Coachella 2024: Doja Cat brings us dancing Yetis and mud wrestling on a strangely satisfying Day 3 finale

Indio, CA - April 14: Doja Cat headlines at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Sunday, April 14, 2024 in Indio, CA. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
Doja Cat headlines at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Sunday in Indio, Calif. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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The 2024 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival wraps its first weekend on Sunday, April 14, with Doja Cat's return to the desert for her first time headlining the event.

Other artists include Victoria Monét, Reneé Rapp, J Balvin and Bebe Rexha.

It has been a big weekend of music in the desert. Tyler, the Creator had a guest-filled spectacle that included a bighorn sheep to top Saturday night after No Doubt performed a set of its biggest hits for the first time in nine years with a little help from Olivia Rodrigo.

Taylor Swift didn't join Bleachers on stage, but she was watching from the side with Travis Kelce on Saturday evening and Billie Eilish showed up for a surprise in the Do Lab.

And that was after big sets from Lana Del Rey and Peso Pluma on Friday.

Follow along with The Times' August Brown, Danielle Dorsey, Vanessa Franko and Mikael Wood, who are on the ground in Indio for the final day of the fest's first weekend.

Read more: Coachella 2024: Photos of festival fashion

1:30 p.m. The Do Lab is often described as the festival within the festival at Coachella. In its early years, it was smack in the middle of the grounds, beaconing festival-goers with beats, cirque performances and the all-important misters.

The Do Lab’s popularity has grown substantially since it first debuted at Coachella in 2004 and now has its own dedicated area to accommodate 15,000 fans at any given point during the festival.

That space is also known for hosting an impressive list of surprise guests, and this year is no exception. Among those who dropped in this year were DJ Pee .Wee (Anderson .Paak) and Sofi Tukker on Friday and 2022 headliner Billie Eilish on Saturday.

The brothers behind the Do Lab, L.A.-based Dede, Jesse and Josh Flemming, work together to design a whimsical space with an ever-improving concert experience that also provides a respite from the sun.

“We focus on shade primarily and water and misting. We have to pay attention to lighting and sound,” Josh Flemming said.

Even with those practical elements, what makes Do Lab special is the colorful stage build. This year, there are structures covered by fabric in shades of blue, orange, yellow and red that Josh Flemming described as “10 massive mushrooms.”

“We are the most colorful thing out there. We want people to feel like they almost went through a portal,” Jesse Flemming said.

And if you can’t get enough of the Do Lab vibes at Coachella, check out Lightning in a Bottle, the Do Lab’s own festival, which returns to Buena Vista Lake in Kern County from May 22-27. —Vanessa Franko

Two people eating tots and dipping sauce together at a table
Food reporter Danielle Dorsey, left, does a taste test with DJ Will Clarke at Saucetails at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Sunday. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

2 p.m. It’s DJ Will Clarke’s first time as a bonafide Coachella performer, though he’s graced the Do Lab stage in past years. The U.K- and Detroit-based DJ who also runs a food-focused Instagram site played in the Yuma Tent on Saturday, but we met up early Sunday afternoon to take a tour through Postmates’ Sauce Bar in the 12 Peaks VIP Area. The yellow-and-orange shaded structure feels like stepping into the sun and felt at least 10 degrees hotter than our perfect mid-70s reality.

Diners can choose between fries, tots or a combination of both before adding on sauces that pull from some of L.A.’s most iconic food spots, such as barbecue sauce from Bludso’s and a collaboration ghost chile Sriracha with producer Benny Blanco. Blanco’s dip turned out to be our favorite of the five options, with the honey mustard coming in second. The real pro move is to dip your fries or tots into the Sriracha followed by the honey mustard to slightly temper the heat. We both agreed that Blanco’s Sriracha sauce would be ideal with hot wings. Maybe our feedback will be incorporated before Weekend 2. —Danielle Dorsey

Read more: Coachella 2024: No Doubt dusts off energetic greatest hits with assist from Olivia Rodrigo

4:18 p.m. Since Friday afternoon, I’ve been keeping track of the number of shaved chests versus the number of unshaved chests among the men at Coachella. Current totals are:

28,987 shaved

27,674 unshaved

It’s a close race; eager to see which side wins at the end of the night. — M.W.

