Coachella Has A Lack Of Female Headlining Artists & It's Been Going On For Years
Another year, another Coachella lineup. The three 2016 Coachella headliners are the newly reunited original lineup of Guns N' Roses, an out-of-retirement LCD Soundsystem, and Taylor Swift's boyfriend Calvin Harris. While the two-weekend, three-day festival taking place April 15-17 and April 22-24 seems to check off a few boxes with these acts — classic rock, indie, EDM — one box they didn't check was female. Sure, we can sit back and choose not to worry about one year of the festival that doesn't feature a female headliner, except... it hasn't just been one year. It's a reoccurring problem that unfortunately gives way to a bigger issue. At Coachella, female artists have rarely reached the top slot on the bill since the festival started in 1999.
In fact, only one woman has ever headlined Coachella: Björk, who did it twice in 2002 and 2007. That means, in the Palm Springs festival's 16-year history, there have been only two times when a solo female performer was the main attraction. If we expand the search to include bands that have at least one female member, we increase the number of headliners by just one: Arcade Fire’s Régine Chassagne, who also got two turns at the top of the list in 2011 and 2014. And, though they didn’t headline, in 2002, the female-fronted band Portishead played the main stage right before that night’s headliner, Prince. But to include them just feels like a consolation prize to make myself feel just a little better.
We shouldn't try to deny those sobering numbers, since they are what earned Coachella the nickname #Brochella in 2015, after Slate took the poster and removed all the names of the male artists. As you can imagine, it looked very bare with only 26 names left on it.
Looking at the poster announcing this year's lineup, there are a few prominently featured female artists on the second line for each of the three days: Ellie Goulding, The Kills, CHVRCHES, Halsey, Sia, and Beach House. In total, there are 47 female artists (bands and solo performers) out of the 162 acts playing the festival this year. That means about 29 percent of the 2016 lineup is female. A number that seems low — until you compare it to 2015's lineup.
Last year's fest featured 26 female artists, down from 28 the year before. Also in 2015, there were only 15 solo, or all-female acts, in a year that was touted the "Year of the Woman" in music, with pop stars like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Ariana Grande ruling the Billboard charts. This year, there are a total of 26 solo or all female acts (three all-female bands), which, paradoxically, comes after a year where women suffered on the Billboard charts. (In 2015's top 40, of the most popular artists on the Billboard 100 — which looks at the 100 most popular songs on any given week — only 25.8 percent were female.) From the sizable increase of women on the bill, it does seem that Coachella's organizer Goldenvoice did take note of their missteps over the years. However, that still didn't ultimately result in the name of a female artist leading the poster.
Some have said the festival's history of skewing male has to do with who attends it. For years, it's been reported that white males with cash to spend are the ones who frequent this festival. But, if that's still the case, why are most of the stories coming out of the festival fashion focused? Photos of women in floral headdresses are most notably what comes out of Coachella, as well as news of what celebrities (mostly female) attended. With that said, it's hard to believe adding a few more female artists and a female headliner to the lineup is going to somehow ruin the festival's total dynamic.
Female artists also don't seem to have the same rate of upward mobility as male artists; once female acts get to that second row on the poster, they can't seem to break that glass ceiling. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been there for three different festivals. Sleater-Kinney, a band that reunited to lots of fanfare in 2015, only earned a prominent spot one time in 2006. Somehow, they didn't end up on the 2016 bill either. Ellie Goulding is on this year's bill, right in the same second-tier spot she's been since 2014.
While there is no easy solution for the gender disparity in the music industry, there is a way to fix it when it comes to music festivals like Coachella: Put a woman at the top of the bill. There are many to choose from, both current and legacy artists, and putting them in the headlining spot would be no worse than having a niche band like the Stone Roses there, as Coachella did in 2013. It's a festival where people buy their tickets before even knowing who's on the lineup, so they're there to check out good music. And women make a lot of it. I wish Coachella would give them the spotlight more often.