US pop singer Lady Gaga performs on stage at the Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 15, 2017 in Indio, California. VALERIE MACON / AFP
Lady Gaga debuted a R&B-tinged love song Saturday as she headlined the Coachella festival, where the pop diva cast herself as sensual rather than sensational.
The first woman in a decade to top the lineup at the premier music event, Lady Gaga unleashed an action-packed spectacle of acrobatic choreography that culminated in confetti, fireballs and fireworks on her dance anthem “Bad Romance.”
Gaga seized upon the spotlight to introduce a new song, “The Cure,” that is built off an unadorned R&B rhythm before rising into a pop chorus with the lines, “If I can’t find the cure, I’ll fix you with my love.”
She released the song commercially as she left Coachella in the California desert, marking her first new music since her latest album “Joanne” came out in October.
Coachella offered a preview of the global tour the pop superstar will launch in August for “Joanne,” an album that brought a more classic pop and even country sound to the 31-year-old artist long associated with synthpop.
Gaga made clear at Coachella that her old spirit remained undiminished. On “John Wayne,” one of her most country-driven songs in which she admits an attraction to rugged masculinity, Gaga paradoxically sang astride a human pyramid of her sweaty, topless and ethnically diverse crew of male dancers.
Sensuality oozed throughout Gaga’s set. She beckoned one dancer by grabbing his jeans in the waist, as both male and female dancers rubbed her leotard-clad body seductively.
“Have you all found someone you want to sleep with yet?” she teasingly asked the 100,000-strong crowd, most of them young and many of them clad only in the bare minimum of clothing after a long day in the sun.
Yet for a singer once talked about as much for her outrageous outfits as her songs, she stepped back and put the emphasis on her music — giving herself space to show off her glowing, rich voice on tracks such as “The Edge of Glory.”
Her biggest fashion message may have come as she played piano. She struggled to take off her sweater mid-song, in an endearing display of authenticity.
– Surprise guests –
Lady Gaga played her first Coachella after original headliner Beyonce canceled on doctors’ orders as she expects twins.
One of the most lucrative events on the global cultural calendar, Coachella takes place over back-to-back three-day weekends with identical lineups.
In a Coachella hallmark, Saturday saw a slew of surprise performers — delighting fans who avidly posted to social media.
The rapper Future, who recently made history with back-to-back albums debuting at number one on the US chart, drew cheers when he brought to stage Migos, the Atlanta trio behind the hit “Bad and Boujee.”
But an even bigger name soon came on — rap superstar Drake, a sometime collaborator with Future, who turned the crowd into a sea of waving arms as he performed his hit “Fake Love.”
Migos then crossed the lawn to make a cameo with DJ Snake, the successful but largely behind-the-scenes force behind mega-hits such as “Lean On.”
The French DJ pulled off a second surprise as Lauryn Hill walked on, singing the Fugees emblematic song “Killing Me Softly.”
– Non-Gaga fashion –
Bon Iver, once a crowd favorite with indie folk tunes such as “Skinny Love,” brought to stage the band’s turn into deep experimentation in a set of loop effects and references to numerological riddles from its latest album, “22, A Million.”
Frontman Justin Vernon performed in headphones at a soundboard but by the end of the set brought the crowd into a frenzy as he knelt before his sound pedals and clamped aggressively onto his electric guitar’s bridge as abstract images flashed on screen.
While Lady Gaga toned down her outfits, one artist who embraced costumes was Roisin Murphy. The Irish trip-hop singer took the stage with her face covered by a mask made of interjoined dolls and later carried over her head a faceless, zebra-colored dummy.
If Coachella handed out fashion awards, one could also go to frontman Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest, the prolific indie rockers with a unique talent to work songs down to quiet and back up to intensity.
The 24-year-old Toledo, long pictured as a scraggly younger, donned a tight, sky-blue suit with a black shirt and necktie.