by Julian Spivey
Billie Eilish became the youngest Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival headliner at 20 years old when she took the stage at 11:30 p.m. (PST) at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif. late Saturday, April 16 for a 90-minute set of her biggest hits and some memorable cameos.
There are few pop stars I’d find myself staying up to 3 a.m. (CST) to see or listen to, but Eilish has intrigued me for some time now with her deeply personal songs and her rock performance style, complete with constant movement and jumping around on stage.
I think it’s pretty special that YouTube is bringing these Coachella sets right into our living rooms and bedrooms across the country via streaming the sets of these superstars for those of us not endowed enough to be in what seems like probably an obnoxious crowd in California. What’s most surprising to me about the YouTube stream is the production value, especially during Eilish’s set, that was mesmerizing and looked like it would be at home in a superhero movie. It’s not your typical focus camera on performer and simply follow them production technique.
Eilish began her set with “bury a friend,” “I Didn’t Change My Number” and “NDA” and honestly at first the sound quality wasn’t the greatest and led me to think it was going to be a long evening. I didn’t know if her vocals, which are often whispered to great affect on record, would translate as well to the festival setting. It seemed to become less of an issue as her set went on.
It was Eilish’s fourth song of her set, “Therefore I Am,” before I really started getting into her set – but I should say I’m a casual fan of her music, so I’m sure most tuning into her set were with her from start-to-finish with little to no complaints.
Surprise guests have become something of an expectation at Coachella and the next before pop sensation Harry Styles had stunned the crowd with an appearance by Shania Twain. Eilish’s first guest of the evening wasn’t such a surprise because she has a song with the artist, but the crowd was still thrilled to see Khalid join her for a performance of “lovely.”
This was followed by one of my favorite Eilish performances of the evening and one of my favorite songs of hers period – “you should see me in a crown,” off her Grammy Album of the Year winning WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?.
One of the nicest parts of Eilish’s set was when her brother and collaborator FINNEAS joined her seated on stage for an acoustic performance of “Your Power,” which really showcased their talented vocals together.
Eilish then took a ride in the air above the crowd in an extended lift to perform “OverHeated,” “bellyache” and a snippet of “ocean eyes,” which was really the biggest disappointment for me because I love that song and would’ve loved to hear it in its entirety.
She returned back to the stage for “Getting Older,” off her most recent Grammy-nominated album Happier Than Ever, in which she was joined by Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz. Judging by the social media response to Albarn’s appearance many didn’t seem to know who he was and one truly memorable Tweet that I can’t get out of my head remarked about how Elton John had joined Eilish on stage and the poster even tagged Elton John in the post.
The Coachella crowd – both in person and streaming – may not have truly gotten the Albarn appearance, but it was obvious that Eilish was really influenced by his music, and it was an important life moment for her to have him join her at Coachella. The two would be joined by Posdnuos of De La Soul for a roaring performance of Gorillaz’s 2005 hit “Feel Good, Inc.,” which even the many unaware of Albarn surely recognized.
The final segment of Eilish’s Coachella set was the biggest highlight of the evening starting with “when the party’s over” going into “all the good girls go to hell” and then “everything I wanted,” the Grammy-winning Record of the Year from 2021.
She finished her headlining set with a killer one-two punch of “bad guy,” the track the really shot her into the stratosphere of pop stardom in 2019, and “Happier Than Ever” the at first lovely and then raucous title track of her latest album. It was the perfect combination of songs to end her show marking her as one of the biggest acts in pop music today.