With AC/DC, Jack White and Steely Dan at or near the top, the bill for this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was widely viewed as the most, shall we say, mature in the event’s decade-and-a-half history. And that, you figured, is exactly why Drake was booked to close the show Sunday night. This 28-year-old Canadian rapper is a superstar, of course, but he’s also a clear symbol of the forward-facing youth culture that Coachella has historically embodied (and exploited).
The day after his main-stage performance, though, the only thing anyone seems to remember is that Drake was visited — and then some — by a 56-year-old.
Not just any 56-year-old, but Madonna, the most famous person on any polo field she deigns to inhabit, as well as the title subject of one of Drake’s latest tracks. On Sunday, his run through “Madonna” brought about the appearance of the real thing, who sang a bit of her songs “Human Nature” and “Hung Up” before planting a sloppy kiss on Drake that instantly called to mind earlier Madonna make-out sessions with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
What the heck just happened? Drake asked in more emphatic language when it was over. Indeed, the moment called out for an explanation. Not so much for why Drake would lock lips with someone approximately his mother’s age — please get over your revulsion, America — but for why he’d give a few minutes of his set to someone approximately his mother’s age.
All weekend long, rumors circulated about who Drake, one of hip-hop’s savviest collaborators, might bring out during his show. Rihanna? The Weeknd? Kanye West? Beyoncé?
Yet almost as soon as he appeared Sunday, it was clear this wasn’t going to be the all-star blowout many had expected.
To the vocal disappointment of some in the massive crowd, Drake instead used his Coachella performance to emphasize the introspective vibe that’s made him such a transformative figure in pop.
He delivered long streams of words — rapping some, tenderly crooning others — about the disorienting effects of celebrity; he paced the enormous stage, empty except for a video screen behind him flashing desolate images of a snowy landscape. For “Marvin’s Room,” the screen parted and he climbed up into a replica of a leafy grotto (perhaps the one he’s said to have at his home in L.A.); there, he sat by a fake waterfall and worked his most emotional facial expressions, the very picture of deep, millennial alienation.
“I got bitches asking me ’bout the code for the wifi / So they could talk about their timelines,” he whined in “Energy,” “And show me pictures of their friends / Just to tell me they ain’t really friends.”
As headlining gigs go, it wasn’t the most exciting performance in Coachella history. But as a trip into Drake’s complicated mind, it was never less than transfixing, powerful precisely because it was resisting the kind of easy spectacle the well-connected rapper might have devised.
At least until Madonna showed up, that is. Sure, any opportunity to hear “Human Nature” is a welcome one. And of course, her appearance produced an undeniable social media frisson. But it also broke the spell that Drake had cast. It reminded you that, like Madonna — like all pop stars — he’s captive to the need to keep us talking.
Nobody is too young to fear being ignored.