What makes a "good" Coachella performance in 2023?

After a lot of takes about Blinkchella, I can't help but wonder about perceptions on pop performances

Last Saturday night, I stayed up until around 4am. Just after midnight, I witnessed Blackpink take the stage as Coachella headliners, making history as both the first-ever girl group and first-ever K-pop act to headline the California desert music festival. And then I stayed up far later than I should have, invigorated with both energy and curiosity after watching their set.

As I watched, I livetweeted and talked with several friends, all of us familiar with Blackpink. We all, across the board, had fun and enjoyed, but occasionally had notes on something we didn’t like or thought could be done better. Many of us have worked within entertainment and/or media industries, so there was a bit of professional sense of feedback, but it was mostly just people chatting and enjoying a big pop performance for what it is.

Then the published reviews started pouring in, all either extraordinarily positive, or incredibly dismissive. Blinkchella -a hybrid between Blackpink’s fandom, Blink, and the festival name that was trending - was either the best thing ever nonstop, or the biggest disappointment ever, because they hadn’t turned it into a meaningful cultural event  like Béyonce or Bad Bunny.

Blackpink performing at coachella. Jennie, Rosé, Lisa and Jisoo pose on stage with hands raised in pink, black, and silver looks

Relatedly, I felt a lot of the coverage was either by people who had never seen another K-pop performance, which is the newsletter I actually set out to write. I had contemplated writing “Who are we writing for when we write about K-pop in 2023"?” or “Who is and isn’t covering Blinkchella, and how they’re doing it, says a lot.” Ultimately, as I sat down to write my thoughts, and trying to not piss off all my industry peers, got the best of me.  Instead, I thought about how people were reacting, both to the articles and to the performance.

The next day after the performance, I was chatting with some friends and just shocked by how divisive the performance was. One friend was intensely against the performance, feeling it was incredibly lacking. Another loved it, the best thing ever since phones became smart. Neither side would even fathom agreeing with the other. That’s their right. But it still felt a little sad to me.

Although they are just two people, it felt representative of the takes I was seeing online as well, and it reminded me of conversations around Rihanna at the Super Bowl; it was either all or nothing.  After the fact, more nuanced takes and conversations occurred, but in the immediate, it feels like conversations around pop performances, as with most conversations nowadays, have to be all or nothing.

Like I said, I’m somewhere in between. I enjoyed Blinkchella. I had just seen them a few months ago while they were touring, and enjoyed that more. I’m hoping to go to Blackpink’s encore concert, and hopefully will continue to enjoy that.

I’m someone who constantly attempts, even when I fail, to balance perspectives and see all sides of things (Libra here, sorry!), to the point that I know it’s annoying to friends.  It’s why for many years I couldn’t handle the thought of writing opinion pieces, and I don’t think it was until recently that something like a Substack was within me. This newsletter is called Notes on K-pop, partially because I think that we can always offer notes on something we engage with. But even as I write with semi regularity on topics I apparently have a lot of thoughts on, I’m baffled. What do you hundreds of people are subscribed to this and want to hear my perspective on something? You should hear all the perspectives and I can only present one!

Anyhow… The divide of reactions for Blackpink’s first Coachella headlining set struck me very hard.

It is well known and discussed that the state of media nowadays is a mess, with reviews and criticism under the weight of a environment where anything but 100% isn’t good enough. Don’t you dare be 99.9% happy with something. The reactionary nature of many fandoms, in all their brilliant and terrible passion, especially make nuance difficult.

But I’m not sure that was happening here; neither of the friends were people I typically think of as capital “F” fans. They’re pop culture aficionado generalists, but still they had such determined opinions.

What I think was happening was more a real time example about how we as humans nowadays are primed to think in immediate reactionary, rather emotional, responses to media that resonates with us. Nowadays, saying something is just “okay” isn’t enough. You either have to be enthralled entirely, or full of disdain. Accepting the multitudes of pop music performances, both good and bad? Impossible. I’m not the first person to say this, and this is far from the first incident I’ve encountered, but it was something I was ruminating on ever since Blinkchella aired.

