Editor’s Note: After a pandemic-induced pause, Lollapalooza returns in 2021. In light of this week’s lineup announcement, we’ve updated our ranking of every one of Lolla’s lineups dating back to 1991. Can you guess where this year’s poster falls?
It’s hard to believe that, in 1991, Perry Farrell created the festival as a showcase for Jane’s Addiction’s last hurrah. Of course, many things have changed since its initial heyday in the ’90s. In the US, Lolla has grown and evolved drastically from its touring festival roots, having survived a hibernation from 1997 until 2003, in addition to its canceled 2004 installment.
Since then, Lollapalooza has settled down in the Windy City, gradually expanding from two to three to four days. (Though, one could argue the fest’s touring spirit lives on through its international counterparts, which have sprung up in Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and Sweden.) Throughout its history, some of the most iconic acts in music have performed at the festival, from Paul McCartney to Kanye West to Arcade Fire, in addition to up-and-coming talent that have since become future can’t-miss attractions everywhere.
Ahead of this year’s festivities, we’ve dug back through the archives to take a close look at every lineup in the festival’s storied history (including the canceled 2004 festival, but excluding international editions) and ranked them from worst to best. In devising our list, we took into account artists’ statures the years they performed, their historical relevance looking back now, as well as missed opportunities and what could’ve been better.
So join us on a trip through the past of this iconic festival (and its sweet posters), and let us know in the comments which lineups are your favorite.
NR. 2004 (Canceled)
The Good: Considering 2004’s festival was cancelled, the good is more about what could have been. Acts who were slated to perform included Morrissey (who was probably angered the festival had been cancelled before he had the chance to bail), The Flaming Lips, The Killers, Broken Social Scene, and Modest Mouse, to name just a few. It also would have seen the return of Lolla veterans Sonic Youth and Wilco.
The Bad: Obviously, the bad news here is that due to poor ticket sales, the festival was cancelled. Lollapalooza ’04 was to stop at 16 locations, with the ambitious goal of two dates of different music at each stop. Even worse news is that had the festival gone as planned, the (then) newly reunited Pixies would have headlined the Chicago stop.
Interesting Fact: The failure of 2004 did bring some good in the sense that it landed Lollapalooza a permanent home here in Chicago. I’d say that’s a pretty solid silver lining.
The Good It Is What It Is: Lollapalooza’s present day incarnation and the festival’s early years are connected in name only. Long gone are the days of Porno for Pyros, The Rollins Band, The Jesus Lizard, or Screaming Trees appearing up on a poster with the name “Lollapalooza” stamped at the top. Even a crop of modern-day headliners like Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails, Kanye West, and Wilco — all of whom famously topped Lolla’s 2008 lineup — would be inconceivable in 2021 (you’d be lucky to get just one of those acts!)
One can’t fault C3 Present for adapting its business model. Anyone even remotely familiar with Lollapalooza’s demographic is keenly aware that basketball jerseys, backward baseball caps, and glitter are the three most popular fashion items for a typical Lollapalooza-goer. The Bros and Brosephines who migrate from the suburbs of Chicago each summer don’t consider Lollapalooza a place of musical discovery, but rather a chance to live out their TikTok feed IRL — the music in the background comes pre-inserted without the worry of a potential copyright violation! Look no further to the bevy of “TikTok artists” littered throughout this year’s poster: Gus Dapperton, Tai Verdes, Almost Monday, Laundry Day, Ant Saunders, Rence… the list goes on.
The Bad: Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing is in the eye of the beholder, but a Lolla Lifer can certainly ask why event organizers don’t just create an entirely new event under an entirely different banner in order to preserve and protect the sanctity of Lollapalooza’s alt-rock brand. Will Lollapalooza sell out all of its tickets regardless? Absolutely, 100%. Has Lollapalooza ceased even trying to pretend it’s a destination for musical excellence a la Glastonbury, to an extent, Coachella, or even the Lollapaloozas of the late 2000s? Yes, absolutely. A lineup with Limp Bizkit on its third line isn’t funny, it’s embarrassing. Journey on line two — when did Lollapalooza become a Chicago street fest? With exceptions of Mick Jenkins, Slowthai, Aly & AJ, and Hinds, you could quite literally cut the poster after line 10 and not even remember there were another 50 acts booked for Lollapalooza. A top-heavy poster is often the excuse for a watered middle- and lower-tier, so what happened this year?
