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The Fine Print: 10 Tiny-Type Coachella Acts Well Worth Checking Out

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After no less than four COVID-related cancellations in 2020 and 2021, the biggest names in music are once again heading to the Indio desert for the Coachella festival on the weekends of April 15-17 and April 22-24 — at least, as of today. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s not to bet on a concert, let alone a festival, actually happening when it’s scheduled.

Coachella revealed its 2022 lineup on January 12, with Harry Styles, Billie Eilish and Ye as headliners. EDM heavyweights Swedish House Mafia got separate billing, while breakout acts like Phoebe Bridgers, Megan Thee Stallion and Doja Cat are also high on the bill.

However, a magnifying glass — possibly even a microscope — is needed to make out much of the rest of the bill. Which is a shame because there is an embarrassment of riches further down the marquee. Not only are there some very recognizable names in small print (justice for pop queens Carly Rae Jepsen and Kim Petras!), but also a crop of future stars across multiple genres.

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From punk rock to hip-hop alternative country, there’s something for everyone at Coachella 2022: You just have to strain your eyeballs or increase the font size on your phone to find them. To save you the effort, we have rounded up 10 must-see acts from the lower reaches of the stacked lineup, who are well worth investigating in advance of the concert.

Amyl and The Sniffers
Australian punk rockers Amyl and The Sniffers went global in 2021 with sophomore LP, “Comfort to Me.” With raucous, expletive-filled anthems and an anything-goes stage show, they are destined to be crowd favorites at the festival.
Key track: “Hertz”

Chelsea Cutler
Chelsea Cutler’s intricately crafted lo-fi pop songs and collaborative approach have already made her a festival highlight. Coachella is the optimal setting for the organic palette of her sophomore LP, “When I Close My Eyes” — fingers crossed for a cameo from regular cohort Jeremy Zucker.
Key track: “Walking Away”

Holly Humberstone
Handpicked as the opening act for Olivia Rodrigo’s upcoming The Sour Tour and the recipient of the BRIT Award for Rising Star, Holly Humberstone goes into 2022 with significant buzz (not least from Variety). Given her trajectory, the UK singer/songwriter is sure to be listed in larger font next time around.
Key track: “Scarlett”

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Steve Lacy
Since branching out from the group the Internet, Steve Lacy has earned critical acclaim with his Grammy-nominated debut LP, “Apollo XXI.” A commercial breakthrough finally arrived in 2021 with the belated viral success of “Dark Red.”
Key track: “Dark Red”

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
While K-Pop acts are conspicuously absent from this year’s lineup, there is a J-Pop stalwart on the bill. Japan’s Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who is best known for viral hit “PONPONPON,” is sure to win new fans with her high-energy techno tunes and mind-melting stage act.
Hey track: “PONPONPON”

Caroline Polachek
Former Chairlift frontwoman Caroline Polachek has become a leading light of the genre loosely called hyper-pop — which twists conventional pop music into innovative and at times alarming new shapes — forging a whole new fan base with the experimental pop of 2019’s “Pang.” Most recently, she featured on Charli XCX’s “New Shapes” alongside Christine and the Queens.
Key track: “Bunny Is a Rider”

Role Model
Bringing TikTok stardom to the desert, Role Model (real name: Tucker Pillsbury) first built a following sharing his melodic indie-pop anthems on the platform and now gets to test his mettle on the big stage.
Key track: “Death Wish”

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Rina Sawayama
Rina Sawayama’s self-titled debut was widely hailed as one of the best pop albums of 2020 upon its arrival. Elton John was so smitten that he invited the Japanese-British artist to join him on a version of her song “Chosen Family” from 2021’s “The Lockdown Sessions.”
Key track: “XS”

Slowthai
Literally anything could happen when British-Baijan rapper Slowthai takes the stage at Coachella. No stranger to controversy, to cite one example, the artist memorably brought the fake severed head of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on stage at Mercury Prize Ceremony. Expect the unexpected.
Key track: “I Tried”

Surf Curse
Reno rockers Surf Curse are currently enjoying a worldwide hit with a song first released in 2013: When “Freaks” went viral on TikTok last year, the band rallied to make the most of their newfound fame — will one of the feel-good stories of the year continue to unfold in the desert? Hopefully, we’ll get to find out…
Key track: “Freaks”

Pictured above (from left): Holly Humberstone, slowthai and Rina Sawayama.

