The Most Controversial Celeb Moments At Coachella Over The Years

It seems that the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is one of the biggest celebrity events each year. Of course, anyone can attend the event but stars are typically the talk of the festival. Some of Hollywood's most popular are known to be Coachella regulars. For example, Vanessa Hudgens is often referred to as the 'Queen of Coachella.' Meanwhile, A-list stars like Rihanna and Leonardo DiCaprio have also been spotted hanging out at the event.

So, what is it about the crowded annual festival that attracts so many celebs? Perhaps it's the many popular musicians that take the stage there, or maybe it's the opportunity for stars to show off their often boho-inspired outfits. Whatever the reason, there's no denying that celebs love Coachella.

In 2023, Camilla Cabello and Shawn Mendes were among the stars who made headlines for their antics at the festival. The duo, who previously dated from 2019 to 2021, rekindled their romance at the music event when they were spotted kissing. That same year, "Vanderpump Rules" star Ariana Madix was also seen shrugging off her public split from her cheating co-star Tom Sandoval by enjoying an apparent rebound hook-up with fitness coach Daniel Wai. 

But such gossip pales in comparison to the drama that can erupt at the festival annually. Here are the most controversial celeb moments at Coachella over the years.

Frank Ocean's 2023 Coachella performance upset fans

Frank Ocean hadn't performed live in seven years prior to his 2023 Coachella headlining slot. While fans were understandably excited about his return, their enthusiasm likely dwindled after the acclaimed musician was an hour late for his shortened performance. When Ocean finally did take the stage, some fans were left underwhelmed by his unconventional performance for which he mostly remained seated and partially obscured. 

Details of the disastrous performance emerged, and it turns out there may be a legitimate reason for the disorganized show. Sources claimed to the Twitter account The Festive Owl that Ocean's performance was supposed to include 120 ice skaters performing on an ice rink erected on the stage. The "Blond" talent allegedly decided against the grand set-up at the last minute and the entire set-up was deconstructed. 

Former hockey players Dan and Chris Powers were part of the original performance and seemingly confirmed this rumor on their "Empty Netters" podcast, afterward. However, they added that Ocean had dedicated the performance to his late brother who died in 2020, and that he cared deeply about making it great. "It just broke my heart," Chris said. "... He wanted it to be this big thing and then everything was gone and it was cut short."

Rolling Stone later reported that Ocean had sustained an ankle injury in the days prior to his performance with TMZ adding that doctors had urged him to change the production. The star ultimately decided to cancel his second Coachella weekend performance.

Security put Justin Bieber in a chokehold

Justin Bieber is one of the biggest stars in the world, but he didn't exactly get the celebrity treatment at Coachella in 2015. A clip shared by TMZ revealed the singer was escorted out of the audience during a Drake performance — security purportedly even put Bieber in a chokehold. So, what led to this altercation? Apparently, the star attempted to walk into the artist's entrance to watch Drake perform, but he was informed that the area was at full capacity. He allegedly argued he wouldn't be able to stand in the audience because he could be mobbed by fans.

A Coachella staff member reportedly offered to let Bieber into the artist's area, but the event's security didn't let him through. That's when the star was said to have been physically restrained by security and later escorted out of the event along with the rest of his team. This wasn't the only time Bieber's antics led to him being removed from an event. In fact, the star was once kicked out of an entire city.

Just one year after his 2015 Coachella incident, Bieber had to leave Tulum, Mexico because he reportedly violated local rules by pulling down his pants and attempting to climb ancient ruins. Following the incident, Adriana Velazquez-Morlet, director of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History told Entertainment Tonight, "We have a very strict policy of conservation and respect of the Mexican cultural heritage that applies equally to all our visitors, whether or not they're famous."

Tyler, The Creator cursed at Kendall Jenner

Tyler, The Creator, who is known to jokingly hurl insults at audience members, made headlines after he spotted Kendall Jenner in the Coachella crowd in 2015. And sure, the rapper decided to take jabs at the model, but it was all in good fun. "This section is soft," Tyler shouted on stage while gesturing toward the celebrity section of the audience, per Stereogum. "Y'all ... got money and paid extra. F*** all y'all, y'all boring. Everybody that's in the real crowd, though, I f*** with y'all. Y'all gonna have a good time. These motherf***ers too cool."

