Every year, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California publishes a hotly anticipated poster detailing which artists will be playing the most buzzed-about festival in the United States and possibly the world.
The 2020 offering didn’t disappoint, and even had a treat for fans of Japanese music. This year’s Coachella, held across two weekends in April, will feature Vocaloid avatar Hatsune Miku and Harajuku ambassador Kyary Pamyu Pamyu playing on both weekends’ Fridays and Sundays, respectively. The news saw Twitter go wild, and early reaction from English-language music writers was positive, with Stereogum hailing the pair as “wildly conceptual J-pop” and Pitchfork devoting decent space to both in a reaction piece.
This double dose of J-pop at a festival best known for Beyonce’s 2018 blockbuster showing and a clientele made up mainly of Los Angeles influencers marks a high point for a recent trend for festivals booking Japanese acts. Artists from this country aren’t selling out arenas abroad or commanding much media attention, but they’ve carved out a certain success that’s impressive in a boom-or-bust industry.
Japanese acts have actually experienced a decent amount of success in the past when it comes to music festivals. Noise group Boredoms joined Lollapalooza in 1994, while Shibuya-kei cornerstone Cornelius appeared at the first Coachella in 1999. They benefited from a period in which large-scale music gatherings needed to fill out their lineups with a wide range of sound, meaning organizers would be more open to taking a risk on a Japanese group that might not have proper buzz, but still carried a cool factor.
Recent times have made this approach tougher for Japanese performers. Festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza have transformed from mainly alternative-adjacent showcases to large-scale events streamed live around the globe. All those eyes aren’t going to tune in for some crate-digging studio wizard from Tokyo — many want to see the biggest and brightest global pop stars take the stage. The three headliners for this year’s Coachella are Rage Against the Machine, Frank Ocean and Travis Scott, with much of the other names belonging to a similar sized popularity sphere.
Our two Japanese artists will be following a well-received performance from Perfume at last year’s edition of Coachella, and all three acts should be happy that the general failing of X Japan at the festival two years prior didn’t put bookers off this country entirely.
If we look at other festivals across the world from the past year, we can also see where mid-tier artists are getting a chance to shine. Last year’s Primavera Sound in Spain included Chai, Wednesday Campanella and Haru Nemuri. Many of those names have appeared at other notable festivals outside of Japan or, in the case of Haru Nemuri, are springboarding to their own small tours of North America. While a headline slot might be a long way away, there’s still plenty of room for Japanese performers to make waves abroad.