Events like Lollapalooza’s sister fest, Austin City Limits, are proof you can incorporate new genres and trends without sacrificing the festival’s overall integrity. Even with a deluge of pop and hip-hop, in 2021 ACL still bestowed its No. 1 headlining spot to Texas music legend George Strait, its No. 3 spot to rock icon Stevie Nicks, and its 7th spot to genre-bending R&B singer Erykah Badu, while also booking compelling artists like St. Vincent, Phoebe Bridgers, Tierra Whack, and 070 Shake. But Lollapalooza has Limp Bizkit, so who are we to complain?
Interesting Fact: There are a number of other festivals returning in 2021. Spend your money on them instead.
The Good: After a six-year hiatus, Perry Farrell decided to resurrect Lollapalooza and hit the road once again for a 30-date tour. It was an ambitious goal, especially following the massive amount of criticism he’d weathered over the festival’s previous few years. Unfortunately, some of the booking choices for the return weren’t exactly well thought out. Jane’s Addiction at the top of the poster is a definite plus, as is Queens of the Stone Age, who were then riding high on the back of Songs for the Deaf, and Maynard James Keenan’s side project A Perfect Circle, but after that, the pickings are disappointing at best and stomach-churning at worst.
The Bad: Where to even begin? Soundgarden is a great band. Rage Against the Machine is also a great band. Audioslave, the amalgamation of the two with Chris Cornell on vocals and Tom Morello on guitar, is not a great band. Other draws, like Rooney, 30 Seconds to Mars, Incubus, or The Mooney Suzuki, aren’t that much better. Also, the sheer lack of rap acts here is staggering at a moment when rap was clearly overtaking guitar-based rock as the main cultural mover in the musical space.
Interesting Fact: The first iteration of Lolla after a six-year hiatus and the last version of the festival to tour the country. Marred by slow tickets sales, many dates of the tour that were originally announced later had to be cancelled.
The Good: After the very rock-centric main stage lineup of the previous year’s event, the organizers strove to get back to their eclectic roots with the 1997 installment. And for the most part, they succeeded in a fairly interesting way. They rotated the headlining spot among four acts — Orbital, The Prodigy, The Orb, and Devo — trying to make each night unique. What’s more, they dipped their toes again into the rising tide of metal and hard rock with main stage performances by Tool, at this point showing their full prog-heavy mettle with their second full-length, Aenima, and, until they pulled out of the fest for health concerns, the rubbery Goth-leanings of Korn. True to form, they paid heed as well to hip-hop with the inclusion of Snoop Doggy Dogg, who was still riding (ahem) high on the success of his second solo album, The Doggfather. In and around those big names were festival-friendly acts like G. Love & Special Sauce, Bob Marley’s sons Stephen and Julian, and Britpop act James who, by then, still hadn’t lived down the surprise US success of their song “Laid”.
The Bad: Again, the main stage of Lollapalooza was disappointingly dude-heavy. And with alternative rock finding less and less commercial love from US audiences, the festival saw a marked drop in attendance. That played a huge role in the fact that the festival couldn’t find a suitable headliner for its planned ’98 edition, forcing them to shut down operations until 2003.
Interesting Fact: Failure is the only band to be asked to pull double-duty by the festival. The popular shoegaze rock band were on tap to headline the side stage, but were brought to the main stage to fill the spot left vacant by Korn for the back half of the tour.
The Good: After 2004’s canceled edition, Lollapalooza recouped one of its biggest originally slated artists, The Killers. Brandon Flowers and co. solidified their status as legitimate superstars on their debut, Hot Fuss, which would go platinum. The festival also made prescient picks with The Black Keys (who had yet to have a single break into the US Billboard charts) and Arcade Fire (who were riding high after the critical acclaim of Funeral, released the previous fall). Outside of The Killers, Dashboard Confessional were one of the most commercially successful outfits on the bill, with A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar peaking at No. 2 on Billboard’s charts and hit single “Vindicated” under their belts. Kaiser Chiefs’ 2005 debut was a much bigger smash in the UK, but earned the British rockers a spot as one of the most buzzworthy up-and-coming acts. Other artists who called the Windy City home — including OK Go and Liz Phair — got the chance to dazzle the hometown crowd. Although not as popular as in the ‘80s, Billy Idol made a comeback with his first album in over a decade. Digable Planets also reunited 10 years after their breakup, with a new compilation record in tow. Alongside Saul Williams, their sets represented a burgeoning opportunity for hip-hop to gain a greater foothold at the festival.