He then directed his attention toward Jenner. "Kendall Jenner here thinking she cute and s***," the rapper joked. "Hey, Kendall, Kendall, Kendall — I'm over here to your right — f*** you." The model responded by putting up a middle finger. Some thought this interaction indicated there was a secret feud between the two, but the rapper put this speculation to rest during an interview with Billboard. "Yeah, that's my n***a," he said of the former "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" star. "I'm really good friends with her. It was literally a joke. Like, if you saw your friend, you'd be like, 'F*** you!' and then go get coffee after."

Celebs have been called out for cultural appropriation

Celebrities seem to favor boho fashion went it comes to their Coachella looks. For many stars, this unfortunately means they opt to sport pieces that fall into the category of cultural appropriation. Victoria's Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio is one of the celebrities who faced such backlash in 2014 when she took to Instagram to share a photo in which she posed in a feathered headpiece. "Becoming more inspired for [Coachella] with this amazing Native American headpiece," she wrote in the caption of the post.

Social media users made it clear they weren't happy with the photo. "Find your own culture, if you even have one. Just leave ours alone," one user commented. Another responded, "Sad how people don't respect native culture and think it's ok to dress up as someone with a sacred object." There's a chance that Ambrosio wasn't all that bothered by the backlash because she still hasn't deleted the post, as of this writing.

That same year, Vanessa Hudgens also came under fire for wearing a bindi to Coachella after she shared a photo of the tan she received around it on Instagram. Social media users left comments sharing how they felt about Hudgens' pic. "The reason it's weird is because you don't randomly wear bindis," one user wrote. "If you're going to wear something from other cultures do it at appropriate times, not just because it's 'hipster' or 'cool.'

A 2Pac hologram left audiences disturbed

Coachella left audiences stunned when festival organizers projected a life-like hologram of late rapper Tupac Shakur on stage for a performance. The hologram accompanied Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre during their show. Expert James Montgomery spoke to NPR about the technology that made this impressive yet eerie concert possible. "There's an overhead projector that sort of reflects down onto basically a tilted piece of glass that's sort of on the stage floor," Montgomery explained. "That then reflects [it] ... onto a mylar sort of screen and it projects in this sort of 3D kind of thing where it allows the other performers to sort of walk in front of Tupac and basically interact [with] him." However, he elaborated that the full effect was still a mystery, adding, "You don't know whether or not they hired an actor to portray him and then sort of put digital clothing over this actor in post-production, or they built it in a computer."

Some might say that this hologram was an impressive display of what technology is capable of, but it also caused a bit of controversy among fans. Many argued that the 3D projection wasn't the best way to preserve Tupac's legacy. Others simply found it unsettling. For example, musician Questlove took to Twitter to share, "That Pac Hologram haunted me in my sleep. Rest In Peace 2Pac.......#OkIWill!"

Rumors of celebrity drug use at Coachella

A few celebrities found themselves involved in controversies due to their alleged drug use at Coachella. For example, in 2011, fans believed that former Disney Channel star Vanessa Hudgens was doing cocaine at the music festival after she was photographed licking a white substance off of her fingers. However, as noted by Gawker, the substance looked too gooey to be a powder, and Hudgens later came forward to deny these allegations. During an interview with Marie Claire in 2013, she shared she was actually enjoying white chocolate in the set of viral photos. "I couldn't do anything but laugh," Hudgens told the magazine. "It's amazing how people like to create something out of absolutely nothing."

Along with Hudgens, Rihanna also had to come forward to deny doing cocaine at Coachella. In 2015, a now-deleted Vine video claimed to show the star holding a small white object and then pinching her nostrils. The star took to the comments of an Instagram post sharing the post to deny the rumors. "Any fool could see that's a joint that I'm basing with cigarette!" she wrote in part (via People). "Who snorts tobacco??!!" She added that it was ridiculous to assume she was doing the drug just because she was squeezing her nose. To further silence the speculation, the star later took to Instagram to share a video of herself rolling a cigarette at Coachella. 

Madonna kissed Drake

Madonna shocked audiences when she kissed Drake during a performance at Coachella in 2015. The rapper actually appeared to be a bit caught off guard himself, and this ultimately created a bit of concern regarding whether or not he actually consented to it. Per CBS News, footage of the performance appeared to show Drake attempting to push Madonna away before wiping his mouth afterward. He also made a face that seemed to indicate he may have been a tad uncomfortable.

