FEATURE: Different Year, Same Problem: Whilst Genre Diversity Is Defining Major Festival Headline Slots, There Is One Pressing Question: Where ARE the Women?!




Different Year, Same Problem


IN THIS IMAGE: The official poster for next year’s Reading and Leeds Festivals/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

Whilst Genre Diversity Is Defining Major Festival Headline Slots, There Is One Pressing Question: Where ARE the Women?!


MAYBE the women of music have asked for some respect…


 IN THIS PHOTO: Stormzy at this year’s Wireless Festival/PHOTO CREDIT: Mohamed Abdulle/Mabdulle

or been a bit too good in terms of album quality because, lo and behold, it seems we are in for another male whitewash regarding festival headliners! I was pleased when Glastonbury announced Stormzy as their first (Friday) headliner because, as much as anything, it means Grime and Rap is getting more of a look-in. For a festival that has doggedly avoided putting artists like this at the top of the bill; Glastonbury is responding to changes and showing itself to be open-minded regarding the potency of Grime. Look at the headliners announced for next year’s Reading and Leeds Festivals and, again, there is no the normal slew of tired and recycled Rock bands! We have seen the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Eminem take to the Reading and Leeds headline stages, so the fact Post Malone has been announced as one of the four headliners is no real/seismic shock. In terms of the others…there is a bit of a mixed bag. Considering The 1975 are just about to release their album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, it seems like their time is now. It is their third album so they have had time to build their stage presence and fanbase and will be able to get the punters in – one of the concerns regarding Stormzy headlining Glastonbury is the fact he has only released one album and, as such, can he fill a set adequately?! Twenty One Pilots are also headlining and, whilst not a huge name, they have a good fanbase here.

The fact is, annoyingly, there is American dominance at a British festival! I know quality needs to reign but The 1975 are the only British headliners for 2019! Stormzy has got Glastonbury off to a British start but, to track back to Reading and Leeds, and the formulaic, predictable log has been dropped: Foo Fighters. I love Dave Grohl and he is rightly considered one of music’s titan icons but when was the last time Foo Fighters dropped a biblical album?! Critically, the last album of theirs to get a pretty decent feedback was Wasting Light in 2011. In fact, one has to go back to the 1990s in order to find the best Foo Fighters albums. So, I have to ask; why go for a band that, whilst great in the live setting, are neither fresh nor providing anything great?! It is a case of them cranking out songs people want to hear (their classics) and the new ones that most are not too bothered with. Foo Fighters headlined Glastonbury last year and I was baffled by that appointment! It seems like we cannot have a major festival in this country without the band being booked. It is an appallingly lazy, tragic and depressing booking than demonstrates the issue with festival organisers. Look at the five names I have mentioned and you will notice a lack of women...


 IN THIS PHOTO: Nadia Rose (someone who could produce a stonking Reading and Leeds headline set)/PHOTO CREDIT: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

One might argue there have been few good Rock albums from women and so, when it comes to the big festivals; isn’t this just a reaction to demand?! Even if Reading and Leeds and Glastonbury were Rock-focused, then there are plenty of names to select! If some of the more traditional and rigid festivals have not made themselves malleable to trends and changes; Reading and Leeds has shown it is willing to diversify. A lot of huge Rap and Grime talent was on the bill last year and there were female artists further down. Glastonbury’s Grime revelation is pleasing and, again, what of the women?! Grime has some major female players, new and classic. Think about an icon like Ms. Dynamite or fresh blood like Lady Leshurr and you have choices but, as this article explains, Grime is a genre which is not as open and accommodating to women as they should be. Even so; we have Nadia Rose and Ms Banks who, I feel, could make more pleasing headliners than Foo Fighters. Think about Hip-Hop and you have a veritable banquet of choice! You could have an icon like Neneh Cherry or rising talent like Cardi B or Nicki Minaj; some other-genre women like Rihanna, M.I.A. or Dua Lipa; maybe Courtney Barnett, Laura Marling or Beyoncé, St. Vincent, Anna Calvi…or Christine and the Queens! I could rattle on for hours about the possible selections but there are some great black artists in the list that would add some much-needed diversity to the Reading and Leeds headliners!


 IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé (the perfect headliner for all your festival needs!)/PHOTO CREDIT: Invision for Parkwood Entertainment

The suggestion women are not able to handle a headline slot at festivals like Reading and Leeds is absurd! Someone like St. Vincent could own Reading and Leeds and blow everyone else away; someone like Courtney Barnett could do a brilliant headline set and there are female-led bands like Wolf Alice – who have just won the Mercury Prize! – would be perfect. There are a lot of great female bands around that are ready to shine and one has to imagine the likes of HINDS and Dream Wife are ready to shine. In any case; how can anyone claim the same-old, same-old all-male headline trend be a good thing?! Festivals like Reading and Leeds and Glastonbury have been dragging their heels for years and, while they are expanding their horizons regarding genre and tastes; female artists are being denied the headline slots. I know artists such as Billie Eilish will be playing Reading and Leeds next year but there are plenty of like-minded female artists who are bigger than could take a headliner – take Lorde, Katy Perry and Kacey Musgraves. Perry, in fact, has just been named the highest-earning female in music and my mind keeps coming back to Beyoncé, oddly. I am not sure whether he price tag is ridiculously high but she would crap over any headliner the major festivals have to offer up for next year!

Look at the names listed on this females in music power list and the honours about to befall SZA, Kacey Musgraves and Hayley Kiyoko and it is clear there are some incredibly potent female artists who are making way for others, leading a charge and influencing many! This BBC article responds to the gender gap and inequality and states that, although there are optimistic changes coming for 2019; festivals are still not doing enough:

The BBC recently named Beyonce and Taylor Swift as the two most powerful women in music.

