Whirlwind Weekend: Beyoncé Becomes Coachella, Country Reckons, Rock Hall Steps Up
It was a uniquely busy weekend for music, with a handful of events having taken place that illustrated new and familiar concentrations of power or shifting alliances or institutions doubling down on the status quo:Coachella now has a new name; the Academy of Country Music Awards' 53rd year was held in Las Vegas six months after a mass shooting took place at a country music festival in the city; the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted some vanilla rockers and two epochal contributors and Kanye West re-downloaded Twitter. You may have obliquely kept up with some of this; you may have missed some. Here's what you need to know.
There was little air left for Coachella's hundreds of other performers after 11:00 p.m. PT on Saturday night, at which time Beyoncé became the first black woman to headline the festival, delivering a performance that folded in history — as far back as Nerfertiti — celebrated the near-past (citing Master P), cemented her present standing as the only true tectonic force in pop, celebrated family both blood and artistic (appearances from sister Solange, her husband Jay-Z and former bandmates in Destiny's Child) along with the cultural contributions of historically black colleges and universities and looked to the future (most immediately, a joint tour with Jay-Z). And, scooping herself, this morning Beyoncé announced the four HBCUs that will distribute a $25,000 scholarship to a student at each: Xavier University, Wilberforce University, Tuskegee University and Bethune-Cookman University.
On Sunday, Cardi B, whose week-old Invasion of Privacy is now the No. 1 album in the country, had no idea how big of a deal Coachella was, but did claim to have spent $600,000 on her stage set (reportedly leaving her in the red). The rapper brought out Chance The Rapper, Kehlani, G-Eazy and 21 Savage during the show, which had the pregnant rapper twerking like the pro she is. (Oh, and she was interviewed by Nardwuar, too.)
Most notable in all of this, maybe, was the abject lack of rock and roll in any post-festival analysis. SZA bringing out labelmate Kendrick Lamar on Friday; Tyler, The Creator stalking a verdant stage; Eminem's headlining set on Sunday; Kali Uchis' rising star; The Weeknd closing the opening night; aside from brief social bubblings around St. Vincent's performance, you could be forgiven for forgetting that this is the same festival which reunited Guns N' Roses... just two years ago.
Not to be outdone, a child yodeled.
"Tonight we wanted to open the show with something that sums up what it's like for our country music family to be back in Las Vegas for the first time since October 1st. We thought about starting with a song, but it's a lot bigger than a single song," were the words, spoken by Jason Aldean, that opened last night's Academy of Country Music Awards, the show's 53rd year. Aldean was, of course, referencing the mass shooting that began during his headlining set at the Route 91 Harvest Festival last fall, leaving 58 dead — some attendees wore pins with "58" or "851," the number of wounded during the shooting, in memory of the victims. Aldean was joined in the show's opening by Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan, Maren Morris and Thomas Rhett from the stage of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. "For those of us who have experienced tragedy and unexpected loss, music helps us remember what really matters in life," Bryan said.
Country music's don't-ask, don't-tell approach to publicly addressing gun control in public shifted last week, when Aldean told the Associated Press that it is "too easy to get guns," despite admitting to the AP that addressing gun control in public is "setting yourself up to be crucified in the public eye or in the media."
The show, hosted by Reba McEntire — who replaced last year's chummy co-hosts Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley — was also a coming-back party for Carrie Underwood after the singer fell last year and injured herself. Underwood sang "Cry Pretty," her not-so-subtly feminist new single.
Top awards were given to Jason Aldean, who was named entertainer of the year (a field bereft of any female nominees), Chris Stapleton's From a Room: Vol. 1 was given album of the year, Miranda Lambert's "Tin Man" won song of the year and Sam Hunt's "Body Like a Back Road" took single record of the year.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions
On Saturday night, as Beyoncé expanded her sovereign territory, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — an institution that's recently been on the receiving end of resentment from its own honorees — awarded two black women for their contributions to the form, alongside the awkwardly juxtaposed inductions of Bon Jovi (whose frontman Jon Bon Jovi reportedly spoke for 18 minutes), The Cars, The Moody Blues and The Dire Straits (whose principal member, Mark Knopfler, didn't attend or acknowledge the award).
Nina Simone, who transitioned from classically trained pianist and reluctant bar singer to unadulterated force of musical expression, was inducted by Mary J. Blige. "Andrew Young, who was the mayor of Atlanta and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a congressman, said that, during his days as a civil rights organizer, Simone's music was the soundtrack of the movement," Blige told the audience.
The pre-war recordings of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who died in 1973, have become retrospectively acknowledged as enormously prescient, influencing the whole of rock history. (Her legacy's rising visibility may owe something to the Internet, it should be noted.) Tharpe was inducted by Brittany Howard, singer and guitarist of The Alabama Shakes, who played Tharpe's song "That's All" alongside Questlove.
Kanye West's neck tattoo
After scrubbing his timeline clean, Kanye West returned to Twitter to post thoughts that seemed to reflect on Beyonce's Coachella performance, and also discussed a new neck tattoo, if that's something you're considering.
Just because the weekend's over doesn't mean the news stops. Today brings with it two events that honor major accomplishments in music. The annual Jazz Masters Tribute Concert is held tonight at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Pianist Joanne Brackeen, presenter and producer Todd Barkan, guitarist Pat Metheny and the singer Dianne Reeves will be celebrated. NPR Music will live-stream the show, which begins at 8 p.m.
And this afternoon, the Pulitzer Prizes will be announced, meaning some insanely talented musician — most likely from the classical or jazz worlds — will join the ranks of recent winners Du Yun, Henry Threadgill, Julia Wolfe and John Luther Adams.
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