The Bad: From the failed previous year, Lolla was unable to retain a lot of its other top-tier talent, including Morrissey, PJ Harvey, and Sonic Youth. And consequently, this year had a less-than-stellar headlining slate. Despite their solid live reputation, top-billed Pixies hadn’t released new music in well over a decade. And the lineup still skewed very heavily toward alternative rock. The solid rock acts on the bill (Dinosaur Jr., Weezer, Primus) would’ve been far better draws in their respective ’90s heydays.
Interesting Fact: After existing as a touring festival in its earlier days, Lollapalooza settled down at Chicago’s Grant Park for the first time. The event only took place in the Windy City for one weekend.
The Good: Lorde, Spoon, and Cloud Nothings returned to Lollapalooza with some of their strongest efforts to date, though none of them were particularly unique to the festival. (It also doesn’t help that Lorde got rained out a couple songs in.) Chance the Rapper was a blast to see at home during a set that drew some of the festival’s biggest-ever crowds. Then there’s Arcade Fire, who were the only legitimate edge to the lineup, and who were subsequently dragged around in the press for delivering arguably their weakest album by about 10 miles (see: Everything Now). In sum, there was a lot of good in 2017’s lineup, but nothing particularly exceptional, at least not to the festival, and that’s a problem.
The Bad: By 2017, it was obvious that the four-day expansion had proven to be quite a challenge for C3. Spreading talent over that long of a stretch produced day-to-day schedules with far too many gaps, questionable placements, and overall stagnation. What’s worse, the extra day also led to some miserable bookings such as the embarrassing Tom DeLonge-less Blink-182 and the unimaginative repeat headliners like Muse or The Killers. Let’s not forget the gluttonous inclusion of festival leftovers, from Wiz Khalifa to Capital Cities to George Ezra to The Pretty Reckless to Vance Jyy… shall we go on? For every exciting act, 2017 delivered two more contract acts that made deals to appear everywhere. Not very inspiring, to say the least.
Interesting Fact: Prior to his health problems at the end of 2016, Kanye West was in queue to headline the festival, industry sources told Consequence of Sound. The same goes for The Weeknd. At least one of them would have upgraded this lineup considerably.
The Good: This year’s lineup saw the midday and later afternoon sets brimming with bands who were reaping the benefits of a successful debut album: Local Natives, Foster the People, The Naked and Famous, and Grouplove among others. The lineup was further strengthened by more established indie rockers Cage the Elephant, Portugal. the Man, Cold War Kids, and Young the Giant. And as the sun set, there were still several suitable sets left to catch from the likes of veteran acts Bright Eyes, Atmosphere, Ween, Arctic Monkeys, and My Morning Jacket. However, considering the festival was celebrating its 20th anniversary, some might say the headliners fell a bit short of expectations. While some were riding the waves of recent records — Coldplay with Mylo Xyloto and Foo Fighters with Wasting Light — Muse had yet to release a new album since 2009, and Eminem’s last effort came the previous summer, causing for a setlist heavy on older hits.
The Bad: Considering most of the morning and early afternoon sets were filled with festival first-timers (acts who had just released a debut, as previously stated), the days were naturally off to a slower start. Releasing an acclaimed album and developing a commanding stage presence for thousands of people doesn’t exactly happen over night, but most bands made it work. A more serious dilemma from 2011 was that not only had Perry’s stage doubled in size to accommodate for more than 15,000 fans, but it was also relocated to the south end of the park, right near the main stage — a little too close for comfort, as many headliners have had to find out (see: Paul McCartney, 2015).
Interesting Fact: 2011 marked Lollapalooza’s debut outside of the US with Santiago, Chile, as its first international location.
The Good: Let it never be said that Lollapalooza doesn’t listen. In response to criticism of last year’s dudefest, Lollapalooza went out and booked the women behind some of last year’s best records; in 2019, you can catch sets by artists including country crooner Kacey Musgraves, flamenco crossover star Rosalía, genre-bending funk-bot Janelle Monáe, and Ariana Grande, who becomes just the seventh female artist to headline the festival. That newfound commitment continues into the smaller text, where you’ll also find everyone from Mitski to Sharon Van Etten to Japanese Breakfast. Other highlights include Childish Gambino (who enters the Chicago leg of his “This is America” victory lap), Lil Wayne (somehow just making his Lolla debut), and rock absurdists Tenacious D. Oh, and Shaq is gonna be here. That’s neat.