The person behind them (and above Adele) in third might not be a household name, but is "shaking up the industry".

PRS Foundation's boss Vanessa Reed has been praised for her work in trying to close the gender gap in a traditionally male-dominated business.

From from festival line-ups to producers, she says "doing nothing" to make a change "is not an option". 

The PRS Foundation funds new music and new talent across all genres.

This week its campaign to persuade festival organisers to have equal numbers of male and female performers by 2022 is meeting with European Parliament to put forward its concerns and ideas.

"Audiences want something different," says Vanessa, who is in charge of Keychange.

"There are talented women out there who aren't getting the same opportunities as men.

"There's still some resistance but I think people are beginning to realise that doing nothing is not an option"...


IN THIS PHOTO: PRS Foundation's boss Vanessa Reed/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images      

So far, 140 festivals around the world have signed up to the pledge.

"Coming up against so many male artists in this industry... it's tough and it's annoying," says Rita Ora.

"But at the same time it's amazing for women like us when we do get a gig like Glastonbury Pyramid stage.

"You're just like, 'Wow I'm amongst all these incredible artists and hopefully one day it'll really change'."

PRS Foundation says women represent less than 20% of registered songwriters, and that when Keychange was started in 2011 only two percent of producers in the UK were female.

"When I started I didn't know any other women who were working," explains Catherine Marks, who was the first female to win producer of the year at the 2018 Music Producers Guild Awards.

"Maybe five years ago I started hearing about lots more women getting involved.

"It could be that women perceived it as a too male-dominated world and didn't want to get involved... it could just be that they weren't interested in production.

"But I think those feelings have changed and it's important to recognise that."

Catherine adds: "I've never really noticed too much of a divide, I maybe felt that as a woman I needed to work harder but nobody ever told me to".

I wonder, exactly, why men are automatically booked – many have not released decent material for years; others are unpopular or less established – whereas women have to ‘prove’ themselves. What about Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey?! How about a few icons like Madonna and Janet Jackson?! I could rattle off dozens of names who have proven themselves and are able to captivate audiences around the world. Robyn, who has just released the insanely-good Honey, is someone who is ripe for headline attention!

Whilst there is a pitch to create parity and evolution, the facts speak for themselves:

We know that the issue of gender inequality in the music industry is urgent: in 2018, just 14 per cent of performers at US festivals were women, and the gender pay gap at some of the biggest music-focused companies is a staggering 30 per cent. Of the world’s 600 most popular songs this year, only two per cent were produced by women. The statistics highlight a vital need for inclusivity and representation for women – on stage and behind the scenes. Statement Festival in Sweden, for example, was a direct response to sexual assaults in local festivals, and is for women only, and Mujeres en la Musica, a Spanish documentary campaign, highlighted that music industry money largely goes to men.

Working to combat these issues is Keychange, a pioneering music initiative bringing together the industry, national governments, European Parliament and the European Commission, with the aim of tackling the gender imbalance. Keychange, run by the PRS Foundation, has built a manifesto based on the work and ideas of women participating in their programme, which originally started as a talent development pool and sprung from there. That includes 60 emerging women artists and DJs from across Europe – like Jamz Supernova and Violet Skies – and seven international festivals across 18 months.

This manifesto builds on Keychange’s ask of music festivals and conferences to pledge a 50/50 gender balance on their line-ups by 2022. Over 130 festivals from 22 countries took them up on it, and we’re already seeing results.

“Festivals aren’t only festivals, they’re marketplaces for the music industry – that’s why it’s so important, we have influence on the headliners of tomorrow,” Alexander Schulz of Hamburg’s Reeperbahn festival explained”.


 IN THIS PHOTO: The 1975 (who have just been announced as one of Reading and Leeds’ headline acts for 2019)/PHOTO CREDIT: Billboard

It is all very well the likes of Glastonbury saying they are accommodating female artists but they speak like they are housing degenerates who are unfit for society! You do not need to give them a platform and make small changes. There are countless female artists, from every genre, who are ready and willing to headline festivals! They have the pull to bring in the masses and the talent to go down in history. Denying that fact and sticking with the same tired and plodding bands is a bull*hit move! Critics are raving about albums from female artists and radio stations are playing the songs. If this is not translated into festival exposure then how are the next generation of female musicians going to see that they can make it?! Look at the festival bookings now as you will see man after man topping things.


IN THIS PHOTO: SZA (a name I was surprised to see missing from Reading and Leeds’ line-up for next year - maybe she will be announced at a later date?!)/PHOTO CREDIT: Billboard

I applaud the diversification of sounds and booking artists like Stormzy and The 1975 but I have a horrible feeling Glastonbury will book another two men. There has been talk Madonna might be booked but that seems a long shot. I dread to think who will headline – probably Muse and Coldplay – but I very much doubt two female acts will be booked...maybe it will be all-male once more. It seems hard to believe there will be a fifty-fifty gender split by 2022 given the rate of ‘progression’! Maybe there are changes behind the scenes and out of sight but we need to see women visible and given their just rewards! I am sorely disappointed by the male-dominated headline bookings and it is wrong to blame them directly! The blame lays entirely at the feet of those organising Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds. Given the opportunities available and the crop of wonderful female artists who could dominate a headline slot I say, once more...


IN THIS PHOTO: Lana Del Rey (whilst she ‘appears’ on this fake Glastonbury poster, she could prove a popular headliner)/PHOTO CREDIT: Interscope Records

SHAME on you!