On Thursday night, the lineup for this year’s Coachella festival was announced, and of course, there was a lot to process. When I saw the lineup, several important questions came to mind. Is Rage Against the Machine still a thing? Is this sh*t still owned by Trump supporters? Which Bachelor rejects will be the thirstiest this year? (The answers are I guess so, yes, and TBD.) But most importantly, I had to wonder—where the f*ck are the women?
Since the first Coachella in 1999, the festival has done a sh*tty job of putting women on its biggest stages, with men filling 54 of the 59 headlining slots over the last 21 years. After Björk’s second headlining appearance in 2007, it took Coachella a full decade to book another female headliner, but it finally looked as if some important progress was being made. The last three years each featured a female headliner, with Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Ariana Grande all turning in showstopping performances to packed crowds. But apparently the festival organizers weren’t really so committed to that representation, because this year’s festival is just a f*ckton of male performers.
While it would seem like a logical step (and a good PR move) to try having not one, but TWO female headliners (can you even imagine??), this year’s Coachella lineup has zero. This year’s headliners are Rage Against the Machine (who return for their third headlining slot), Travis Scott, and Frank Ocean. They’re all talented performers, and they didn’t do anything wrong here. And yes, we’re all so excited to see Frank Ocean finally grace the stage, we could die. Still, I’m not super impressed with the festival organizers’ decision to not at least have a female performer headline one day out of three. Like, what the hell, was Lizzo busy?
In particular, fans were upset about the choice of headliner for day three, where Lana Del Rey was relegated to the second row. Lana is coming off a year where she released her most critically-acclaimed album to date, is nominated in two major categories at the Grammys, and has announced that she’ll release another album this year. Whether or not she’s more famous than the other headliners is debatable, but she’s certainly famous enough to justify a headlining position, and that’s what’s so frustrating. Whether or not the organizers actually care about equal representation, they could’ve just made Lana the headliner, and then I probably wouldn’t even be writing this article. But alas, they don’t care, so here we are.
Lana Del Rey's name being JUST below this year's Coachella headliner after releasing what's arguably her strongest album to date is…something else. https://t.co/i9zGzrxFKG
— Pusha Bi. (@BiancaEnRogue) January 3, 2020
The lack of a female headliner is disappointing, but taking a look at the rest of the lineup is even more depressing. Out of the 22 top-billed artists on the 2020 lineup, only six are women. SIX. Less than 30%. It seems like a shockingly low number, especially after a year where so many women were at the top of the music industry, but sadly, it’s not that surprising. At Coachella in 2019, women also took up just six of the top 22 spots. In 2018, the number was even lower, with just five out of 22. It’s great to see dynamic female artists (especially WOC) like Megan Thee Stallion, Summer Walker, and FKA twigs getting prime placement this year, but it seems crazy that the disparity is so great, and it’s clearly a consistent issue.
This is a double pronged issue: Coachella should a do a better job booking top female talent, but they should also take a harder look at the placement of artists on their lineup. Someone like Charli XCX, who has hundreds of millions of Spotify streams and opened for Taylor Swift on her most recent tour, could easily have been bumped up to a higher billing. Ditto for Anitta, dubbed the Queen of Brazilian Pop, who has broken down international barriers (and has 43 million Instagram followers). While lineup placement might seem like a small thing to worry about, lower-billed artists get paid significantly less, and placement at a major event like this can also have an impact on artists’ booking fees in the future. Essentially pushing women down the lineup, Coachella is holding back their earning potential.
I think one of the main issues here is that the organizers don’t really have stakes anymore. No matter what they do, the festival continues to sell out faster than ever, and brands and influencers plan their year around making the most of those two weekends in the desert. Along with the lineup announcement yesterday, Coachella announced that weekend one is already sold out—people are buying tickets for an experience, not because of anyone on the lineup. If the festival never feels pressure to do better, or change with the times, it’s no wonder that there hasn’t been nearly enough progress.
And while it’s easy to use the Coachella lineup to bring up the issue of representation, it’s an issue that is pervasive throughout the music industry. According to Women in Music, the music business is roughly 70% men, which isn’t so different from the percentage of top acts at Coachella this year. While Coachella can, and should, do better, the entire music business needs to do the same.
Images: Coachella / Instagram; biancaenrogue / Twitter