The Bad: While Ariana Grande and Childish Gambino are creating some well-earned heat for this year’s festival, the rest of the headliners set off some alarms. The Strokes haven’t released a new record since 2013, Tame Impala still hasn’t released a new record since they last appeared in 2015 (and they also just headlined Pitchfork 2018), and the inclusion of both the Chainsmokers and Twenty One Pilots sounds like the beginning of a recurring nightmare set in a vape shop. Also, perhaps this is the emerging curmudgeon in me, but this year’s slate feels like the lightest on indie rock that we’ve ever seen; when your standard bearers are late-era Death Cab for Cutie, you’re officially a genre in crisis.
Interesting Fact: Speaking of Death Cab for Cutie, they’re the only artists on this year’s lineup that also played Lollapalooza’s first Grant Park edition in 2005.
The Good: Even though he’s the best-selling artist in rap history, late-career Eminem doesn’t hit the road all that often. However, when he does, he packs football and baseball stadiums with ease, and the tickets go fast. Grabbing Marshall Mathers to headline one day and having a recently reformed OutKast hold down another while Nas, Run the Jewels, Chance the Rapper, and Childish Gambino filled out some of the down-card slots marked the Chicago festival as maybe the premier event to take in live rap music in 2014. That wasn’t all of course; there was also a major abundance of top-tier rock from the likes of Interpol, Spoon, Arctic Monkeys, Parquet Courts, and a then up-and-coming Courtney Barnett. And for the pop set, there was peak-popularity Lorde, The 1975, and Broken Bells. They even brought in some New Orleans Jazz courtesy of Trombone Shorty. In 2014, organizers really got things right by offering a little something for everyone. Oh, and Rihanna joining Em to belt out “Love the Way You Lie” was pretty amazing too.
The Bad: It kind of depends on how you feel about EDM. If you’re a fan, there’s not too much to complain about; if you aren’t, then the inclusion of Skrillex, Calvin Harris, and Zedd near top of the bill could be taken as a major strike against. Combine that with a downturn Kings of Leon as a headliner and the admittance of Iggy Azaela into the confines of Grant Park, and there’s plenty to grumble about.
Interesting Fact: Hundreds of thousands of people made it to the festival in 2014, but the most notable among them was none other than First Daughter Malia Obama who made it out to Lolla’s last day to take in Chance the Rapper’s set. She might have gone unnoticed too if not for the Secret Service detail who monitored her every interaction.
The Good: With even minimal hindsight, Lollapalooza’s 2018 lineup looks better now than it did at the time (and it looked pretty decent then). While most of the immediate coverage focused on Vampire Weekend’s return to the American festival scene, Post Malone’s eyebrow-raising attendance figures, and the full pop triumph of Bruno Mars, those big names now seem less important than the smaller ones below them. Lollapalooza wound up capturing sets by some of the most buzzed-about artists of the last couple of years right before they went supernova. Squint at the small text and you’ll find names like Billie Eilish (No. 1, Billboard 200), Lizzo (No. 1, Rolling Stone 200), Lewis Capaldi (No. 1, UK Albums Chart), and Greta Van Fleet (No. 3, Billboard 200). Throw in some more legit hip-hop acts (Tyler, the Creator, Brockhampton, LL Cool J) and a few names from the festival’s indie-pop days (Franz Ferdinand, Lykke Li, CHVRCHES, St. Vincent), and the schedules just wrote themselves.
The Bad: The surprising depth of the small-text acts came balanced by the relative weakness of some of the headliners. Outside of Vampire Weekend and first-timer headliner Travis Scott, the festival’s top lines underwhelmed; The Weeknd, Jack White, and Arctic Monkeys were all saddled with the relatively weak material of their uneven latest albums, and the National’s sad-eyed throwback indie rock left them stuck as the sacrificial lamb opposite Bruno Mars’ pop spectacle. The festival also suffered from a dearth of female artists (in terms of poster placement, you have to go to the fourth line before you hit St. Vincent) and more than a few bookings (chiefly the not-ready-for-primetime Lil Pump and the mind-numbingly earnest Logic) that placed ticket sales far above taste.
Interesting Fact: After their headlining appearance at Lollapalooza, Vampire Weekend played an aftershow at the Metro, where Ezra Koenig debuted five songs from 2019’s Father of the Bride by playing them off of his phone.