The downbeat: The price and politics of the free-spirited Coachella

Philip Anschutz, in a suit, sits next to a female artist set to perform at coachella
Graphic by Nina Potischman

Another spring means another year of Coachella, a festival known worldwide for its lineups of popular and successful artists.

However, behind the scenes, political conflict abounds with the festival. The owner of Coachella has drastically different political opinions than many of musicians playing in the festival. A lot of Coachella artists are openly liberal and willingly broadcast these political views, but the Coachella owner’s personal politics are conservative.

This leads to several questions: How much power does an artist have in creating their image? Can politics and music ever be separated?

This year, Coachella is headlined by Childish Gambino, Tame Impala and Ariana Grande. Childish Gambino’s 2018 song “This Is America” exposed the polarizing and hurtful state of modern American politics. Grande openly supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election and said Donald Trump’s election win has caused “a very dark few years.” While Tame Impala is less overtly political, their fan base spans many ages and identities.

Just like last year, Coachella is organized and promoted by Philip Anschutz, who donated $134,000 to Republicans in 2018. In 2017, Anschutz donated $187,300 to Republican candidates and organizations. Anschutz has donated no money to Democratic candidates.

Don’t be fooled by the openly queer lineup of Jaden Smith, Blood Orange, Christine and the Queens, Kaytranada and King Princess, among others. Anschutz’s face not only made the “Enemies of Equality” visual in the Washington Post, but he also reportedly donated large sums of money to three anti-LGBTQ extremist hate groups: $110,000 to Alliance Defending Freedom, $50,000 to National Christian Foundation and $30,000 to the Family Research Council.

Why do artists participate in Coachella if it goes against their personal beliefs? This becomes a question of how much control artists have in their bookings. Apparently, boycotting Anschutz’s company, AEG Worldwide, is more complicated for artists than it would appear.

AEG controls all of the larger and high-quality venues in major markets in the U.S., as well as many important venues worldwide, making it difficult for an artist to refuse one event at an AEG venue and then hope to perform at another event in the future. AEG Presents is also the second-biggest promoter in the world. Speaking out against Coachella could mean losing opportunities to perform at one of the company’s other festivals, such as Camp Flog Gnaw or Firefly.

Money is power, and the music industry is just that — an industry. This question of morality becomes less about the personal ethics of artists and more about what can be done to prevent the wealthy from imposing their personal views on the rest of the world.

But that, like any other issue, is political, and like most political issues, there is no clear solution. The best thing anyone can do as a listener and consumer is to research where one’s money is going before paying to see an artist perform.

Ella Boyd SC ’22 is TSL’s music columnist. Besides writing, she enjoys listening to music, discussing pop culture and making art.

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