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From Streamers to Newspapers, Nonfiction Shorts Offer Awards and Audience Recognition

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Short Documentaries Three Songs for Benazir Confidential Coded

Back in the 1980s, former HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins saw an opportunity in the nonfiction short format.

“I was watching the Academy Awards one night and there was this category called best docu short and the people who made them were getting Oscars,” Nevins says. “At the Emmys, docus were kept hidden and given out on a special day. Docs were all by themselves in a corner at the Emmys, but at the Oscars doc filmmakers went up on the stage and they won. So, when I learned that we could qualify for this thing called a short and play with the big boys, I did it.”

In March 1989 HBO garnered its third Academy Award for “You Don’t Have to Die” — a 27-minute doc about 11-year-old Jason Gaes’ successful bout with cancer. It would be the first of 15 Oscars HBO nabbed in the documentary short nonfiction category during Nevins’ 38-year tenure at HBO.

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If there had not been an Oscar category for short nonfiction content, Nevins says she would not have invested in them.

“It was a form to capitalize on,” says Nevins. “Certainly not share. I didn’t mean to share it.”

At HBO and in her new role as head of MTV Documentary Films, Nevins has had to “share” the Oscar category with numerous media platforms that see the opportunity the doc maven saw in short form content more than 20 years ago. Those platforms include Netflix, Disney Plus, MSNBC Films, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, the New Yorker, A&E and ESPN.

Traditionally, doc shorts are made by up-and-coming directors looking to get their foot in the nonfiction filmmaking door. But the proliferation of platforms that are distributing short subject films has drawn established documentary feature helmers including Errol Morris, Laura Poitras and Alex Gibney to the format.

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That said, the payday for a short doc is generally well below six figures because, in part, they are not moneymakers. But if a doc short receives an Oscar nom, or better yet, wins an Academy Award, both newbie and veteran filmmakers benefit career-wise.

So, what’s in it for the platform? Brand equity.

In 2017 Netflix garnered its very first Academy Award for Orlando von Einsiedel’s nonfiction short “The White Helmets.” The campaign to win that Oscar likely cost the streaming service more than it did to make “The White Helmets,” but it was a worthy investment. For one, it served as a signal to the entertainment industry’s creative talent circles that Netflix was legit. It also gave the streaming behemoth clout, which in turn increased subscription numbers.

Since 2016, Netflix has scored seven Oscar nominations in the documentary short category. This year the streaming service has four short docs on the Oscar shortlist: “Audible,” “Camp Confidential,” “Lead Me Home” and “Three Songs for Benazir.”

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“I do think there is an element of prestige that’s certainly attractive for many platforms,” says Ryan Chanatry, general manager of Topic, First Look Media’s video streaming service. In 2018, Topic received their first nom in the Oscar short doc category for “Edith + Eddie.” While the streamer’s most recent short “Meltdown in Dixie” did not make this Academy Award shortlist, two nonfiction shorts from Topic’s sister company Field of Vision did: “The Facility,” which aired on MSNBC Films and “Terror Contagion,” which was released theatrically by Neon.

In addition to prestige, Chanatry says adaptation draws platforms to short content.

“A lot of the work does move on to become a full documentary or something scripted. It’s a great proof of concept opportunity for filmmakers.”
But Chanatry is quick to also note that short docs are appealing to many platforms including Topic because they “highlight important and critical issues.”

POV Shorts producer Opal H. Bennett agrees.

