Top 10 Festival Headliners of 2017: Winter Power Rankings

These acts definitely deserve to be topping festival posters in big, bold fonts

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We’ve been talking about the shrinking pool of festival headliners for what seems like years, but how small is it really? When spreadsheeting out the already confirmed lineup toppers for this year, we accounted for more than 30 artists who qualify to headline a music festival and are being booked. That’s not even including the dozens upon dozens that aren’t being booked because they are off cycle, too expensive, or just off the radar. So why does it still feel like music festival headliners are less impressive year after year?

Maybe it’s the sheer amount of fests. Maybe it’s that reunions have suddenly disappeared from the equation. Maybe it’s that many of the artists that have risen the ranks to become headliners are not being replaced by equally capable acts. Maybe it’s a combination of all of these that has jaded us a bit when lineup posters are released. But on paper, the talent pool is as vast as ever.

Don’t believe us? Take a look at who didn’t make our list. First of all, there’s Beyonce, who would have topped the group if she didn’t pull out of her Coachella set last week. Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, System of a Down, and Green Day will all be bringing rock to the biggest stages of the world. Classic rock fans have the likes of Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, and Tom Petty to look forward to. Rising stars bumped up to headliner status include Solange, Bon Iver, The xx, and Childish Gambino. And everything in between? We’re talking Muse, Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams, and M.I.A..

So who did make the list? Check out our top 10 below and tune in later in the year as we revise our list.

–Philip Cosores
Deputy Editor

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10. Frank Ocean

frank ocean cosores Top 10 Festival Headliners of 2017: Winter Power Rankings

Photo by Philip Cosores

Booked at: Panorama Music Festival, WayHome, Hangout, Sasquatch!, Primavera Sound, Parklife

Last time Frank Ocean was booked to headline a major music festival, he suddenly cancelled FYF in 2015 and was promptly replaced by Kanye West. That kicked off about a year of anticipation for new music from Ocean, which reached fever pitch before the simultaneous releases of Endless and Blonde. And it will be nearly anther year between these album drops and the time that he begins supporting the records with performances. Whether he is able to step up to the plate as a big fest headliner remains to be seen, but that storyline is one of the most intriguing going into festival season. So far the dates are scattered enough that his booking still rings as prestigious. How entertaining the sets actually are will determine whether Ocean is as capable a performer as he is a recording artist. –Philip Cosores

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09. Lorde

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Booked at: Coachella, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Governors Ball, FPSF, Bonnaroo, OpenAir, Rock Werchter, Fuji Rock

When Lorde erupted onto the scene in 2013 with Pure Heroine, the young singer-songwriter took to the festival circuit like a victory lap, putting her mega pipes on full display and letting her massive hooks soar out over the fields. Since then, she’s been putting together her follow-up, and we’ve all been waiting with bated breath for new Lorde music. Now that she’s announced a substantial slate of festival performances, it would suggest that we might not need to be waiting much longer. However, even if the 20-year-old (she’s still only 20!) were just going to dust off “Royals” and other tunes from that era, we’d still be pretty happy about it. –Lior Phillips

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08. Chance the Rapper

ben kaye the meandows chance the rapper 3 Top 10 Festival Headliners of 2017: Winter Power Rankings

Photo by Ben Kaye

Booked at: JMBLYA, Hangout, Sasquatch!, Boston Calling, Governors Ball, Bonnaroo, Eaux Claires, Firefly 

Chance the Rapper is everywhere. He’s at the Grammys, he’s at the NBA All-Star Game; hell, you can’t even buy a goddamn Kit Kat without seeing his face. None of this surprising. Chicago’s favorite-son-not-named-Yeezus is at the top of the proverbial hip-hop ladder, and he’s only going to climb higher — after all, according to him, he has yet to record a proper debut album. Right now, critics worship at his feet, fans lose sleep over his songs, and the biggest stars have aligned right next to him, which all explains why he’s booked at just about every music festival this summer. Because of this, his booking reads more like a financially sound decision than a rare or creative one, but know this: By October, if you still haven’t seen him with all your Summer Friends, you have no one else to blame but yourself. Get there! –Michael Roffman

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07. Bjork

Bjork Digital // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Booked at: Ceremonia, Fuji Rock

