When I glance at my Instagram feed during the two weekends of Coachella each April, it feels like literally everyone I follow—from my friends, to fashion influencers, to celebrities— is having the time of their lives dancing in the desert to the musicians of the moment and posing in front of colorful art installations in their perfectly planned out festival attire. Every year, despite my reservations about the steep ticket price and travel costs, I’m tempted to spend hundreds of dollars I’ve saved up from my job on a coveted ticket to the festival for what social media tells me would be the best weekend of my life.

In the twenty years since it was first held, Coachella has changed drastically and grown in popularity. While the festival cost $50 per day in 1999, pricing now begins at $429 for a three-day General Admissions pass (or $999 for VIP) with add-ons including hotel packages, camping permits, and parking available at an extra cost. In 2017, Coachella became the first annual music festival to gross over $100 million dollars, and this year, the tickets all sold out within six hours of being released. It’s undeniable that the festival’s influx of attendees can be attributed to its strategic and widespread social media presence. The lineup spreads online moments after it is posted, and those of us not attending Coachella can connect with it by live-streaming musical performances, looking at photos of art installations on Instagram, and drawing inspiration from slideshows of unique festival fashion.

But to what degree has Coachella shifted from the “Music and Arts Festival” it claims to be to simply another depiction of the social media craze promoting capitalism, wealth, conformity, and unrealistic beauty standards?

Now, many brands (including car, alcohol, and most notably fashion and beauty companies) use Coachella as a marketing platform by hosting events, hiring influencers, and encouraging the use of various hashtags to attract social media attention. Some Coachella partners (such as NYX, Calvin Klein, and Heineken) offer interactive experiences and photo ops available to festival attendees, in addition to sponsoring posts, while other companies now offer their own events outside Coachella. One of the largest events is the invite only Revolve Festival, which hosted over 140 celebrities, models, and influencers this year. This included Shay Mitchell, Kendall Jenner, and Aimee Song, who all posted about it on Instagram. While it’s fun to scroll through images of these picture-perfect sponsored events and get outfit ideas from influencers’ festival attire and these companies’ clothing lines, it can be easy to forget what Coachella really is: a music festival.

The presence of influencers and celebrities also creates an image of exclusivity and perfection, taking some of the individuality away from attending a music and arts festival. Most of the images we see on social media are fabricated. They feature professionally done hair and makeup, expensive clothes gifted or loaned to influencers by brands, VIP wristbands, and idealistic desert views or infinity pools in the background that are taken by professional photographers. These images tell us that if we attend a music festival, we have to imitate these public figures—down to wearing the exact same clothing trends as them or spending extra money on add-ons and fancy hotels—and post all about it to have the perfect experience. Buying one of the expensive tickets isn’t enough; the expectation is that you also spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on completely new outfits, lodging, and more. Even when I glance at photos posted by people I know attending, I’m struck by how many of them also follow this same pattern—for every one video of a performer, I probably see more than fifteen photos of girls in brand new clothing, close ups of glittery makeup, or bikini posts in front of an Airbnb pool, and realize that if I were to attend, I would probably try to document my experience in this same way.

While there’s nothing wrong with making sure you post the perfect Coachella photos, and spending hours picking out your outfit for each day can be fun (festivals are the perfect place to take a risk and wear something too crazy for class!), consider what you want to get out of a music festival, and try not to compare your experience to what you see on social media.

COVER PHOTO: Model Village

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