Only 13 per cent of UK festival headliners are female, study finds

One in 10 headliners at leading UK music events this summer are women

A new study has found that just 13 per cent of headliners at the UK’s top festivals are female.

BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat‘s key finding equates to only one in 10 headliners at leading 2022 UK music festivals being women, despite many events promising five years ago to achieve a ’50/50′ gender balance across their line-ups by this year.

The new study focused on 50 of the biggest festivals, taken from a YouGov survey.

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Out of 200 headline acts it found that 26 (13 per cent) were an all-female band or a solo artist; 149 (74.5 per cent) were either an all-male band or a solo artist; 24 (12 per cent) had a mixed line-up of male and female performers, and one (0.05 per cent) artist identified as non-binary.

Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish will headline Glastonbury 2022. CREDIT: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

In 2017, two projects were launched with the aim of securing more female and female-identifying acts on stages. Festival Republic’s ReBalance and PRS’ KeyChange followed a previous BBC study that found that approximately 80 per cent of headliners were all-male.

US singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers told Newsbeat in response to the new data: “It feels awful.

“The music industry has been largely run and dominated by males since the beginning of time,” she said. “I’m sure that every female act can tell you a story of growing-up, walking into a guitar shop and just having your dreams crushed”.

“It’s interesting, in a post-#MeToo era, because this imbalance is something we’ve had so much conversation about, but still in the music industry, [the proportion of women working in it] is a horrifying number.”

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Maggie Rogers
Maggie Rogers performs live in 2021. CREDIT: Jim Bennett/WireImage

But festival organisers have said that it’s unfair to point fingers at them alone for such disparity. They highlighted that some progress has been made.

London’s Wireless festival has three female headlinersSZA, Cardi B and Nicki Minaj – among a total of seven acts topping the bill. A$AP Rocky, J. Cole, Tyler, The Creator and Dave will also perform headline slots at the double-weekend festival this year.

Reading and Leeds Festival has booked Megan Thee Stallion as well as Halsey, who is non-binary, alongside Dave, Artic Monkeys, Bring Me The Horizon and Rage Against The Machine.

side-by-side images of A$AP Rocky, Tyler, The Creator and Cardi B performing live onstage
A$AP Rocky, Tyler, The Creator and Cardi B perform live. CREDIT: Getty

Last year, campaigners and figures within the music industry spoke to NME about the need for “urgent” and shared action to improve gender diversity on festival line-ups.

Maxie Gedge, Project Manager of KeyChange at the PRS Foundation, said: “I feel like festivals have an important responsibility, and we’ve had many sign up to the pledge who are making a positive change.

“We view gender equality as a very urgent issue that needs addressing in the music industry. COVID has only amplified that. The back-to-live situation makes us super hopeful that we can have some festivals this summer, but when they started to announce these line-ups we were so disappointed.”

Laura Davidson, who was the head booker at All Points East Festival, founded AMIGAS in recent years – described as a “growing collective of industry-leading women professionals who are passionate and dedicated to building back the live sector, better”.

The collective aims to “facilitate, inspire and empower women from all backgrounds to enter the live music industry”. Speaking to NME in 2021, Davidson explained the difficult landscape that festivals faced last summer.

“I feel like now is the time for the industry to come together and work out how the gender balance throughout the whole industry can be addressed,” she said. “Labels, managers, artists and promoters should all be looking at their rosters and ensuring they are supporting women and gender minorities. The whole ecosystem is so male-dominated and this needs to change.

glastonbury
Crowds listen to Kylie perform on the Pyramid Stage at the 2019 Glastonbury Festival held at Worthy Farm, in Pilton, Somerset on June 30, 2019 near Glastonbury (Picture: Getty)

“Not only do we need to look at the industry as a whole, but even deeper than that, and the cuts that have been made in education by the government. The problem is, as it stands, there are just not as many female artists available for certain slots, as male. If you’re Glastonbury and you’ve got the pick of pretty much any artist that you want to book, and artists will plan their whole summer around playing your festival, then it’s obviously much easier to book a diverse and balanced bill.

“However, booking festivals is so incredibly competitive and it’s not quite as simple as booking every artist you want to book. There are politics and exclusivities that get in the way of this and unfortunately it often comes down to how big your cheque book is! This is often left out of the commentary.”

She added: “There’s so much to be done and that is what we’re here to help to do,” she added. “It’s going to take longer than a year but I feel that it is achievable in five years with the whole industry pulling in the same direction and taking positive action.”

Visit here for more information on KeyChange and here for more on AMIGAS.

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