sensation on the Internet.
Dylan Brown, who created the hologram, explains in the documentary how precise the movements had to be, even down to raising an eyebrow on the hologram. “We just wanted to do it right. We wanted to be respectful to the [Shakur] family and to the fans.”
Roker adds that after this groundbreaking hologram performance, “The genie was never going back in the bottle. It established the show as part of popular culture.” Ice Cube, who was a peer of Shakur’s in the vital 1990s West Coast rap scene, comments on the Coachella hologram: “I was happy for [Dr. Dre] and happy for Tupac being able to be on stage.”
“Chapter Five: The Next Generation” covers how Coachella has evolved to stay relevant to the mostly young people who flock to the event. Gone are the days when alt-rock artists were the majority of the headliners. Coachella is now more diverse than ever before, with pop, hip-hop, Latino and Asian artists becoming more prevalent at Coachella, compared to the festival’s early years. Some of the artists highlighted via performance clips in this chapter include Ariana Grande, Travis Scott, Rosalía and Blackpink.
Roker comments on Coachella changing to fit trends in music: “That’s been the hardest pill to swallow for some of the older fans.” He notes that many of Coachella’s youngest stars share some common characteristics: “They’re coming with fashion, wealth, bravado and carefree aggression.”
As for the definitive Coachella performance in the late 2010s, people interviewed in the documentary mention Beyoncé’s show-stopping 2018 Coachella extravaganza, which was made into the 2019 Netflix documentary “Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé.” (She was also the first black woman to headline at Coachella.) Beyoncé’s performance was such a media sensation that fans affectionately renamed Coachella 2018 as “Beychella.”
Roker says of Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella performance: “She was a woman on a mission. She came there with a script. The performance was a State of the Union for her, and she was going to deliver it.”
And the high profile of a Coachella performance means that artists often feel the need to surpass each other with elaborate productions. The documentary mentions Kanye West’s 2019 Sunday Service performance at Coachella (with hundreds of choir singers and dancers) as one of those over-the-top productions. Goldenvoice literally built a mountain on the field at his request, since a stage was too small for what West had in mind. Goldenvoice producer Jason Brown says that hundreds of trucks were needed to bring in all the dirt and grass to construct the mountain.
Coachella’s increasing diversity and its ability to evolve with the times (instead of sticking to the same musical formula from the festival’s early years) is ultimately one of the reasons why it will continue to thrive, according to artists interviewed in the documentary. Beck, one of the performers at the first Coachella, says about the festival: “If I’m in town, I usually go as a fan. It’s everything that’s happening in music at the moment.” Shepard Fairey adds that the musical variety of Coachella is its biggest draw: “It’s not one cohesive genre. It’s just more cohesive in the idea that ‘good is good.'”
And although headliners get the majority of the media attention at Coachella, most of the music fans at the festival are also there to discover new music or see lesser-known artists they wouldn’t normally see at a regular concert. Diplo, who’s performed at Coachella several times, comments on Coachella expanding beyond the festival’s original template of rock, EDM and some hip-hop: “It’s always been a festival for discovery anyway, so we’re reaching sort of a global cusp. Every year is a metamorphosis.”
“Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert” does a great job of covering the festival’s variety of music, and the concert footage is well-edited with very good sound mixing. (Try to watch this movie on the biggest screen possible.) But what’s missing from the documentary is any coverage of the “arts” at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. There have been many amazing art installations at Coachella over the years, so it would have made the documentary truly comprehensive if a little bit of time had been devoted to including a behind-the-scenes look at the festival’s art.
And curiously, the documentary doesn’t mention that Coachella co-founder Van Santen died in 2003, until a brief obituary dedication that’s flashed at the very end (“Rick Van Santen, 1961-2003”). In the documentary, the Goldenvoice people don’t talk about how Van Santen’s death (he passed away from flu complications) affected them and Coachella. Maybe it was too much of a downer for this documentary, which clearly wants to present only a positive and upbeat side to Coachella.
Since this is a Goldenvoice-produced documentary, it comes as no surprise that there’s also no mention about Coachella’s controversies, such as complaints of overcrowding and sexual harassment of attendees. Despite Coachella’s ongoing problems that this documentary doesn’t really want to address, the festival has undoubtedly become a major part of pop culture.
As pop star Billie Eilish says in the beginning of the documentary: “Everybody knows what Coachella is. If you don’t care about music, you know [about Coachella].” Goldenvoice’s Roker has this conclusion about Coachella’s evolution: “The fact that it represents a fuller picture of culture, that’s the bottom line.”
YouTube Originals premiered “Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert” on April 10, 2020.
The following is a press release from the Recording Academy and CBS:
In keeping with the tradition of presenting signature “Grammy Moments,” CBS and the Recording Academy® have announced two special segments to take place on the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards The first, “Old Town Road All-Stars,” will feature current nominees Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, joined by BTS, Diplo, Mason Ramsey and other surprise guests. In the past year, “Old Town Road” has been the subject of mixes and mashups, which inspired bringing together various acts who have performed it to create a one-of-a-kind performance.