The incident with my friends reminded me of something I had read a few months ago from the ¡Hola Papi! newsletter, which I was also recently reminded of while reading Boss Barista’s newsletter about how it’s nearly impossible for consumers to know what’s actually “good” to buy. (I’m an advocate of period panties, and have been doing a lot of reading on the topic ever since it turned out THINX is not all it advertises to be.)

“Incuriosity is thriving at the moment,” wrote Hola Papi writer John Paul Brammer in response to someone having a less-than-positive writing group experience. “… We’ve come to think of art—all art—as commercial goods that warrant this calculation of the ‘Moral Nutrition Facts’ to ensure we’re not feeding anything ‘bad’ to our brains. So we arrive at a place where art is constantly screaming its own virtues at us. All the rough edges get sanded away, and the lines between ‘good person’ and ‘bad person’ are boldly drawn with one of those ridiculously large Sharpies in mass-produced, infantilizing literature that reassures us that we are good people for putting it on our shelves.”

Personally, I miss the rough edges of conversations about pop art, Blackpink’s Coachella headlining show and otherwise.

It wasn’t until I read The Guardian’s take when I felt that I had come across someone speaking this critical affection for both what it was and what it could or couldn’t have been into existence.

“Blackpink certainly had the stamina for a headlining set; whether it worked largely depends on your affinity for industrial-leaning arena pop and how pleasurable you find the feeling of getting steamrolled by choruses, narrow harmonies and precise choreography, as well as lasers, pyrotechnics and whirring light displays. (I love it.)” wrote Guardian US arts writer Adrian Horton, giving the performance 4/5 stars.

So what makes a good Coachella headlining set? I still don’t know. But I know that increasingly it feels like if you’re not all or nothing about a concert or performance, it’s not worth engaging because people don’t really care; they care about their own thoughts, and those that are opposite to them. From a culture reporter perspective, it is kind of heartbreaking, because it leaves little room for questioning or exploring except in the most extremes of directions. I for one hope we have a lot of conversations about pop performances, not just opinions.

At the end of the day, it looked like Blackpink were enjoying their moment, and I hope they continue to do so next weekend.

@Tamarwrites on Twitter: Blackpink loves living the explicit version
Due to Twitter and Substack beefing since Substack launched Notes, it seems like I can no longer embed tweets, so please click through to see my entire thread of Tamar Reacts to Blackpink at Coachella.

What did you think of Blackpink’s Coachella performance?

What I’m reading

NCT Dream spoke to student journalists at the Daily Bruin, which I think is amazing and a great opp for the youth-focused NCT team. Also, I’m heading to California tomorrow for a stupidly short trip for some meetings and to go see NCT Dream, since I had to miss their Newark show due to my observance of Passover. If you’re there, let’s say hi!

I didn’t expect to learn about how one Brazilian neighborhood is seeing cultural clashes between Jewish and Korean residents, and a consulate, in a Next City piece that showed up in my Google Alerts, but A K-Pop Wave Is Transforming A São Paulo Neighborhood – For Better And For Worse was an engaging read.

What I’m listening to

I left Coachella and headed to NCity, I guess. A few years ago, I very cheesily made my own perfume in Paris and to describe it as a lifechanging experience is a bit much but I walked into a workshop and came out two hours changed, and wearing my own unique scent. Since then, I’ve become a perfume aficionado (please send recs!) and really love the choreography of NCT Dojaejung’s Perfume. I’m enjoying their whole EP, and hope everyone who worked on it gets a bonus because it’s really that great.

Relatedly, 's Tune Glow interview with perfumer Marissa Zappas was excellent. I'm currently on a saving kick so holding off on buying any new scents, but have plans to stop by the Museum of Sex exhibit to experience her creation.

Apink’s D N D is also making me really happy lately. It would have been hilarious to see them spoof the dungeons and dragons potential, but I think all of us know what it feels like to put on the “do not disturb” mode and just tune out the world. Although they’re still very much associated with their early sweet and cutesy bubblegum pop songs, I think Apink’s past few years of music is an honestly amazing second-wind and we should talk about it more.

That’s all from me today.. Except news! I’m on Notes now! It’s Substacks version of Twitter, and a lot of writers and cool people are hanging out there. It’s pretty nerdy, I love it. Trying to figure out how to use it. Join me!