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“PBS is coming at it from the broadcast perspective and being like, ‘We have these bits of time in the schedule that we want to be able to fill with engaging, educating and well-crafted content,’” says Bennett. “That’s where doc shorts fit the bill.”

Although the marketplace for nonfiction shorts has become more competitive, Bennett says POV Shorts will not be a part of any bidding wars.

“There might be a title that I’m interested in, but if Disney Plus or Netflix is also interested then I just say, ‘Go with God,’ and go with the next title because we don’t have $45,000 or $60,000 to pay for a doc short.”

That said, Bennett doesn’t think that Oscar glory is the sole reason Netflix is interested in nonfiction short form content.
“The more altruistic lens on Netflix is that they are perhaps building a pipeline. Because for the most part, short filmmakers are folks who are beginning their career or maybe emerging.”

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Like HBO, PBS, the company behind POV Shorts, has been distributing short-form nonfiction content for decades. Launched in 2018, POV Shorts has received two Oscar nominations for its short docs. Together with the New Yorker, POV Shorts distributed two films that made this season’s short doc shortlist: “Aguilas” and “A Broken House.”

“We play nice with the digital-only distributors like the New Yorker and the New York Times Op-Docs,” Bennett says. “From our standpoint, it’s greater exposure and a broader audience for the filmmakers. It also means multiple license fees for the same title, which for a short documentary filmmaker is a big deal.”

Arguably short-form nonfiction content fits most naturally on news outlet sites, which could be why so many print giants have embraced the format.

“Short documentaries for the New Yorker makes sense because we’re able to dive deeper into a story,” says Soo-Jeong Kang, executive director of programming and development for the New Yorker. “It definitely serves our subscribers. It’s a new way for them to experience the New Yorker storytelling.”

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To date, the New Yorker Studios has garnered three Oscar noms for its short doc content. Shorts serve not only subscribers, but are also a way to reach new audiences and “help us meet our revenue growth goals,” Kang says.

Time Studios — the television and film production division of Time — launched in 2020 and has generated more than $70 million in revenue. The production company is behind 2021 doc shorts including “From Devil’s Breath”’ and “Snowy.”

“Our focus is how do you make the most impact in the world with our storytelling,” says Time Studios president Ian Orefice. “I think the awards conversation is definitely a part of that broader strategy.”

One reason awards are part of the broader strategy is because trophies increase viewership.

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“People watch [shorts] when they hear about them, but do they watch them when they are born? No,” Nevins says. “How are people going to hear about a short doc? People are only going to hear about it if it wins awards. So that’s why the award became important.”

When she relocated to MTV in May 2019, Nevins began acquiring nonfiction features as well as shorts In 2021 she garnered the network’s first Oscar nomination in 15 years for the short “St. Louis Superman,” the story of Black rapper and activist Bruce Franks, who was inspired to run for office by the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014. Last year MTV Documentary Films nabbed another Oscar nom in the short doc category for “Hunger Ward” and this year Nevins has two films — “Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker” and “Lynching Postcards: “Token of a Great Day” — on the shortlist.

“Everybody in the docu business grew up watching the Academy Awards,” Nevins says. “They never thought they’d be able to go up there and get one, but now they have a shot with a short.”

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XXXTentacion’s Manager and Producer Talk SoundCloud Reissues and the Long-Delayed Documentary

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The late rapper XXXTentacion left behind a complicated legacy after he was murdered during a robbery in June of 2018 — dozens of platinum or gold-certified and influential songs amid charges of domestic abuse and violence. A pioneer in the SoundCloud emo-rap genre, nearly four years after his death, the Florida rapper’s earliest songs on the platform are finally seeing official release via Columbia beginning today (Jan. 28) with the song “Vice City,” which he originally uploaded in March of 2014. It marked XXXTentacion’s first released song, which was followed by many that he created and produced from his Florida home.

It also appears that a long-delayed documentary on the rapper, first announced in June of 2019, may finally be seeing the light of day.

