Where are all the female festival headliners at?

Leonie Cooper wonders why this year's lineups are #ohsomale

Shake out your sleeping bags and scrape the mould off your tents, because the great British festival season is nearly upon us. I can almost feel the mud beneath my wellies, smell the manky noodles and taste the lukewarm cider. Lush. Yet there’s something not quite right with this country’s festivals, and that’s the shocking lack of female artists playing them.

In 2015, a blogger called Josh Dalton created an embarrassing mock version of the Reading & Leeds Festival line-up poster, removing the male acts and leaving only the female artists. A pitiful nine acts remained. Two years down the line and it seems little has changed. Only five female-fronted acts have made the lower reaches of the Reading & Leeds main stage – Deap Vally, Honeyblood, Pvris, The Pretty Reckless and Against The Current – under a highly blokey run of headliners: Muse, Kasabian and Eminem. The dude-heavy pattern continues elsewhere, with Radiohead, Ed Sheeran and Foo Fighters topping the bill at Glastonbury; The 1975, Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons at Latitude; Chance The Rapper, Skepta and The Weeknd at Wireless; and System Of A Down, Biffy Clyro and Aerosmith at Download. The only female headliners we can spot this summer are PJ Harvey at Green Man and P!nk at V Festival. Wherefore art thou, my girls?

Despite the fact that the biggest-selling artists in the world are strong, no-bulls**t women – Adele, Taylor Swift, Madonna and Beyoncé for starters – there seems to be a festival-shaped glass ceiling that female artists find it impossible to smash through. Following the 2015 Reading furore, I spoke to Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn about his event’s lack of ladies. “We can’t put a bill together based on gender
– we can only put a bill together based on availability and appropriateness,” he said. But why can’t a bill be based on gender? How else will things change unless someone takes an active decision to push things forward? Festival bookers need to realise that their job is about more than lining up the same old macho rockers who they know will shift tickets. It’s about setting the cultural agenda.

Over three million people attend festivals every year, many of them young and many of them female. With such a massive platform comes an equally massive duty to show young women what they can do with their lives, proving that – unlike so many other areas of life – it doesn’t always have to be men first. With a wealth of female talent capable of heading up Reading and beyond, we’re hoping in 2018 Lana Del Rey, M.I.A., Grimes, Haim, Lorde, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Katy Perry and Florence + The Machine will be where they belong: on the top of the bill as well as the charts.