A Bjork performance is a rare and wonderful thing, one of the most surreal, beautiful, and incredibly emotional experiences that you can get. So, when she announces a festival performance, you buy a ticket. There is no way around it. She’s too particular an artist to hit up the entire circuit, though, so you might need to figure out which of the small handful each year is closest to you and pay for a plane ticket. But let me tell you: It will be worth it. And as she continues to experiment with her Vulnicura songs and VR experiences, the performance will surely be unique. –Lior Phillips
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06. Foo Fighters

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Photo by David Brendan Hall

Booked at: BottleRock, Secret Solstice, Mad Cool Festival, Open’er Festival, Roskilde, Rock Werchter

When last we left the fighting Foos, they were going on a break. Of course, they didn’t want to call it that. They even trolled the media with a joke video mocking the rumors of a possible split. Fortunately, that break didn’t last long, with Foo Fighters reuniting sporadically for charity gigs and honorary shows. This year, though, the band will be roaring back with proper festival headlining dates. Most will take place in Europe, but Napa, California, will feature the band on local soil. With Dave Grohl back using both of his legs, we’re looking for one of contemporary rock and roll’s biggest bands to come back swinging, hopefully leading the way to an eventual new album. –Philip Cosores

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05. Aphex Twin

aphex twin 01 Top 10 Festival Headliners of 2017: Winter Power Rankings

Photo by Philip Cosores

Booked at: Primavera Sound, Field Day, Forbidden Fruit, NOS Primavera Sound, Fuji Rock, Flow Festival

Prior to his recent appearance at Day for Night Festival, Richard D. James hadn’t performed in America in eight years. But Aphex Twin’s recent, mischievous re-emergence into the spotlight has seen him hitting festival stages and scrambling brains with his experimental electronics. It’s unclear whether this recent burst of activity is just a temporary trend or a sign of a busier live schedule going forward, so you may want to take any opportunity to catch the electronic legend while you can. –Lior Phillips
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04. Tool

Tool // Photo by David Brendan Hall

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Booked at: Boston Calling, Governors Ball

Let’s be real: Who gives a fuck if Tool finishes an album before festival season? The majority of their fans aren’t really putting new, unheard six-minute jams at the top of their priority list. But, if it happens, more icing on the progressive metal cake. No, the real reason they’re all flocking to music festivals with rock-less lineups this summer is because Maynard James Keenan puts on a hell of a show, and his outfit remains a rarity in the grand scheme of festival bookings. Plus, it’s kind of funny hearing a miserable dirge like “Prison Sex” during an otherwise pleasant summer night. It’s great for the family! –Michael Roffman

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03. A Tribe Called Quest

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Booked at: Parklife, Roskilde, Panorama Sound, Bestival

Shame on any one of you who are lost on A Tribe Called Quest. Even down founding member Phife Dawg, the hip-hop legends have proven they can still bring it through big-stage TV performances on Saturday Night Light and the Grammys. In this political climate, Tribe seem especially relevant, and their fiery performances, powerful messages, and touching tributes should make for showstopping festival sets. –Lior Phillips

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02. Nine Inch Nails

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Booked at: Panorama

What does everyone who books a music festival want in a headliner? Draw is probably tops, but exclusivity might be a close second. Nine Inch Nails in 2017 presents an interesting conundrum regarding these two factors. On one hand, who knows what the dark-as-fuck industrial outfit means to the modern festivalgoer. The last time they were touring, a headlining set at Outside Lands was not well attended at all. But it will be nearly three years since their last performance when they headline NYC’s Panorama Music Festival in July. And at the moment, it’s the only performance they have scheduled. Trent Reznor promised increased activity from the band recently, with their new EP not expected to be the entire extent of that. So regardless of how many people actually show up to see the band in July, the attention that will be paid to the setlist will extend far beyond the festival footprint. –Philip Cosores

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01. U2

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Booked at: Bonnaroo

When was the last time you listened to The Joshua Tree? Or heard “Where the Streets Have No Name”? Maybe it’s a little presumptuous to say this, but odds are you felt something. U2 has a tendency to do that, which is why it was a brilliant choice on Ashley Capps’ behalf to put the Bono in Bonnaroo this year. Then again, seeing the Irish rockers at the top of any festival bill this year is inspiring, as they’re the kind of big-name headliner that’s a rarity in this day and age. And considering they’ve never topped a North American music festival in their long, storied career, it’s another feather the Tennessee fest gets to add to its hat as they observe their competition high upon One Tree Hill. If you get that reference, have fun come June. –Michael Roffman

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