Coachella’s 2018 lineup features a record number of women, which is good because the festival’s “female problem” in previous years has been well-documented. And, each year, Coachella has slowly increased the number of women in its lineup in response. This year sees the most significant increase by the numbers, up to 33% women from a past high of only 25%.
However, this is not just a Coachella problem, it is a problem for all music festivals. Not only do men dominate all festival lineups, but the likelihood that women will appear on the bill shrinks as the names get bigger. Last year, Lady Gaga was the second female headliner in the history of the festival — Björk is the only other female headliner, landing in the top spot in both 2002 and 2007. That means that in 18 years, Coachella has only deemed three women to be worthy of a headline slot.
Rather than a DJ-heavy lineup like years past, breakout and streaming-friendly R&B and rap artists are featured this year with acts including Cardi B, Migos, SZA, and 6lack. When women can succeed in these genres, it is often record-setting because they are heavily male-dominated. For example, when Nicki Minaj’s album Pink Friday went platinum at the end of 2010, she was the first female rap artist in nearly a decade to reach that milestone. Cardi B’s single “Bodak Yellow” is the first song by a solo female hip hop artist to top the charts since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” in 1998.
This shift proves that a key factor in choosing who headlines and how represented women will be is the festival attendees who buy the tickets. We know festival planners are taking streaming numbers and chart positions into account — the overall genre shift bears that idea out. If fans were to support more female artists, it could be reflected at Coachella next year and the years to come. At the end of the day, the music industry is a business, and consumers have the ultimate final say.
In a post-EDM world, rock is also becoming less and less of a focus for Coachella. For the first time in its nearly 20-year history, Coachella will not have a rock band as one of its headliners, although the festival is not entirely lacking in this area. St. Vincent, one of the most visible women in rock, and HAIM, the genre-crossing family band, both have highly placed slots this year.
While many might not suspect it given that rock bands have historically been comprised of men, the genre has added a considerable amount of new talent in recent years, many of whom are women. So much so that the New York Times ran a feature celebrating the women in the rock and DIY-punk music space. It feels like Coachella is abandoning the genre as more women are picking up their guitars and coming into their own, just outside the mainstream.
An important thing to note about 2018’s lineup: the women billed to perform this year at Coachella, while still far fewer than men, represent diversity and inclusion in more ways than just genre. It is imperative that more women are included in festival lineups, and it is just as momentous that there is equal representation for a diverse group of artists. Beyoncé is the first woman of color to headline Coachella. That it took the festival this long to meet that milestone is stupefying.
One could make the argument that festivals are not responsible for the gender disparities present in their lineups, but rather, they are indicative of an issue which has long-existed within a notoriously male-dominated profession. More women have been making progress as producers, managers, and music photographers as well as performers which only helps to create equality in the industry. Fans can speak with their streaming choices, but it is just as important to have women in decision making roles — including in Goldenvoice, who book Coachella. When there are more women in greater positions of influence in the industry as a whole, there will be more women advocating for each other to have a place in it.
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