The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
As the unofficial opening to festival season, it’s safe to say that Coachella has become the biggest live music event of the year, in cultural relevancy and sheer star power if nothing else. Last weekend’s headlining performance from Beyoncé – which launched untold thousands of think-pieces — cements the notion that Coachella is an unmissable event, one that plays host to the moments destined to be forever enshrined in pop culture history. And yet for the second year running, the buzz surrounding lineup announcements was soured by reports of Coachella’s owner, Philip Anschutz, and the laundry list of unsavory causes he funds.
Even in today’s hyper-partisan age, where activism has never been trendier and public idols are smashed when they fail to be held accountable for their beliefs, the reaction to this damning stream of news has been surprising. Or rather, what’s surprising is that, for the most part, there has been no reaction to this news whatsoever. This is concerning, and it should concern artists, audiences, and casual onlookers alike; the money being spent to see Queen Bey in the flesh is conceivably going to some places that are, at best, extremely unpleasant.
Let’s take a look at the man of the hour: according to Forbes‘ 2017 list, Mr. Philip Anschutz is the 35th richest person in America with a net worth of $12.5 billion. Inherently, this makes him one of the most powerful people on Earth. As listed on his Forbes profile, his mass wealth stems from a five-decade career investing in everything from “oil, railroads, telecom, real estate and entertainment.”
It is in the latter field of business that the 78-year old tycoon likely holds the most influence, influence nurtured via the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the “sports and music” arm of his eponymous corporation. The AEG operates some of the most revered venues in the world (such as Los Angeles’ Staples Center and London’s O2 Arena), and through subsidiary Goldenvoice it owns festivals like FYF, Panorama, and of course, Coachella.
The firestorm surrounding the CEO began in the summer of 2016. Freedom for All Americans, a self-described “bipartisan campaign seeking nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people nationwide,” which began in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, named Anschutz as an “enemy of equality” in a report that unveiled the individuals funding organizations aimed at installing discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation around the country. These findings were reported on by The Washington Post, and the extent of Anschutz’s philanthropy was brought into the cold light of day.
At this point, the organizations to which he contributed should be fairly predictable in their awfulness. They included: the infamous Family Research Council, a Christian nonprofit aimed at outlawing abortion and same-sex marriage; the Alliance Defending Freedom, a project that attempts to craft legislation that would recriminalize homosexuality; and the National Christian Foundation, a group that, in layman’s terms, manages donations and funding to support organizations like the aforementioned.
This of course initiated the usual media outrage cycle; and conversations about boycotting Coachella began here. An event that hosts countless queer artists (let alone attendees) cannot exist in service of groups actively seeking their detriment. Not to mention that a self-proclaimed sustainable festival means very little when its earnings are being redistributed into other Anschutz-owned media companies that work towards denying climate-change and the facts supporting it. It was not (and still is not) an easy pill for music-fans to swallow, AfroPunk Festival in particular gave voice to many when it urged a boycott, stating that the lineup “boasts names like Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé, Black music royalty more than deserving of our hype, but Coachella’s owner is a whole different story.”
But as with all outrage cycles, the storm passed. Anschutz released an obligatory statement decrying reports as “fake news” and artists and fans attended the 2017 edition of Coachella all the same. In all likelihood it was a much bigger issue for fans to reckon with Beyoncé’s pregnancy forcing her out of her headlining spot and being replaced by Lady Gaga. One would think that Gaga — the pop star who has single-handedly done the most on or off stage for radical change in LGBT acceptance this decade — surely felt some form of guilt or hesitation at supporting the festival after such accusations, but she appeared nonetheless. In fact, a bizarre twist of fate happened to place her on a panel discussion with the Dalai Lama and one Philip Anschutz a mere two weeks before The Washington Post published its initial, incisive report.
And then of course, it happened all over again this festival season. An investigative report by The FADER revealed that Anschutz supports numerous politicians and figures within the Republican Party with a right-wing ideology so cliché, so representative of talking points hotly defended on FOX News, that it borders on the comical. The groups and figureheads he supports are pro-life, anti-marijuana (explaining Coachella’s strict no-weed policy despite being held in California where it is fully-legalized), in favor of fewer gun restrictions, and still —naturally — anti-LGBT.
Anschutz gave a statement to The FADER that said “I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation,” yet a report published shortly after by Pitchfork uncovered that — despite ceasing funding to the organizations that first got him in hot water — Anschutz still regularly gave money to a cornucopia of conservative Christian, anti-LGBT groups too numerous to even begin dissecting.
In lieu of commenting directly for this story, a representative for AEG asked us to make mention of their official statements sent via Twitter regarding the ongoing controversy. The organization’s stance is that it “whole-heartedly embraces the LGBTQ community. Our recent support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and its vital work speaks to our organization’s true values.” Meanwhile, Anschutz himself has issued the following statement: “I support the right of all people and oppose intolerance against the LGBTQ community… I see this as a matter of basic human rights. Our Foundation supports a broad range of philanthropic causes. I regret if any money given to a charity for other purposes may have indirectly worked against these values. That was not my intention, it does not reflect my beliefs, and I am committed to making sure that it does not happen again.”
One can only hope that this commitment will extend beyond donating to the Elton John AIDS Foundation and considering reshuffling the group of organizations he sponsors to include such reputable resources for LGBTQ citizens in need as The Trevor Project and GLAAD, or groups such as The Human Rights Campaign, who are in need of all the extra resources they can get when working against the organizations actively restricting human rights that Mr. Anschutz has spent years supporting, unintentionally or not.
It should come a shock to no one that Philip Anschutz is still using his enormous empire to fund such groups, but what is infuriating is that – yet again – Coachella has carried on, business as usual. Aside from comments made by Cara Delevingne, few in the public sphere are calling attention to the hypocrisy now embedded in the very fabric of supporting Coachella. Beyoncé is indeed still queen and gave a historic performance addressing themes of self-love and self-worth for people (especially women) of color, but it was delivered on a stage funded by those working towards the exact opposite.
In other words, it makes no sense that Beyoncé can campaign with Hillary Clinton and advocate for causes championed by liberals while simultaneously getting paid by a group pushing for looser gun laws and denying evidence of climate change. The same applies to gay-icon Lady Gaga profiting from a revenue stream that works tirelessly to put laws on the books treating homosexuality as a crime. The same goes for Kendrick Lamar, and for Drake, and for anyone else representing a minority community at Coachella cashing in on the very sources working towards maintaining their oppression.
The fact of the matter is that we need to boycott Coachella, full stop. No one, artists or members of the public who support the festival in person or at home, should be abetting Philip Anschutz in his multi-billion dollar campaign to end homosexuality, queerness, gun control, abortion, marijuana use and climate science. It is irresponsible and potentially dangerous, particularly in the Trump-era, to let these issues go unchecked.
This is not to suggest it is an easy task. Some may wonder why we should bother boycotting one festival when we support plenty of corporations, knowingly or unknowingly, who fund just as many dastardly projects; they would suggest that it’s impossible to truly live a life without contributing in some way to the evils around us.
But change has to start somewhere, and it can surely start from holding ourselves (and our beloved pop stars) accountable in regards to a single music festival. Beyoncé can craft an impeccable, political performance seen by the biggest audience imaginable on any stage she likes; the absolute least she can do would be to choose a stage — let alone accept a paycheck — that isn’t paid for by a ringleader of oppression and bigotry. She’s more than capable of doing so, and we are more than capable of enacting a change as small as refusing to attend a festival to ensure men like Philip Anschutz cannot continue to fund what many of us find, morally, evil.
For more like this, read our take on what Nicki Minaj’s new songs have to say about the treatment of women in rap here.