Hayes: As music changes, Lollapalooza evolves


Bob Hayes, Columnist

In the minds of thousands of young Chicagoans, perhaps the most hyped weekend all year, every year is the first weekend of August: Lollapalooza. Those three sunny days represent an annual celebration of summer with our best friends, old and new, in the middle of a beautiful city while jamming to our favorite musicians.

It feels like Lollapalooza chatter never really stops among regular festivalgoers. We spend the end of each year reminiscing about Lollapalooza, and then when the calendar turns, we begin to build our summer plans around the festival.

The release of the lineup several weeks ago immediately rang in the most controversial phase of the Lollapalooza calendar. Like many things in the age of Twitter, lineup releases seem to garner only the most extreme of reactions. Either the lineup is terrible and the festival not worth going to, or it is the greatest list of words we have ever seen.

This year’s Lollapalooza lineup has received as much praise and criticism as any festival has this year. Those lauding the lineup point to the seemingly endless list of stars across every major genre of music. The critics are mostly Lollapalooza traditionalists who see the number of stars and the plethora of electronic dance music (EDM) and hip-hop acts as destroying the sanctity of the festival.

The first Lollapalooza was in 1991, when Perry Farrell, lead singer of rock band Jane’s Addiction, planned an exciting festival-like farewell tour for his band. After existing on and off for the next decade or so, Lollapalooza in its current format — an annual three-day music festival in Chicago — began in 2005. Early Lollapalooza fans saw the festival as a celebration of rock and indie music, similarly to how we view Pitchfork Music Festival now.

Each year, these traditionalists come out and criticize the commercialization of their once-favorite festival. While Lollapalooza has certainly become more commercialized over the years, the main fallacies in the critics’ argument are 1) this is a new thing and 2) this is a bad thing.

Renowned singer-songwriter, sound engineer and journalist Steve Albini said of the festival, “Lollapalooza is the worst example of corporate encroachment into what is supposed to be the underground. It is just a large scale marketing of bands that pretend to be alternative but are in reality just another facet of the mass cultural exploitation scheme… What it really is is the most popular bands on MTV that are not heavy metal.” This sounds similar to the criticism that Lollapalooza receives every year, but Albini did not say it in 2014; he said it in 1993.

Lollapalooza has not sold out or ditched its roots. This is how the festival has always been. Jane’s Addiction’s website says that Lollapalooza “was originally designed to bring artists and fans of very different types of music to a single touring festival.” Besides the touring aspect, is that not what Lollapalooza is today?

What has really changed is the advancement of music in the last twenty years, particularly in the genres of hip-hop and EDM. People trash Lollapalooza for commercializing, but if you look at the top rap acts at the festival this year — Eminem, Childish Gambino, Chance The Rapper — only one of them has ever hit radio popularity, and he has won a whopping 13 Grammys in his career. The top EDM acts this year — Calvin Harris, Skrillex, Zedd — have all been nominated for Grammys. Lollapalooza is merely staying at the forefront of critically acclaimed music.

While this year’s lineup is admittedly heavier on EDM and hip-hop than it normally is, that is largely because of the saturation of top indie rock acts last year, which means they will take at least a year before returning to Grant Park. Regardless, even if you want to avoid the drunk high schoolers at Perrys — the primarily EDM stage — you could easily spend all your hours at Lollapalooza seeing exclusively “traditional” acts, including Arctic Monkeys, Outkast, Kings of Leon, the Avett Brothers, and Foster the People, to name a few.

One place Lollapalooza is not getting enough credit is the originality of their artist selections. While most festival lineups seem to be carbon copies of each other, you would be hard-pressed to find many festivals that feature Lollapalooza’s top acts. In fact, many of the most heralded festivals, like Bonnaroo and Governors Ball, feature a number of top artists who Lollapalooza, ahead of the curve, booked last year.

In the end, kids can drunkenly jam to Calvin Harris while millennials reminisce at Outkast and indie fans rock to Arctic Monkeys. The real beauty of Lollapalooza is that no matter what music a fan likes, everyone can have their greatest weekend of the year.

Bob Hayes is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].