Where are the female festival headliners?

Friends hanging out at big music festival

Where are all the female headliners? - Credit: Getty Images

The backlash against male-dominated festival line-ups is becoming an annual tradition. So why aren’t festival organisers working to change the narrative? 

We’ve all seen the mock festival line-up posters - each year one will emerge, a modified bill with all male acts removed, leaving only female artists on the line-up. 

It’s always an almost blank page, met with a clump of names huddled towards the lower end of the poster, a visual representation of the pitiful contribution of non-male acts and their futile positions on the programme. 

We read articles and studies which give us the facts and figures of male to female ratios and see artist after artist pledging to refuse playing at any festival that hasn’t committed to a gender equality stance. Music news sites blow up with the topic and social media is rife with despair from angry gig-goers. Then, the cycle starts. 

Festival organisers will get defensive and claim that there isn’t enough non-male talent out there. 

Festival-goers will still buy tickets and festivals will still sell out.  

Non-male music industry professionals and performers will continue to be under-represented. 

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The festival season runs it course and the industry brushes the issue under the carpet.  

That is, until, festival tickets start selling in the Spring and the music columnists in local newspapers get angry again. 

It’s not a political issue we’re dealing with here, but one fuelled by profitability and as some festival organisers claim, availability of artists. 
 
But why shouldn’t a festival line-up be put together based on gender? With millions of young people (many of them female) attending festivals each year, the music industry has a duty to use its platform to create social change, especially when they claim to support issues such as gender equality. 

Despite the opinion that there aren’t enough women to headline or sell tickets (I think Billie Eilish, Lana Del Rey, M.I.A., Grimes and many, many more would disagree), men don’t always have to come first. 

It’s feels so backwards that even in 2021, this cycle of gender misrepresentation in music festivals continues. Especially when it simply doesn't need to.

With a wealth of non-male talent capable of headlining festivals around the world, I’m hoping that we’ll finally see more of them, right where they belong at the top of those posters in 2022.