88rising Co-Founder on Assembling a Historic Coachella Set

88rising Co-Founder on Assembling a Historic Coachella Set

On Saturday evening (April 16), 88rising’s “Head in the Clouds Forever” set lit up Coachella’s main stage with performances from NIKKI, Rich Brian, Warren Hue, BIBI, Jackson Wang, MILLI, CL & 2NE1 and Japanese superstar Hikaru Utada. Not only did it mark the first label-curated set ever to hit the festival’s main stage, but it also proved to be Weekend One’s biggest surprise hit.

The 80-minute set notably featured the long-awaited return of the “Queens of K-Pop,” 2NE1, who reunited for the first time on stage in seven years to perform their seminal hit “I Am the Best.” Their appearance on stage caused a flurry of Twitter conversation, according to 88Rising co-founder Sean Miyashiro, who adds that Jackson Wang’s set also became a top trending topic on the social media platform. The set also marked a first for J-pop royalty Hikaru Utada, who has never played at any festival in their career (Utada identifies as non-binary and uses she/they pronouns).

“People really freaked out,” says Miyashiro, adding that, even a few days later, he still hasn’t fully processed the historic moment. “Everybody killed it and then Utada showing up on stage and her playing songs from everybody’s childhood, there was a lot of conversation about that. All those energies combined – the past, present and future – people freaked out and were calling it historic, monumental, all those different words.”

Creating the cultural moment was a labor of love for the 88rising team, who pulled it all together in a matter of months. They tapped as many of their artists as possible given the COVID-19 restrictions around the globe and pushed to showcase great Asian music in a wide range of genres including pop, hip-hop and dance. Coachella Weekend 2 will see 88rising artists hit the main stage again, including new performers like K-pop girl group aespa in their first-ever U.S. performance.

Billboard caught up with Miyashiro after Weekend One of Coachella to learn more about 88rising’s main stage debut and how it all came together.

How did 88rising get involved with Coachella?

We did our Head in the Clouds festival and [Coachella co-founder] Paul Tollett had heard so much about it that he came and visited our studio the Monday after. He was really admiring what we were doing and the energy around it and he said, “We’d love to do something with you.” I said, “Let me get back to you and think about what’s the dopest thing we could do.”

I don’t think he was thinking of us as a label. It was more that he felt the energy around a lot of these great Asian artists. I rekindled the conversation months later and was like, “If we were able to travel through Asia with this performance and these artists that are representing their countries, what do you think about that?” He was immediately super down.

88rising has its own festival (Head in the Clouds) which is partnered with Coachella promoter Goldenvoice. Why also do a stage at Coachella?

Coachella is the biggest, most iconic music event in the world. When I first told my artists about doing this, they thought I was joking. One of them screamed so loud. It was a precious thing.

This was Utada’s first-ever festival appearance, not just Coachella. How did you get someone that huge to fly out to the California desert for a five-song appearance?

She’s never played a festival, even in Asia, her whole career. I asked her why and she said, “I don’t know.” [Laughs] She’s super chill. Whatever she feels, goes. It wasn’t hard. I just hit [her team] up and she was like, “Okay.”

Our whole staff is just such big fans of her. We grew up on her in so many different ways. Once we confirmed she was playing and we were telling the other artists, they were shocked. She’s such a legend. Internally, there was so much excitement for her.

K-pop has dominated a lot of the North American news about Asian music, but the Head in the Clouds set and the label are a wide array of genres. How do you mesh all those genres for one cohesive set?

The variation of the artists and what they do on stage is what makes it seamless. [Those differences] are what actually made it interesting. We always want to do things that are kind of weird. This was actually one of the more straightforward things we’ve done.

88rising is more than just a label. Your artists have also worked on films including Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Should fans expect more forays into TV, film, etc.?

Yes. We’ve just finished our first full-length feature film, which is directed by Justin Chon. He is probably one of the most notable and fast-rising Asian-American directors. He directed Pachinko on AppleTV. The new movie is amazing and Rich Brian was the lead actor and he’s never acted before. He killed it. We have a lot of other movie projects and films that we want to make that are in development. We’re really excited about these things.

Will there be another edition of the 88rising stage at future Coachellas?

I want to do it again. Knowing what I know now having done one, I would love the opportunity at some point to do it again. For some reason, I believe it is going to happen again even though I haven’t talked to Paul about it. I don’t even know what he thinks about what we did. I just feel like it is going to happen in some way, shape or form.

88rising Co-Founder on Assembling a Historic Coachella Set On Saturday evening (April 16), 88rising’s “Head in the Clouds Forever” set lit up Coachella’s main stage with performances from NIKKI, Rich Brian, Warren Hue, BIBI, Jackson Wang, MILLI, CL & 2NE1 and Japanese superstar Hikaru Utada. Not only did it mark the first label-curated set ever to…