Large screen shows a person singing on stage
Ms. Lauryn Hill makes an appearance during YG Marley's set at Coachella on Sunday. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

5 p.m. YG Marley is beaming as he enters the Coachella Stage under the high afternoon sun. Complete with an echoing hype man who waves a massive Jamaican flag, he starts with his single “Marching for Freedom,” stomping his feet and urging audience participation. Freedom, peace and love are recurrent themes throughout the set, and a message that collides with that of his late grandfather, Bob Marley.

It’s not surprising that YG Marley brought his mother, Ms. Lauryn Hill, to join him on stage, but the addition of Wyclef Jean and a handful of Fugees hits that follow create a frenzy among the crowd, who effortlessly recite every word of “Killing Me Softly,” “Ready or Not” and “No Woman, No Cry.”

Just when I think the energy can’t crescendo any higher, Busta Rhymes skips onto stage to his 1997 single “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See.” After a quick detour through Flipmode Squad’s catalog, the ensemble brings it back to Bob Marley hits and Wyclef asks the audience to raise both hands if they want wars across the world to end.

“Put your hands up for peace!” the hype man chants and the crowd happily obliges, hooting in agreement.

Wyclef segues into “One Love,” before queueing up YG Marley to bring it home with “Is This Love.” The Jamaican flag that’s emblazoned across the triple-screen behind the stage gets traded for vintage Bob Marley photos, with YG Marley’s live performance framed in a six-point star. As the music winds down, I find myself caught in a contact-high, not just from the heavy cannabis smoke that wafts across the grounds, but the performance itself. Yes, I think, this is love that I’m feeling. —D.D.

Taking Back Sunday performs at Coachella
Taking Back Sunday performs at Coachella on Sunday. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

5:03 p.m. Before Taking Back Sunday took the stage in the Mojave Tent on Sunday afternoon, the crowd started chanting “TBS! TBS! TBS!” Yes, the emo kids who crowded into basement shows over the decades had found their people. I know because I am one of them.

The band members may wear suits on stage now, but they’re just as electric as they were when we were all in our 20s. Adam Lazzara can still swing a microphone around with the best of them.

Highlights of the band’s 45-minute set included opener “A Decade Under the Influence,” and classics “You’re So Last Summer” and “Cute Without the E (Cut From the Team).”

As I predicted, it was a big cathartic emo singalong for those of us for whom it was never a phase, culminating in set-closer “MakeDamnSure.” —V.F.

6:05 p.m. Calling her guest “the hottest person in the world,” Reneé Rapp brought out Kesha at the Outdoor Theatre to perform her 2009 electro-pop smash “Tik Tok” — an opportunity Kesha took to change the opening lyric of her song from “Wake up in the morning feeling like P Diddy” to “Wake up in the morning saying, ‘F— P Diddy,’” following recent allegations of sexual abuse against the hip-hop mogul. Rapp — a big-voiced singer and actor known to audiences for her roles in Broadway’s “Mean Girls” and its big-screen adaptation — was introduced by several cast members of TV’s “The L Word” and sang flirty but sneering pop-soul tunes about her love of pretty girls and her disgust with annoying ones. Her song “Colorado,” she said, was inspired by the experience of “white people winter”— “the only thing we did right.” — M.W.

The new Quasar stage at Coachella
The new Quasar stage at Coachella on Friday. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

7:51 p.m. In 2023, Heather Shaw spoke on a panel at South by Southwest about augmented reality and the future of stage design and production.

The founder and CEO of L.A.-based Vita Motus Design Studio was so inspired by the conversation she created a presentation for a future stage at Coachella.

Shaw, whose many credits include working on the design of the Do Lab going back to 2006, ultimately didn’t present the deck to the festival’s team but it came to pass anyway, as Coachella sought out a new stage.

The Quasar stage, which was designed for longer DJ sets, sits in the former home of the Sahara on the southern side of the festival grounds, and made its debut at Coachella on Friday evening.