Additionally, to acknowledge the importance of music education in schools by both the longtime Grammy executive producer Ken Ehrlich and the Recording Academy, artists associated with Ehrlich’s 40-year career will gather to perform “I Sing the Body Electric” from the film “Fame.” The performance will feature current nominees Camila Cabello, Gary Clark Jr. and John Legend, joined by Debbie Allen, Joshua Bell, Common, Misty Copeland, Lang Lang, Cyndi Lauper, Ben Platt and the War and Treaty.
“To bring high-caliber artists like Camila Cabello, Cyndi Lauper, Common, Misty Copeland, Debbie Allen, Ben Platt, Gary Clark Jr., Joshua Bell and Lang Lang together on one stage fulfills a dream of mine,” said Ehrlich, who is completing his 40th and final Grammy Awards as producer. “To be able to do this on the Grammy stage makes it unforgettable for me.”
Hosted by Alicia Keys, the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards will be broadcast live from Staples Center in HDTV and 5.1 surround sound Sunday, Jan. 26 (8:00-11:30 PM, live ET/5:00-8:30 PM, live PT) on the CBS Television Network and streaming on CBS All Access. Previously announced performers include Aerosmith; Camila Cabello; Brandi Carlile; Billie Eilish; Kirk Franklin; Ariana Grande; H.E.R.; Jonas Brothers; DJ Khaled; John Legend; Lizzo; Demi Lovato; Meek Mill; Roddy Ricch; Rosalía; Run-D.M.C.; Blake Shelton; Gwen Stefani; Tanya Tucker; Tyler, The Creator; Charlie Wilson; and YG.
Grammy winner Gary Clark Jr. is nominated for Best Rock Performance (“This Land”), Best Rock Song (“This Land”), Best Contemporary Blues Album (This Land), and Best Music Video (“This Land”).
Current Grammy nominee Billy Ray Cyrus is nominated with Lil Nas X for Record Of The Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance (“Old Town Road”) and Best Music Video (“Old Town Road [Official Movie]”).
Ten-time Grammy winner and current nominee John Legend (Best Rap/Sung Performance [“Higher”]) and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album (A Legendary Christmas).
First-time Grammy nominee Lil Nas X is nominated for Record Of The Year with Billy Ray Cyrus (“Old Town Road”), Album Of The Year (7), Best New Artist, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance with Billy Ray Cyrus (“Old Town Road”), Best Rap/Sung Performance (“Panini”), and Best Music Video (“Old Town Road [Official Movie]”).
About the Recording Academy
The Recording Academy® represents the voices of performers, songwriters, producers, engineers, and all music professionals. Dedicated to ensuring the recording arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, the Academy honors music’s history while investing in its future through the Grammy Museum®, advocates on behalf of music creators, supports music people in times of need through MusiCares®, and celebrates artistic excellence through the Grammy Awards – music’s only peer-recognized accolade and highest achievement. As the world’s leading society of music professionals, we work year-round to foster a more inspiring world for creators.
January 24, 2020 UPDATE:
CBS and the Recording Academy have confirmed the final slate of performers for the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards. Previously announced Gary Clark Jr. will be joined by The Roots to perform Clark’s Grammy-nominated song “This Land”; Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Trombone Shorty will unite to honor those we have lost this year in a touching “In Memoriam” tribute; and Sheila E. will take the stage with Usher for an exciting Grammy Salute to Prince.
This year’s presenters include Common, Ava DuVernay, Cynthia Erivo, Jim Gaffigan, Dua Lipa, Trevor Noah, Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Porter, Bebe Rexha, Smokey Robinson, Shania Twain, Keith Urban and Stevie Wonder.
“Old Town Road,” the massive hit single from Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, has now broken the record for the most weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song has spent 17 weeks so far at the top of the chart, surpassing the 16 weeks at No. 1 on the chart achieved by Mariah Carey/Boy II Men duet “One Sweet Day” (released in 1995) and the Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber collaboration “Despacito” (Remix), which was released in 2017.
“Old Town Road,” which mixes country and rap, has also spawned several remixes, most notably a remix with Diplo; another with Young Thug and Mason Ramsey; and another with RM of the Korean boy band BTS, who named his remix “Seoul Town Road (Old Town Road Remix).”
In June 2019, Lil Nas X made headlines when he publicly confirmed that he is gay during the last day of LGBTQ Pride Month this year.
“Old Town Road” was originally released independently on December 3, 2018, and it went viral after being shared on the social-media app TikTok. Columbia Records then signed Lil Nas X, and began distributing the song.
“Old Town Road” is written by Montero Hill, Kiowa Roukema (also known as YoungKio), Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. YoungKio, Reznor and Ross are the producers. “Old Town Road” samples an instrumental piece of Nine Inch Nails’ “34 Ghosts IV,” which is why Nine Inch Nails members Reznor and Ross have songwriter and producer credits with YoungKio.
The song will likely get several nominations for the 2020 Grammy Awards and will probably dominate song categories at several other music award shows that reward popular songs. Nominations for 62nd Annual Grammy Awards will be announced on November 20, 2019. The 62nd Annual Grammy Awards ceremony will take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on January 26, 2020.