This is a reaction to parts of three evenings watching Coachella 2023 and motivated by the fact that more or less all of the music that grabbed me featured females. This notably included Blackpink, the biggest Girl Group in the world. But they weren’t the best women artists there, not even close. Spoiler: boygenius was.
Part of the problem was that every time I switched to a Coachella channel with male names on it, the males were either bobbing their heads over a DJ deck, or banging out the hip-hop. I.e. few musical instruments or vocal melodies were involved. I have no patience whatever for EDM and maybe one hip-hop track in ten grabs me. Usually that track turns out to be Drill which, I read, is bad music by bad people and I shouldn’t like it. Oops.
Please don’t be objecting to the term Girl Group around me. You wanna diss the Marvelettes? The Supremes? The Ronettes? Labelle? Destiny’s Child? To the extent that a business as corrupt as Music can have proud traditions, Girl Groups are one of those.
Not all men · OK, a few weren’t terrible. FKJ was OK, his set featured a big sofa that he and the accompanists relax on and it was that kind of music. The tunes were fairly generic but the playing was good and the arrangements were surprising and often excellent.
And then there was Tukker of Sofi Tukker; he’s the less-interesting half of that outfit but he’s still pretty interesting. Plus their music was good, the instrumentation was surprising, and they have lots of charisma, I’d go see them. They were an example of a distinct Coachella Thing this year: black-and-white outfits, in particular flowing white outfits, an angelic aesthetic.
Weyes Blood, new to me, was also definitely leaning into the angelic thing. The music had no sharp corners but took some surprising curves, and was pretty, which there’s nothing wrong with.
Coachella was willing to take big chances, including bands that I thought were at best marginally competent, in terms of being in tune and in sync. I’m totally OK with bands going Outside The Lines when driven by passion or musical invention but this wasn’t that, it was just basic rock or whatever played at medium speed, badly. I think this was a conscious low-rent aesthetic? Not naming names. Not gender specific.
More women I hadn’t heard of · Ashnikko (apparently erupted outta TikTok) puts on a good show, loads of charisma.
Christine and the Queens is French and extremely intense in ways I liked.
When I switched over to Kali Uchis she was rapping and had the usual complement of twerky dancers — is it just me or do they all have the same choreographer? I was about to switch away and then she switched to to singing and wow, she’s really good.
Saturday night · Why I’m writing this is, I watched the boygenius and Blackpink sets and was left shaken. Let’s flip the order and start with Blackpink. These are screen-caps.
I had never previously managed to watch a whole K-pop set because it’s so formulaic and boring. But Blackpink kept my attention if not entirely my affection. The choreography and attention to detail is awesome, mesmerising. The music is meh. The beauty is crushingly conventional but also crushing in its intensity. I felt like a Beauty Beam was coming off the screen, bending back all the retinas it impacted.
You don’t have to look very hard to read terribly sad stories about the life of a K-pop star. They sign ten+ year contracts with the Big Company (those years starting when they get big) by which the company gets 80% of the revenue and the band splits the rest, after paying back the BigCo for their training and promotion. And there were a couple of moments when one of the four was in a choreography dead zone and for just an instant wore an expression of infinite fatigue.
To be fair, their technique was dazzling. They had an actual band with actual musicians, although the intermittent lip-syncing wasn’t subtle. And when they stopped to chat with the crowd (in fluent English) they seemed like real people. Just not when singing and dancing.
You know what’s weird? I’m a heterosexual male and they were dressed in these “daring” suits with lots of bare flesh showing, but even with all that beauty, they weren’t sexy at all.
Anyhow, I ended up respecting them. They delivered. But still, that’s enough K-Pop for another decade or so.
The Boys Are Back In Town · That’s a dumb old rock song by Thin Lizzy, and it was the soundtrack for boygenius’s walk onstage. You see, they’re smart and not a second of the set, start to end, was in the slightest disposable. There’s a lyric from their song Without You Without Them: I want you to hear my story and be a part of it. They mean it.
Their Coachella set was messy, chaotic, and, I thought, magnificent. The mix wasn’t all that great and some of the lyrics were lost, a real pity with this band. But out of the chaos there kept coming bursts of extremely beautiful melody, exquisite harmony, and lyric fragments that grab your brain and won’t let go.
The songs are about love mostly and are romantic and arrogant and pathetic and many visit violence, emotional and physical too: When you fell down the stairs / It looked like it hurt and I wasn't sorry / I should've left you right there / With your hostages, my heart and my car keys — that’s from Letter To An Old Poet.
Their faces aren’t conventional at all, but so alive; I couldn’t stop watching them. Julien Baker in particular, when she digs into a song, becomes scary, ferocious. But they each inhabit each song completely.
Also memorable was their excellent Fuck-Ron-DeSantis rant.
Anyhow, at the end of the set, they were off their feet, rolling around together on the stage while Ms Baker shredded, just unbelievably intense. Always an angel, never a God they sing, over and over, but there were no flowing white garments — they were wearing mock-schoolboy outfits with ties — and something divine seemed in progress.
Back story · If you haven’t heard it, drop by their Wikipedia article and catch up; it’s interesting. Particularly the gender-related stuff.
My own back story was, I liked Phoebe Bridgers but hadn’t really picked up on boygenius. Then earlier this year, my 16-year-old daughter had a friend with a spare concert ticket and could Dad cough up the money for it? I’m an indulgent parent when it comes to music so she got her ticket.
Pretty soon thereafter I noticed the boygenius buzz and tried to get a ticket for myself but they were long-sold-out by then. Just not hip enough.
Oh well, I won’t forget that Coachella show any time soon.
“Girl Group”? · Per Wikipedia, it means “a music act featuring several female singers who generally harmonize together”. By that metric boygenius is way ahead of Blackpink, who do harmonize a bit but it’s not central to their delivery. On the other hand, if we traverse the Wikipedia taxonomy we arrive at “dance-pop girl groups” and Blackpink is definitely one of those, they dance like hell.
Look, boygenius obviously are Women with a capital “W”. But they’re subversive too, I bet if you asked ’em, they might gleefully wave the Girl Group banner.