Quasar is 55 feet tall, 235 feet wide and its screens have 660 LED panels.

There are two angled screens that bear a resemblance to the shape of Nevada, flanking a pyramid-esque nerve center where the DJs play. There are mirrors around the edges of the screens. And along each side of the stage are four large angled slat-like pieces jutting like stalagmites from the sides of the stage.

Shaw’s goal with the stage design is for festival-goers to “feel like they’re taken to another dimension or another world” when they come to watch a set.

What makes it unique beyond its shape is that the technology of the stage allows for real-time visuals that can react to beats per minute.

“It feels more realistic or in-depth and three-dimensional,” Shaw said. She sees it as a step of using augmented reality for inspiration.

On Saturday night, London DJ Michael Bibi, who recently entered remission after being diagnosed with CNS lymphoma a year ago took over the stage for a few hours. Late in his set, the screens looked like kaleidoscopic insect wings as he dropped Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Later they morphed into a beautiful stained glass pattern that was almost church-like, but still pulsing to the beat.

“I’m hopeful too that we can eventually build on it and make it more of a three-dimensional immersive space,” Shaw said. –V.F.

Read more: Coachella 2024: Tyler, the Creator wreaks late-night havoc as headliner on Day 2

8 p.m. Big star turn Sunday in the Mojave Tent by Victoria Monét, who was already riding high with her best new artist win at February’s Grammy Awards. A longtime songwriter for the likes of Ariana Grande and Fifth Harmony, the 34-year-old singer broke out on her own with last year’s “Jaguar II,” a funny and funky retro-R&B disc that showcased her extensive knowledge of Black music history; here, backed by a crack band that included her producer, D’Mile, she threaded bits of tunes by Usher, Outkast and the Supremes into her own material, deepening that scholarly impulse. (In “Stop (Askin’ Me 4 S—)” she also demanded, “Stop this genocide” to a huge round of cheers.) Yet Monét was no less a thrill to watch as she executed complicated choreography while flanked by a small crew of dancers. At one point, her delightfully raunchy moves so moved one guy near the stage that he threw a fistful of dollars her way. — M.W.

Bebe Rexha performs surrounded by dancer in shiny black outfits.
Bebe Rexha performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Sunday in Indio, Calif. (Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

8:10 p.m. Whoever threw that phone at Bebe Rexha probably feels like a true dingus now.

In the war eternal to be the Main Pop Girl, we have a new champion today in Rexha, a songwriting industry lifer who has always been this close to a breakthrough as an artist. After her decadently performed, expertly delivered Main Stage set, it’s safe to say the day has arrived.

Rexha has long been an insider’s pop artist — sort of an oxymoron, but a consistent fount of singles smarter and stickier than most, and sung with real power and panache. It’s either a delight or an irony that she got her smash hit with a virtuosically dumb cover of Eiffel 65’s Euro-rave chestnut “Blue” with David Guetta.

But given the chance to finally control a huge stage on her own, she wrung it for all it was worth.

Flanked by a few very limber and spicily posed dancers in jet black, Rexha sung the hell out of singles like “Me, Myself & I” and “I’m the Drama,” with precision-point vocals cutting through artfully disjointed club pop. On “Bad Bitch,” one of her standouts, she almost dared the audience to get onboard with her chaos or leave.

Dua Lipa has the fitness girlies, Charli XCX has the poppers crowd. For today though, the people have spoken, and they said it’s Bebe Rexha.

“I always thought I wasn’t cool enough for Coachella,” said Rexha, as she wound down her exultant set on the main stage. No one could deny her this — “I’m cool now.” —A.B.

8:45 p.m. Sunday was a big day for fans of incendiary desert-blues guitar work. Early on, the Tuareg guitarist-singer Mdou Moctar led a master class in what his instrument was capable of, thrashing out Tuareg psych-blues licks and layering them with melancholic, keening vocals. Other groups like Tinariwen built global audiences on similar traditions, but Moctar has his own regal charisma as a frontman with a super-tight backing band lending miles of groove to roam around in. A new album, “Funeral for Justice,” is due out in May, but this band truly deserves to be seen live.

