It happens every year.
Months of anticipation leads to the frantic release of the sacred Lollapalooza lineup while trolls from every corner of the internet trip over their own eyes trying read the diminishing font.
Of course, the initial lineup release comes in the form of a poster, which only adds to the chaos. The sole method in which the names are organized is, assumedly so, by their musical prowess.
Bigger and better acts at the top of the poster, smaller and worse ones at the bottom.
Obviously, the “better” and “worse” parts are wholly subjective, but it’s human nature to follow that logic when the printed names at the top of the poster are bigger than those at the bottom. Which is exactly why most people judge the Lollapalooza lineup almost exclusively on that year’s headliners, a.k.a. the biggest names on the poster.
While blitzing through the seemingly hundreds of names, mental fatigue sets in and your overwhelmed brain tends only to save memory cells for those big names you saw first. And thus, almost every year, most people walk away from their speed-reading session of the Lollapalooza lineup poster with a tinge of disappointment.
On that note, let’s deep dive into the 2016 poster, which other than its impressive trio of top headliners – Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and LCD Soundsystem – didn’t exactly inspire the masses.
Unless you’re a diehard J.Cole fan, the drop off after that trio is as steep as the price of beer at Grant Park. In fact, if there was going to be a hip-hop act on the poster’s first line, it’s a bit odd it wasn’t Future – who released three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 in a span of six months.
One of those, What A Time To Be Alive, had assistance from the red-hot Drake. But the first of the three, July’s DS2, was ranked Rolling Stone’s 26th best album of 2015.
The point is, by just about any objective measure, Future is a better artist than J.Cole. So why put J. Cole on the first line if you’re Lollapalooza?
Because he has a wider mass appeal.
J.Cole sells more records, and thus, he’ll sell more teenagers from the western suburbs on convincing Dad to buy them a 4-day pass. You may be wondering what the difference between being on the first or second line of a poster is, but there’s approximately a 0.1% chance it wasn’t done intentionally.
The name between J. Cole and Future, Lana Del Rey, seems appropriately placed seeing that she’s dominated the pop charts since 2012 and is coming off last September’s Honeymoon – 12th on Rolling Stone’s Top 50 albums of 2015.
However, the rest of the poster’s second line continues the “mass appeal” trend. Opinions on Ellie Goulding, Major Lazer, and Disclosure’s recent work are certainly various; but there’s little doubt all three carry the name value to accomplish exactly what the Lollapalooza poster intends to in its first few lines.
Regardless of your individual preferences, those first nine artists cover just about every genre of music. More importantly, they cover just about every demographic of music fans.
Mission accomplished for another Lollapalooza poster.
Again, it may seem trivial to discuss the differences between the 2nd and 3rd line of a poster; but you’re out of your mind if you think Major Lazer is a better electronic act than Flume right now.
Thanks to evil things like the radio, more people have “heard of” Major Lazer than Flume – and that’s all that matters. The more names people have “heard of” at the top of the poster, the faster 4-day and single day passes will sell out.
The top two lines present this notion on a larger scale, but just by looking at where the names start to get small – you can tell the poster was designed to hold the majority of people’s interest for five lines.
If the first two lines didn’t cover every demographic of festival attendees, then the first five sure as hell do. Other than Flume, there’s one of the biggest names in country (Chris Stapleton), catchy indie rock acts (Two Door Cinema Club and The 1975), different variations of electropop (M83 and Halsey), prevalent DJ’s (Hardwell, Martin Garrix and Flosstradamus), something different altogether (Die Antwoord), a trendy hip-hop artist (G-Eazy), and a 25th anniversary nostalgia special (Jane’s Addiction).
Lolla’s 25th-anniversary, and its accompanying 4-day lineup, are important to mention. As the three big headliners suggest, Lollapalooza 2016 appears to be geared towards an older crowd.
But looking at the genres that have come as far as any in Lollapalooza’s recent history – dance and hip-hop – the lineup runs as deep as ever. They’re just (strategically) scattered in the sea of smaller names.
J. Cole, Future and G-Eazy got the big font treatment for hip-hop artists; but the group of Bryson Tiller, Big Grams, Vic Mensa, A$AP Ferg, Vince Staples and Danny Brown – all listed somewhere between the sixth and tenth lines – will likely play a bigger role in the final judgment of Lollapalooza 2016’s rap presence.
In fact, Staples is one of four artists listed on the sixth line or lower (Leon Bridges, The Arcs, Kurt Vile) that appeared on Rolling Stone’s Top 50 albums list in 2015. The top five lines? Just three.
Of course, studying Rolling Stone’s top album list isn’t the only metric for rating artists, but it’s a fair one.
On the dance side of things, Flume and DJ Mag Top 100 regulars Martin Garrix and Hardwell got the big font treatment – but the genre’s strength is hidden within the murky depths of the poster.
I’m no house guru, but names like Griz, Big Gigantic, Zhu, Duke Dumont, Oliver Heldens, Seven Lions, Marshmello, and Audien – all listed between the seventh and nineteenth lines – show that recent trends are still intact in the ever-evolving Lollapalooza formula.
They’re merely presenting it differently.
But if Lollapalooza sells out every year anyway, what’s the point of altering the lineup presentation? Here’s a telling quote from the creator of Lollapalooza himself:
I’ve immersed myself in this experience for 25 years now, but it’s in a constant state of evolution, living and breathing. As long as we always try to find the eye of the hurricane, the epicenter of the music that is truly connecting right now, I think we can go for another 25 years! And we’ll do it by always making sure to keep it fresh. Four days this year, over 170 of the best bands, including acts from all over the world as the music community connects globally more than ever; the best sound, staging and lights. We promise the festival will always strive to be the ‘lifeblood’ of the music scene
— Perry Farrell, Lollapalooza Founder
The science behind the Lollapalooza poster is, at its core, the festival’s long-term business model.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if people are disappointed by the lineup in March. I’ve been attending Lollapalooza since 2008, and every year I hear at least a few friends say the lineup “was better than I thought” after the fact.
More than anything, Lollapalooza has built a reputation of introducing lesser known artists to its attendees before they blow up.
It’s almost as if organizers know exactly where some of those talented names lower on the poster are heading, but also know that setting lower expectations is the smarter play — because then everybody wins.
I’ll be the first to admit that the 2016 Lollapalooza lineup release left more to be desired than recent years. But things seem to return to normal when you remember this is the first time it’s been a four-day ordeal.
Shit, the two headliners that caused the most disappointment – J. Cole and Lana Del Rey – are both playing on Thursday night.
When you look at it that way, Lollapalooza organizers are essentially admitting there’s a separate science behind the festival’s lineup poster.
After all, they should know it best.