Where are all the women? An exploration of the lack of female representation at music festivals

It’s that time of year where everyone is emptying their bank accounts in favour of music festivals lined up all over the UK this summer. However, the one thing that is continuously seems to be missing is the female performers.

The lack of diversity within the festival industry is well documented, despite the fact that there are more than enough female led bands and solo artists capable of headlining a festival.

There lies the conundrum.

It has been the Reading and Leeds Festival which has come under some of the worst scrutiny in recent years. Before the 2019 line-up was announced, Reading and Leeds would have only hosted one female-fronted act as a headliner in 20 years which was Paramore in 2014 in a co-headline slot with Queens of the Stone Age.

This year’s line-up features women like Charlie XCX, Billie Eilish, Hayley Kiyoko and Chvrches to name a few, which in comparison to the hundreds of male acts – doesn’t cut it.

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Credit: Instagram @officialrandl

In 2017, a BBC study conducted showed that across 14 of the major UK festivals for the last decade only 37 out of 660 headline appearances were all-female acts.

In 2019 there really is no excuse for festivals not to have more balanced line ups. Festivals like TRNSMT which already left fans feeling increasingly underwhelmed by the line-up, again had fans wondering where the female performers were.

Since the beginning of TRNSMT in 2017, there has always been a lack of female representation among the headliners – the 2019 line up has 3, Jess Glynne, Mabel and Sigrid.

Spanish festival Primavera Sound is known for its strong line up and announced their 2019 line up with three words: The New Normal. The event is used to extravagant marketing campaigns but this year’s line-up of nearly 230 acts have an almost equal gender split for the first time in the history of the festival.

Primavera Sound’s line-up is refreshing and exciting, not just because of the representation but because the line-up doesn’t just consist of middle-aged white men holding guitars. Primavera has artists from different genders, genres and influences performing showing that The New Normal is the future and here to stay.

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Credit: Instagram @primavera_sound

After speaking to up and coming West Lothian singer-songwriter Megan Black, she shares my enthusiasm regarding the Primavera line-up:

“I think the music diversity is an amazing idea! People have so many artists that they might end up completely loving from genres that might not be their cup of tea. It’s a great opportunity to bring different styles of music into the mainstream and keep the chances for all different kinds of musician’s fair. As for the 50/50 gender split, I think this is great too, it gives everyone equal opportunity.”

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Credit: Instagram @meganblackmusic

It’s increasingly common, especially this year, that UK festival line ups just look like the same regurgitated artists in different orders. Think, George Ezra headlining TRNSMT, Neighbourhood Weekender, Latitude, Isle of Wight, Parklike, Glastonbury etc you get the picture.

Don’t get me wrong, I love George Ezra but is there any need for him to be headlining 6 music festivals in the UK?

When asking Megan about her thoughts on the TRNSMT and Reading & Leeds festival line-ups, she’s very encouraged by the performers:

“From what I know about them so far, I think they’re quite great! I think people will always have an issue with certain minorities not being ‘fairly represented’ but I really think that has come a long way and will continue to. This is a great line up of musicians and has something for everyone.”

I asked Megan who she would have headline a festival if it was up to her and she added,

“There are too many to choose from! As well as my inspirations, local artists and myself of course :D, there are far too many people to even mention. However, if I were to choose artists, I would take a similar approach to Primavera Sound in having a diverse line up of musical genres and styles to keep a respect for all different artists and what they’re trying to create.”

But she also added the artists who have inspired her the most in her songwriter and career,

“I am a huge fan of Jack White, Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin, The Talking Heads, Billie Holiday, Patti Smith, Florence and the Machine, Kate Bush, Lady Gaga, David Bowie… the list just keeps going on to be honest, but off the top of my head, these artists have all inspired something I’ve written about/how I’ve performed etc at one point or another.”

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Credit: Instagram @meganblackmusic

Just in case there are any festival organisers reading this, here are some suggestions from me of female artists to include in your 2020 line ups: Florence and The Machine, Paloma Faith, Kara Marni, Alice Merton, Solange, Kate Bush, Miley Cyrus, Ada B, Jorja Smith, MARINA, Lorde, Robyn, L’FREAQ, Carly Rae Jepson, Lana Del Rey, Liz Huett, HAIM, Lady Gaga, Alphabeat, Iggy Azalea, Sophie Griffiths, Charlie XCX, Lily Allen, Lorine Chia, Maisie Burke, KT Tunstall, M.I.A, Nina Nesbitt, Dua Lipa, Janelle Monae, Kerry Goodhind, Kate Bush, Nina Kravitz, Kelahni, Tove Lo, Hannah Brown, Phoebe Green, Anne Marie, Camila Cabello, Kara Marni,  Kate Nash, Stevie Nicks, M.I.A, Grace Jones, Kate Tempest, Hannah Wants.

If you’re interested in seeing more from Megan Black, follow her Instagram or find tickets to her next show.