If you were at all conscious and online over the weekend, you know that the first weekend of the Coachella music festival has come and gone. Instagram feeds and TikTok algorithms are full of beautiful people dressed up in fringe and cowboy hats celebrating the fact that they got the cheapest option to the star-studded event.
The festival itself has evolved a lot since 1999, when it featured a one-of-a-kind multi-concert experience, to a two-weekend rite of passage for influencers and celebrities. In fact, most current attendees probably don’t remember that, prior to 2012, Coachella was only one weekend, or that guests could buy single-day passes up until 2010.
But the festival was started as a “West Coast resistance to the MTV TRL [Total Request Live] culture in vogue” at the time, Ringer wrote last year. It’s a stance that feels entirely lost now that the weekends are dominated by branded events, fast fashion and Instagrammable content that has seemingly nothing to do with the musical acts.
As content creator Loren Gray put it in a recent TikTok, Coachella is “the influencer Olympics.” Which is why Gray said that she knew influencers were driving themselves out to the desert, taking photos and then never actually going to the shows.
“It’s the place to be. But most influencers, or a lot of influencers, don’t even go to Coachella, and I think that this is such a wild fact,” she said in her video. “It’s like a very common occurrence that I thought people knew, but then I didn’t see anyone talking about it.”
Most commenters didn’t necessarily seem surprised by the revelation — although others argued that with Gray’s younger audience the intention of the TikTok may have been to be more reassuring rather than revealing.
Others pointed out it explained why the crowds at the actual performances seemed so lackluster. One video that circulated on Twitter showed British rapper PinkPantheress, whose song “Pain” went viral on TikTok in 2021, asking the crowd, “all those with energy please, please provide it.”
“i stepped out to ppl with not even a smile on their face like idc if you know me but at least a smile?? or something??” PinkPantheress wrote in response to the video on Twitter. “i was trying to be hype too!”
Content creator Kensington Tillo, who has 1.6 million followers on TikTok, also caught flack for posting about how she was too hung over and tired to go to all the shows on the second day of the festival. In another video, Kensington admitted she decided she was going to go home early without seeing any of the shows on the final day. Commenters were stunned, as it meant she was going to miss headliner Frank Ocean.
“It’s irritating because so many ppl would KILL to be in her position and she’s like yeah I’m gonna go home,” one Reddit poster wrote in response to the TikTok.
Others speculated she was proof of Gray’s theory, especially since Till had only posted makeup TikToks, footage from inside the Poosh-branded desert house and an Instagram photo that wasn’t anywhere near the concert sets.
“i’m all for taking care of yourself but this is so tone deaf and privileged to me,” another Redditor wrote.
New York-based influencer Carly Weinstein was also accused by followers of pretending she was at Coachella after only posting outfit content on her TikTok account. In response to another TikToker Grace Palmer’s video rating Coachella outfits, Weinstein said the outfits were “not for Coachella they were for a pool party.”
“You literally hashtagged it Coachella outfit,” a commenter replied.
“the amount of brands putting people up in housing and gifting them thing just seems like it continues to grow every year,” one Reddit user lamented in an NYC influencer snark group. “I feel like other music festivals aren’t like this and people actually go for the music.”
While the “influencerification” of Coachella seems relatively new, brands have been taking high profile clients to the event for at least a decade. An element of TikTok fame that wasn’t part of the height of YouTuber culture or even Instagram is how much more likely it is that a seemingly average person could blow up on the platform without even establishing a major following first. To social media users, it feels like everyone rather than, say, your favorite YouTuber, is going to Coachella.
It’s not limited to Coachella either. The San Diego Union-Tribune pointed out last year that “music now too often serves merely as a backing track while posing for selfies” at all sorts of venues and shows. Conversations around concert etiquette on TikTok have shown the divide between younger and older members of Gen Z — those who were going to concerts prior to the pandemic and those who have only just started after two years of being isolated.
As Coachella has evolved over the years, it’s become more of an event or experience. Coachella started out as a festival for obsessive music nerds and hipsters — ticket sales were so low in its first year that they didn’t put on another festival until 2001. But as the brands behind the festival are now focusing on attracting Gen Z, the whole vibe has changed.
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