While there is no set schedule for the individual tracks’ release on streaming platforms — beyond each song becoming available to once the rights have been cleared — a website, www.makeouthill.com, and a Twitter account (@makeouthill) will offer updates, music and information.

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In a statement released earlier this week, Columbia announced the reissue campaign — and gave a small status update on a long-delayed documentary.

“We will continue to release music as we clear it, and are making sure we do it in a way that stays true to how X released each song originally,” the statement reads in part. “Beyond the music, we know X’s fans have been waiting patiently for the documentary and we will be sharing updates on it soon.” (Later material previously released through Caroline Records or Bad Vibes Forever/ Empire Distribution is not included in the Columbia deal.)

“It’s important that people get to know and understand the origins of Jahseh [Onfroy, XXXTentacion’s real name],” says his longtime manager, Solomon Sobande. “People don’t know the early songs that built his rabid fanbase. In the scheme of things, there’s only a small number of people digging around SoundCloud for cool underground music. It’s important for his legacy for people to understand what he was making at a young age that ultimately connected to so many people. Those songs still feel relevant, and we want them available in the widest way possible.”

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Columbia inked a deal with the rapper’s estate — which overseen by his mother, Cleo Bernard, and Sobande, along with his producer John Cunningham — in 2021; Ron Perry, inked XXXTentacion to a publishing deal at his SONGS Music before becoming the label’s CEO. “Ron Perry was a huge supporter of Jahseh during his life,” Sobande says. “He gave Jah his first publishing deal, so it was important to give Ron a chance to extend that legacy. We just wanted to make sure that this legacy was delivered in a way that was true to Jahseh in as original a format as possible.”

The project brings Cunningham, the executive producer behind XXXTentacion’s albums, full circle.

“I was interning for SONGS in 2017 when Ron Perry was president,” he says. “I had shown XXX’s material to Ron first, and he asked me to A&R the project. I didn’t know what that meant at the time,” he laughs, “but yeah, I wanted to do it.

“XXX came into NightBird Recording Studios [in Los Angeles],” he continues, “saw that I played guitar, started singing and that was it. There was no spoken agreement between us — just that he had all of these sounds and words in his head and a longtime desire to get it all out. He just didn’t have anyone to help him extract it.”

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Picking up the thread, Sobande says, “He had many of these songs written already, some during his time in jail. He always had huge ideas; it was just about connecting him with creatives like John [Cunningham] to get those ideas out. There’s an interview where XXX said, ‘I want to be everything to my fans — I don’t want them to go to any other artist.’ That’s why he blended all those [musical] genres — he knew that genre lines would blur in the future.”

Of course, that attitude carried over to his strikingly vulnerable lyrics as well. “In 2017 and 2018, there weren’t many artists talking about their depression and mental health,” Cunningham says.

Sobande adds, “Fans connected with him because XXX expressed his feelings of being an outcast, of feeling alone and misunderstood. He gave a voice to the voiceless.”

Whether other material will be released by Columbia in the future is yet to be determined. “Our main focus right now is to rebuild Jah’s legacy from the beginning with these SoundCloud tracks, and getting them onto all [streaming services],” says Sobande. “That said, we love Ron and we love Columbia, and if the idea presented itself to do something in the future, we’d be happy to do it.”

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Finally, the still-unnamed documentary, which was originally announced in June of 2019, will combine biographical data and live footage of the rapper, along with previously uncirculated material. It has been the subject of many rumors and misinformation — to the extent that web searches reveal an almost comical number of posts with variations on “Is the XXXTentacion documentuary coming out in 2019/ 2020/ 2021 on Netflix/ YouTube” etc.

Sources tell Variety that it will finally see release through a top streaming networks before the fall. Columbia declined comment.

“Let’s keep it chill here, Solomon — lock it tight,” Cunningham jokes when asked for details about the documentary.

“One thing I can say is that it is one of the best music documentaries I’ve seen,” Sobande says, “and I am a music documentary junkie.”

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