As you might recall, this interaction resulted in a bit of backlash for Madonna. Viewers called the star out for seemingly kissing Drake against his wishes. However, this interpretation may have not been entirely accurate since Drake came forward to reveal he actually didn't mind Madonna's kiss. "Don't misinterpret my shock!" he wrote in a since-deleted Instagram post. "I got to make out with the queen Madonna and I feel 100 about that forever. Thank you [Madonna]."

Madonna also addressed the incident during a Q&A for "Saturday Night Online" (via The Shade Room). When a fan asked the star if Drake was a good kisser she replied, "I kissed a girl and I liked it." Someone else asked the "Like a Prayer" singer what advice she would give to her younger self. "Don't kiss Drake no matter how many times he f***ing begs you to," she responded, per Vanity Fair.

Kanye West backed out of Coachella

In 2022, Kanye West was set to headline Coachella alongside Harry Styles and Billie Eilish until he abruptly dropped out. An unnamed source told Page Six about West's abrupt announcement, "He hasn't been rehearsing or putting on a production. Travis Scott was supposed to be joining him onstage. Now it would be virtually impossible for him to get it together." he was replaced by The Weeknd at the event. West had previously threatened to cancel his Coachella performance if Eilish didn't issue an apology to Travis Scott, following the Astroworld tragedy. West seemed to think Eilish was shading Scott when she made a comment about helping distressed fans while offering an audience member an inhaler

The star didn't offer a formal explanation for his last-minute decision, but outlets speculated that it had to do with all of the controversies he was involved in within the days leading up to the event. You might recall that West was making headlines around this time due to his social media war with Pete Davidson and Kim Kardashian. Additionally, in the days after he'd pulled out of Coachella, sources further claimed to Page Six that West had prioritized his health and wellbeing by seeking behavioral treatment at an unknown luxury facility.

Critics slammed Lizzo

Typically celebrities bring the drama to Coachella, but the festival faced backlash itself after it was revealed that its co-owner, Philip Anschutz, donated to anti-LBGTQ+ organizations — he reportedly gave $190,000 to these groups between 2010 and 2013. In a statement published by Pitchfork, Anschutz denied any wrongdoing and claimed that he'd ceased from donating to groups upon discovering they had anti-LGBTQ leanings. "Recent claims published in the media that I am anti-LGBTQ are nothing more than fake news — it is all garbage," he said. "I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation."

Celebrities who performed at Coachella in the following years faced backlash for their association with the festival. Lizzo was among the stars who were called out when she announced she was set to take the stage at the event in 2019. The "Truth Hurts" singer took to Instagram to share a video promoting her Coachella performance, and fans shared their frustration in her comment section. "I'm so confused why so many people are supporting this event that supports anti-LGBT organizations?!," one user penned. Lizzo issued a response explaining her decision to perform, writing (via Billboard), "I'm doing what I gotta do to make sure my big black ass voice is heard. Can't wait to dismantle the hate that funds this country ... but until then, Imma be putting big, black, femme, LGBTQ+ bodies on stages and telling our stories."

Beyoncé canceled her 2017 performance

Beyoncé left fans heartbroken after she announced she wouldn't be able to headline the 2017 Coachella festival as previously planned. While ticket holders may have been upset, the star had good reason to skip out on the show — she was pregnant at the time and her health was at risk. In a statement published by NPR, Beyoncé's Parkwood Entertainment and festival promotion company Goldenvoice wrote, "Following the advice of her doctors to keep a less rigorous schedule in the coming months, Beyoncé has made the decision to forgo performing at the 2017 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival." 

Luckily, the star was able to make it up to fans because she returned to headline Coachella in 2018, and her performance that year was widely acclaimed for its impressive choreography. Beyoncé also brought out Jay-Z and reunited with her former Destiny's Child group members during the show. Critics praised the show's visuals, as the singer opted for a historically black college theme. The behind-the-scenes story of the meticulously designed show was revealed in the Netflix documentary, "Homecoming." 

In a personal essay written for Vogue that year, Beyoncé revealed her legendary performance was inspired by singing the Black National Anthem, "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Song," to her daughter, Rumi — the song even made it into the set. "It was a celebration of all the people who sacrificed more than we could ever imagine," she wrote. "Who moved the world forward so that it could welcome a woman of color to headline such a festival."