As dusk settled, the Texas trio Khruangbin took a similar instrumental template in a far off direction — using funk and the loop-driven riffing of hip-hop as grounding points for long-form jams. The band has become unexpected arena stars — a hard hill to climb for a largely instrumental guitar-bass-drums combo — but their impeccable moods and commanding stage presence travel even wider in today’s vibe-based aesthetic times. On rare moments with vocals, like “Lady and Man,” bassist Laura Lee Ochoa deadpanned to great affect, while drummer DJ Johnson kept impeccable time and guitarist Mark Speer found new winding paths for his relentless riffing to follow. Their new album “A La Sala” deepens one of the most instantly transportive catalogs in music, but if you can’t see them in their natural habitat (outdoor festivals with a few pulls of a joint in you), check out their recent great run of one-off live collaboration records too. —A.B.

J Balvin wears a black leather jacket and shades and sings into a microphone
J Balvin performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Sunday. (Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

9 p.m. What could make J Balvin’s intergalactic set full of neon lasers, alien heads and chrome spaceships feel even more out of this world? How about a cameo from Will Smith coming out to rap along to the song “Men in Black” like it’s 1997? In a day full of big-time guests, Smith’s appearance in the midst of Balvin’s hip-shaking reggaeton might sound strange. But in a fest full of nostalgia, Smith’s smooth dance moves lifted out of the music video for the self-titled soundtrack classic seemed to hit Balvin (and us) right in the feels as he mimicked the moves almost out of sheer childhood muscle memory. After blowing our minds, Smith then tried to erase them by holding up the trademark "Men in Black" red laser to the crowd's eyes. Nice try, Will, you might be able to give us amnesia, but X never forgets. —Nate Jackson

Doja Cat sits on the shoulders of a person in a hairy costume.
Doja Cat headlines at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Sunday. (Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

12:45 a.m. Amid all the hand-wringing over Coachella’s relatively soft ticket sales this year, one question that arose was whether Doja Cat is a big enough star to headline the festival’s closing night. Performing late Sunday evening, the rapper and singer showed that’s the wrong way to think about what she’d been asked to do — what turned out to matter is that she’s a weird enough star to capture the attention necessary for the role.

Doja Cat’s set began with her in a hazmat suit rapping furiously over a sample of 10cc’s soft-rock classic “I’m Not in Love” and it had her dancing in an extremely long blond wig amid a tribe of Yetis; it featured a giant dinosaur skeleton operated by puppeteers and it climaxed with her mud-wrestling with a troupe of female dancers wearing safety goggles as she rapped her song “Wet Vagina” in the finale where you might’ve expected her breakthrough pop hit “Say So” (which she never actually did).

This had to go down among the strangest sets ever to happen at Coachella — and that’s including last year’s Frank Ocean meta-spectacle.

Indeed, one aspect of Doja Cat’s performance that linked it to Ocean’s was her determination to reveal the seams of a show like this, as when we saw technicians visibly moving pieces of scenery into place or a costume change illuminated in silhouette against a billowing piece of fabric. Yet glimpsing what went into it hardly took away from how singular a presence Doja Cat is in today’s pop scene: a fierce battle rapper capable of making candied pop songs that still make unsettling points about power and desirability.

Doja Cat played songs from last year’s “Scarlet” album — including “Demons,” “Attention” and “F— the Girls,” remade here as a snarling nü-metal jam — as well as oldies like “Tia Tamera” and “Need to Know.” She brought out 21 Savage to do “N.H.I.E.”; Teezo Touchdown to do her brand new single, “Masc”; and ASAP Rocky to do “Urrrge!!!!!!!!!!,” from her just-released deluxe edition of “Scarlet.”

One highlight of the performance was “Agora Hills,” Doja Cat’s chilling song about the threat of violence lurking inside the material satisfaction of celebrity. She rapped it while standing on a bridge suspended over the stage — a true pop oddball surveying her unlikely domain. — M.W.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.