It really doesn't need to be this hard.
So: the festival circuit wants to be more gender inclusive. 45 global festivals and conferences have signed up to a scheme promising that by 2022, they will have a 50/50 male/female gender ratio in their lineups. Blissfields and Bluedot are among the British festivals embracing the scheme, which is a welcome challenge to the statistic that in 2017, 80% of festival headliners were men. But why has this taken so long?
No one is going to argue that Foo Fighters, Kasabian or Muse don’t deserve a place at the top of the bill. Dave Grohl and his merry men have picked up more than one billion streams via YouTube. But then again, so has Katy Perry – 15 billion in fact – though she was still only a warm-up act to Foo Fighters at Glastonbury last year.
If 2018’s festival lineups are more or less secured, the events which have signed up to the gender equality initiative have three years to get their act together. This still seems like an awfully long time to fire up Google and search for ‘female artists’.
Why is it so hard for festivals to wean themselves off dudes? If they’re going to take action, they need to do it now. Women don’t just want a participation badge and a pat on the back for selling some records. They want to see other women on the pedestal when they take gold. With a 50/50 gender-balanced lineup, you are making the extremely small concession that half the world’s population should take up at least as much space as the other half. Let’s not get carried away congratulating a comparatively small number of festivals for doing the very least to combat discrimination.
Because ultimately, the festivals who have signed up are by no means the worst offenders. Reading & Leeds have rejected the plans, with boss Melvin Benn telling the BBC: “Is that the right way to go about it – to say it’s got to be 50/50? I don’t know that it is.” The same festival has not had a female headliner since 2014, when Paramore co-headlined with Queens of the Stone Age.
Benn’s company, Festival Republic, have attempted to tackle this issue with their own scheme, ReBalance, which is offering female-fronted bands and artists studio time each month for the next two years. It’s a laudable move, but more circuitous than finding female artists and booking them.
Meanwhile, Wireless included a pitiful three female artists in their first lineup announcement earlier this year. When they were rightly criticised for this, the organisers said they’d initially approached a lofty 18 women, and have promised the bill is not yet finished.
Last week, Dua Lipa entered the Radio 1 Live Lounge backed up by Alma, Zara Larsson, Charli XCX and MØ. Five different women with different looks and sounds, each dominating pop in their own unique way. It showed how women can be more than an afterthought in the music industry – something festival organisers still have to learn. If this is what the future of festivals could look like, sign me the fuck up.