The unofficial symbol of Coachella, an annual music festival in Indio, California, is a girl. She looks like a hipster Tinkerbell: petite, bouncy, attractive. She’s wearing a flower crown, or cut-off shorts, or heart sunglasses—or all three. Over time, she’s been mocked for her ubiquity; there are even guides to dressing like a Coachella girl for Halloween. The one place the Coachella girl isn’t showing up? On-stage.
On January 6th, Coachella released its annual line-up. None of the headliners—AC/DC, Jack White, and Drake—are female-fronted, and only four of the 18 sub-headliners—Alabama Shakes, Nero, St. Vincent, and Florence & the Machine—are female-fronted.
In total, 15% of the total lineup are female-fronted bands or female solo acts. At what’s arguably the biggest music festival in the U.S., drawing more than 100,000 attendees a day, a staggering 85% of performances won’t feature women.
This isn’t a new problem. Since its first run in 1999, Coachella has never had a year where more than a fourth of its lineup has been female. Its headliners, the most anticipated performances in the entire three-day weekend, are almost always entirely guys—in the past 5 years, there’s been just two female headliners.
Nor is this just a “Brochella” problem. In April 2013, Slate reporter Forrest Wickman wrote:
“For this year’s Lollapalooza, the top 13 acts are all fronted by men. At Bonnaroo, Björk is the only woman among the top 10 headliners. Festivals like Outside Lands, Sasquatch, and the electronic music festival Ultra are similarly male-dominated, though Pitchfork—four of whose top six acts this year are great solo female artists—shows that each of these festivals could do better.”
You might be wondering if, rather than music festivals, we should be examining the music industry. After all, if the most popular bands and artists are male, it’s fair for events to showcase them. Supply and demand.
Take a look at the charts, and that argument falls apart. The most popular album of the year, 1989, belongs to the hyper-feminine Taylor Swift. The year before that, Beyoncé’s self-titled album was Billboard’s album of the year.
Billboard’s metrics include album sales, radio play, and streams, so its lists are a fairly accurate reflection of what the American public likes. And what the American public likes is women.
However, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, EDM, while all showcasing different artists and genres, are uniform in one thing: their “alternative” status. These festivals aren’t meant to be mainstream. It’s hard to imagine Taylor Swift following Gold Panda or The Flaming Lips at Outside Lands.
Wickman thinks that’s actually the root of the issue: fans and organizers don’t recognize the musical legitimacy of these female artists.
“These festivals tend to celebrate diversity while dismissing the most popular pop acts—the ones who tend to dominate the charts and who tend so often to be female—as frivolous or corporate.”
It’s a good point. Does that mean pop’s reputation is the whole issue?
If you look at the male pop artists in the Billboard Top 10, they seem just as likely to be showing up at Outside Lands or Coachella as Taylor Swift or Ariana Grande. (In other words: not very.) One Direction was the number one 2014 artist. Justin Timberlake was number five.
The number nine artist, Pharell Williams, performed at Coachella in 2014. While his song “Happy” might be considered pop, he’s also well-known for his hip-hop, R&B, and soul music, all of which get music festival street cred.
Eminem, number 10 on Billboard’s list, is squarely in the rap camp.
So you could conclude women are overrepresented in pop and underrepresented in other genres, the ones that typically show up in force at music festivals. You can’t blame festival organizers for not finding appropriate female acts where there are none.
While Cosmopolitan usually isn’t a bastion of feminism, surprisingly, it was the publication to poke some holes in this argument:
“Even if a less mainstream vibe is what they’re going for, there’s no good excuse for excluding so many talented, ostensibly more “indie” women who released music in 2014.
Tune-Yards, Sharon Van Etten, EMA, Tacocat, Dum Dum Girls, and Beverly are just a few that come to mind, in addition to all those expected to release albums in 2015—Grimes, Waxahatchee, THEESatisfaction, Chromatics, Courtney Barnett, and Björk, for example. Oh, and Sleater-Kinney, whose reunion is shaping up to be one of the biggest music events of the year.”
I’d love to go to a music festival where I could sing along to Taylor Swift and Florence & the Machine. Both women take up the same amount of real estate in my iTunes library. Both women are equally entertaining. But even if I never find TSwift at Coachella, more importantly, I’d love to attend a festival that has a 50/50 split of men and women performers.
After looking at the facts, I don’t see a reason why not.
Aja Frost is a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a regular contributor to Her Campus, The Prospect, and her college newspaper. Her work has been featured on xoJane and The Huffington Post. The only thing she loves more than writing is dessert. Follow her on Twitter: @ajavuu.