Credit: Phoebe Fox


Last year was such a monumental year for women in music. So it’s utterly disappointing to see U.K. Festivals failing once again to reflect that. We analysis their repeated excuses and see if in 2019 they still stand up?

Writing this report feels like Groundhog Day, once again stepping foot into the annual debate on the lack of female headliners, one that rages every time Reading and Leeds announces its line-up. Over the years there have been some damming reports, most recently Roisin O Connor for the Independent noted that only one headliner in 20 years of Reading and Leeds has been a female.

Reading & Leeds (and the also equally male-centric Wireless Festival) boss Melvin Benn has consistently defended his festivals for years against criticism of the same issue. Back in 2017 Benn said to Newsbeat "The fundamental problem isn't that women don't want to be in bands or on stage - it's that we're [the industry] not giving them the chance to get to that point," he said, talking about his new initiative ReBalance that he claimed in 2017 would place more women on his festival bills. The following two years however his lineups have told a different story. Wireless’s lineup is one such example, which just last year came under fire from not just journalists but the artists themselves with Lily Allen posting a picture of the lineup poster featuring only the women playing… it contained just one act, rising R&B singer Mabel towards the bottom.

This year it feels different though, this year the issue feels so much worse. 2018 was without a doubt a standout year for females in music, across a wide variety of genres. 

When it came to writing my top albums of the year for this very site I discovered the vast majority coincidentally where by a female aritst, including the entire top 5. This was also echoed by a large number of music critics. According to the BBC who compiled 35 different album of the year lists from 2018 to create a definitive ranking. Out of the Top 10 albums of last year, numbers 1 through till 7 were all by a female artist. What is more surprising is each represents a different genre, Kacey Musgraves leads the chart with Country record ‘Golden Hour’, theres straight up pop with Ariana Grande, hip-hop with Cardi B, alternative rock with Mitski and some indescribable genre blending albums from the likes of Robyn and Christine & The Queens.

Unfortunately you’d have to squint fairly hard to see any of these names on UK festival posters this year. The argument that women just aren’t creating music as Benn claims has been clearly disproven… so why isn’t he and other festivals putting women at the top of their lineups? That’s a question only the festival bookers can answer, and hopefully this time with some more sincerity and concern.

Perhaps, our nation can take note of both Europe and America. Coachella despite facing the same criticism in past years has just announced Ariana Grande as their youngest headliner, which will also mark a third successive year a woman has headlined the festival (following in the footsteps of Lady Gaga, and Beyonce). And when talking about female equality enforced lineups, I have to applaud and mention Primavera in Spain which features a complete 50/50 split between genders. A programme they are christening ‘The New Normal’. A bold and hopefully progressive move.


Of course, this has its detractors, most commonly calls of “placing women on the lineup to meet a 50/50 quota”. Just look at that lineup though… Robyn, Cardi B, Christine & The Queens, Carley Rae Jepsen, Sigrid, Solange and thats just the ones that straight away catch my eye. All acts who’ve released critically acclaimed material and songs beloved by fans and consumers globally who just can’t (shockingly) get the break they deserve on the British festival circuit.

You may argue Florence will lead the line-up at BST Hyde Park but once again her position is placed as a co-headliner, you may think this is perhaps a minute, petty detail, yet despite releasing once again critically acclaimed material and headlining Glastonbury she still finds herself unable to lead her own bill. So that means at the time of writing, only one woman, Christine & The Queens is outright headlining a major U.K. festival (All Points East) in 2019.

… lets hope in the next few months I can write that is no longer the case. 

Photo Credit: Phoebe Fox (Reading Festival 2018)