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Undercover-chella: A Brutally Honest Look Behind Coachella's Velvet Rope

Culture

I've lived in Los Angeles for 5 years, and have gone to Coachella - both weekends - for 4 of those. Am I crazy? Yes, obviously.

I've experienced every type of 'Chella possible: GA, VIP, with Artist bands, as Staff, No-Chella (AKA just attending the parties), paid full admission, got in free, camped-glamped-crashed-and-mansioned, planned it, and gone on a whim the day-of.


So what is it that brings me back each year? Ironically, the music festival takes a backseat to what in my opinion is the crown jewel of the desert: the parties.

Weekend One of the festival is the IT weekend: celebrities, YouTubers, Instagram models, influencers, socialites, fashion bloggers, professional partiers and the press go Coachella-adjacent: descending on the desert and turning it into a multi-page fashion spread. It's the weekend where pasties are acceptable outfits, Drake is most likely within 100 feet of you at all times, and you discover what the term “gifting suite" means.

Let's stop and talk about gifting suites for a hot second. At a party that shall-not-be-named, I was mistaken for an influencer (does it count if my mom tells me I'm special?) and invited into a mysterious room.

Let's call this room “Christmas Morning" because it was a pop-up store with gorgeous designer clothing, where I was given a shopping bag and instructed to grab whatever I wanted. I'm sorry, what?

"At a party that shall-not-be-named, I was mistaken for an influencer (does it count if my mom tells me I'm special?) and invited into a mysterious room."

Do you remember watching the Toys R' Us “Super Toy Run" on Nickelodeon as a kid? It's like that, but better. As an adult, you're able to appreciate how much these items cost as you dunk them into your hemp tote, shielding tears of joy behind those dope new sunglasses they gave you. I tried to cover it up like, “Don't worry, it's just sweat… dripping from my eyes." From swanky shades, to haute accessories, to perfumes, apparel, souvenirs, and flower-power-anything, it's 50 Shades of Swag. All day, erreday. Well, Friday through Sunday.

But why? Well, brand sponsors are willing to bet that if the right people are seen using or wearing their product, it'll be making a cultural splash big enough to trickle down in sales for the rest of the year. So do complimentary henna tattoos and mani/pedis at the Rachel Zoe party, or Quay sunglasses at Revolve and Forest Grant's at Poppy, or Batiste Dry Shampoo at Neon, or free rides from Fiat and Body Glove, and luxury cannabis giveaways at The Chroncierge mansion powered by Greenrush really do the trick??

Besides all the PR they get from people like me mentioning them, it actually does! Much of what influencers touch turns to gold. Even the CEO of Revolve said that, "This was our best week ever: Monday [before Coachella] beat our Cyber Monday," and that's because Revolve has Coachella down to a science. This year, they rented out an entire hotel just for influencers, flying them out from around the world and dressing them up in #instagrammable outfits that have the rest of us like, “Damn, where can I buy that?"

"The thing is, there's so much to see and do at Coachella W1 that it's impossible to do it all."

But ugh, even as am I'm writing this -- and having attended some of the most exclusive parties myself -- I still have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). The thing is, there's so much to see and do at Coachella W1 that it's impossible to do it all. I take that back. It's impossible... unless you have a helicopter like Lil Wayne who literally flew from party to party to perform this year, skipping the godforsaken road closures and miserable traffic.

Like any music festival, the traffic at Coachella is the worst. If I could go back in time, I'd ask Steven Hawking to lend his genius to figure it all out.

We live in a world with self-driving cars and seedless watermelons, but it seems that nobody can figure out how to stop carmageddon every weekend. This year, it took me 2 hours to get to the Poppy party, which was about “15 minutes away" from our Airbnb in Bermuda Dunes. Luckily, the good parties don't stop until 4 am, but there's nothing worse than being stuck in the back of an Uber while receiving texts about how much fun the fiesta is. Thus confirming my “fear" that I was indeed, missing out.

"Besides the mandatory photo ops (duh) it gets wild."

OK so besides the free gifts and food and drinks and music, what's it like inside the parties?

Besides the mandatory photo ops (duh) it gets wild. At the Revolve Festival, they had an actual carnival ride from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch, but I've seen cool activations like: nursing stations where they administer IV's and vitamin B shots in the booty, massage stations, choose-your-own-flower-crowns, braid and glitter bars, makeup touch-ups, a crane-game machine where you can win a BMW at Poppy, dirtbikes and a bouncy house slide at FentyxPuma, and so much more. Dammit, I'm getting FOMO again just thinking about it.

But while I'd love to keep gushing about how wonderful of an experience it all was, I can't skip the arduous process of figuring out how to gain access to these coveted events. All the “free" comes at the price of working hard to hustle your way onto the list.

Even with Coachella being about 150 miles away from Los Angeles, you'll find that #HollywoodRules still apply: you gotta know someone to get in. Whether it's a gatekeeper (the PR person), the talent (bonus points if it's a musician), someone who has a plus one (start sucking up months in advance), an influencer or the goddamn line cook for all I care, you gotta know someone! If you're feeling lucky, you can also send a blind RSVP to the email address on the event invite and pray you get in. It does work… sometimes.

But one party that it definitely will not work at -- the event that deserves a paragraph all on its own -- is Neon Carnival. Known as the star-studded extravaganza of the weekend (maybe even the year) Neon attracts celebs like: Leonardo DiCaprio, Chance the Rapper, Diddy, Amber Rose, Paris Hilton, Logan Paul, Lele Pons and so much more. I'm pretty sure whoever coined the term “Disneyland for Adults" was referring to this event. With bumper cars, carnival games, a ferris wheel, an epic stage and dance floor, and beautiful people to enjoy it all with, it's is surreal AF. If you're ever in a situation to trade your left kidney for a party, do it for Neon Carnival.

All in all, I hope reading this has ignited enough curiosity (and FOMO) to convince you to make the pilgrimage to Coachella Weekend One next year. It sometimes feels like more of a glitter safari than a music festival, but it's well worth it!

Culture

A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.


Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.