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WPGM Commentary: Music Festivals Continue To Overlook Women And Lack Gender Balance

Post the covid lockdown, major music festivals are returning this summer across multiple cities in the US and globally, and many took the option to keep festivals alive by going virtual this past year, but there is also another alarming response to these music festivals – where are all the women?

For their 2020 festivals, Coachella was missing a female headliner for the first time since 2016, and Boston Calling had only male headliners.

Looking at the logistics of festival development, there is the possibility that there just weren’t enough prominent female artists in the running to headline, or many of them just don’t participate in the festival circuit, but that excuse simply does not hold weight because some of the biggest and best-selling artists in the world right now are women.

Even though these festivals tend to attract large audiences of fans because of their headliners, they also serve to help define the big names in music with their billings, so why is there this lack of gender equity in festival bookings?

Some women are taking matters into their own hands, and are now making more significant efforts to challenge this issue in music festivals and make the culture of festivals more diverse and inclusive.

Marketing music festivals is where you can find the visual impact of these gender biases. There seems to be a pecking order that shows you the “preferred” order of importance for music artists.

However, platforms such as Book More Women have taken the fight to social media, with the aim of addressing these music festivals and calling on them to make changes.

The platform edits music festival posters to highlight the musicians that don’t identify as male that have been booked to perform, and to also show what percentage of the total lineup they represent, revealing just how diverse these line-ups are NOT.

This unequal gender bias is not new and doesn’t seem to be getting better, despite an uptick in 2019 festivals as you can see from the data provided here, taken from the 2020 SeeHearNow Festival, 2020 Reading & Leeds Festival, and this year’s III Points Festival.

More prominent festivals with a broader reach, like Coachella, who have historically booked 65% male performers over the past three years, can also take note as they can create the most impact with their changes. Just look at Glastonbury, which had 48% of women and non-binary artists booked for their 2019 festival line-up.

Ill Camille, a female rap artist who is represented by Marmoset Licensing Agency, has said that her music directly serves as a source of strength to demonstrate the importance of self-worth as a woman. It is essential that these music festivals step up, recognize and address the importance of women too.

Larger corporate festivals will always gravitate towards that financial bottom line for their booking decisions because they look at the overall ticket sales and what artists will bring in the most money, but even that is proving to be less and less of a reason to not book women artists.

There is also a conception that most fans are also not necessarily concerned with how many female artists they will see at a festival. Their focus is on dancing to the music with friends and enjoying themselves. So asking fans to boycott in the name of gender equality for music festivals could be a tough sell. Perhaps fans need to speak out more or that narrative needs to be squashed if not true.

Perhaps one solution that might just work lies in the fact that, “you can only create diversity onstage or on the screen if there is diversity behind the stage and behind the screen as well”, according to Andreea Magdalina of SheSaid.so, an international organization that advocates for women in music.

If you have a bunch of men in the boardroom deciding who gets booked for what, of course, they’re not going to be mindful of representation diversity and inclusion”, Magdalina adds, drilling down to what might be the main issue that needs addressing here.


Some festivals are trying to do better, lifting women to the higher levels of their line-ups, with Steve Nicks and Miley Cyrus appearing in excellent standing for the 2020 Bottlerock Festival, Glastonbury almost achieving a 50/50 genre balance in 2019, as mentioned above, and Bonnaroo going up to 31% women and non-binary artists for their 2021 festival.

Still, even this year, we see that Wireless has recently announced their festival lineup, and they are receiving heat for the lack of female artists on their bill. As this news hit fans, many who bought tickets became disappointed with the lineup, with tweets describing the lack of women headliners and performers as “unsettling”.

Fans of music and musicians alike need to recognize that we all have the responsibility to promote change in the festival circuits. It will take time and baby steps, but the push for more women in our festival lineups will allow music festivals to encourage and normalize more inclusion and diversity in their DNA.

Words by Nicole McCray // Additional resources from BookMoreWomen

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