February 26, 2018


45 Music Festivals Pledging For Gender-Balanced Lineups By 2022 Is Long Overdue

Ollie Millington/Redferns
Ollie Millington/Redferns

45 international music festivals are coming together to make a change in their lineups, which have notoriously skewed heavily towards male acts. They plan to fight for gender equality with a 50/50 balance by 2022, per Pitchfork.

The plan is backed by by UK talent agency PRS Foundation, which just launched a new program called Keychange. According to their website, they are "a pioneering European initiative which is empowering women to transform the future of the music industry and encouraging festivals to achieve a 50:50 balance by 2022." The festivals who have signed up include: New York's Winter Jazzfest and A2IM Indie Week; Canada's BreakOut West, MUTEK and North by North East; the UK's BBC Proms, Kendal Calling, Sŵn, and Liverpool Sound City; Sweden's Way Out West, Iceland Airwaves, Estonia’s Tallinn Music Week, and many others.

Vanessa Reed, CEO of PRS Foundation, shared in a press release:

"Our focus on gender equality in 2018 aligns with the centenary for some women being given the vote in the U.K. 100 years on, the push for gender parity across society continues and with increased public awareness of inequalities across the creative industries we have an opportunity to respond and commit to tangible change in music. The Keychange network of female artists and industry professionals and the festival partners’ idea of establishing a collective pledge will significantly accelerate change. I hope that this will be the start of a more balanced industry which will result in benefits for everyone."

For decades now, the disparaging imbalance of female acts booked for festivals has reflected the music industry's masked sexism. There are many deserving and talented women who should be fronting the world's largest stages, but instead they are stuck with minimal performance slots and having their name appear way below the male headlining acts. While this new Keychange initiative will take four years, at least the change is finally being made. Almost all of the festivals joining the pledge are not on a grand scale compared to the Coachellas and Lollapaloozas of the world, where the issue is much more blatant. 

Reeding and Leeds, who haven't booked a female headliner since Paramore in 2013, have recently been criticized for their male-heavy 2018 lineup including Fall Out Boy, Kendrick Lamar and Kings of Leon. Melvin Benn—the director of Festival Republic (the organization behind Reading and Leeds, Latitude, Wireless and Download) launched ReBalance. The project will give 36 female artists one week of studio recording time over the next three years as they “create a bigger pool of female acts” for festival organizers to choose from. “So actually, I do support the principle of it [gender equality],” he explained. “I’ve chosen a slightly different way to go about it, but with the same principal aim.” But again, why does he need three years to do so?

Wireless 2018 (which infamously favors male artists) was also called out for its lack of women, with Mabel, Lisa Mercedez and Cardi B being the only female artists scheduled to perform. Over the past 18 years, Coachella has only given three women a headline slot: Björk, Lady Gaga and this year, Beyoncé. For the fifth year in a row, Bonnaroo doesn't have a female headliner. While Firefly and Governors Ball only booked male acts to front their bills. See a pattern here? The one festival this year thus far who has a notably balanced lineup is Panorama, whose third day features four women (headliner Janet Jackson, SZA, Cardi B and St. Vincent) in the top slots. 

Let's hope the organizers of these larger festivals wake up to this inequality and take steps in booking more women. In a post-Trump society with #MeToo and Time's Up movements taking precedent in the music industry, there is no excuse anymore.

Next, watch EDM stars Alison Wonderland, Paul Oakenfold, Nicole Moudaber, Dash Berlin, Dada Life, Yellow Claw, Don Diablo and more explore the genre's lack of female representation: