Reading and Leeds Festival (R&L) have announced their six (yes six!) headliners for the 2021 festival, and once again they have failed to book a single headline act with any kind of female performer.
Out of 57 headline slots (including co-headliners) that Reading have had only two of the artists who have performed have had female members; one being Arcade Fire in 2010 which features member Régine Chassagne and the other being Paramore in 2014 who are fronted by Hayley Williams.
In the year 2020 this is inexcusable. There are so many talented female artists out there both on the poppier side of things and in the alternative/rock genre that could have taken up at least one of these six headline slots. HAIM, Dua Lipa, Florence + the Machine, CHVRCHES, Marina, Billie Eilish and Wolf Alice to name a few; yet none of these names were anywhere to be seen on the latest lineup poster.
The critically acclaimed Florence Welch has headlined the prestigious pyramid stage at Glastonbury before with her project Florence + the Machine just as the just announced headliner Stormzy has done, so there is no question about whether she is big enough to be listed as a Reading and Leeds headliner. American alt pop sensation Billie Eilish broke records for having the biggest audience during her midday mainstage appearance at both Reading and Leeds in 2019 and her monthly listeners on the streaming platform Spotify is at over 48,000,000 – guaranteeing her set will draw in even more people that her last R&L appearance. Yes, there is the argument that some of these artists may have been approached and weren’t able to commit to the slot or a financial agreement couldn’t be made, but I refuse to accept that all of these female fronted acts were unavailable.
Although 40% of the currently confirmed artists are female, which is an improvement from Reading and Leeds’ attitude for what would have been this year’s festival, it is still shocking that even with six headline slots not one female will be closing out the festival. When you look further down this poster that R&L have released there is a selection of female names including Doja Cat, Mabel, Beabadoobee and Ashnikko but none of these names are taking up any of the big festival slots and sit in a significantly small font towards the bottom of the poster. Evidently being presented as less significant to the male headliners.
This all just looks too familiar and is exactly what happened when you took a closer look at the 2020 poster. Almost every single female act was on the bottom two rows of each stage in the smallest font and out of the hundred names announced only sixteen were female or had a female artist in them. I remember when this line-up dropped on Twitter earlier this year and the outrage that sparked as a result of this lack of female representation at the festival. However, after the first week or so of the announcement, it seemed as if the issue just disintegrated from people’s minds. Statista reported in 2016 that 60% of UK festival-goers were female, so why are we not seeing more women up on the big stage?
Other major European festivals such as Primavera Sound and Glastonbury have already committed to a 50/50 gender split, so why can’t Reading and Leeds at least make an effort to give the very talented female musicians the recognition they deserve. On their 2020 line-up, Glastonbury managed to achieve a 48% gender split with two of their headliners being women – American sweetheart Taylor Swift would have closed the pyramid stage on one of the evenings and musical icon Diana Ross who would have taken up the Sunday Legends slot.
UK festivals, particularly Reading and Leeds, really need to do a lot better with their female representation and treatment of female artists.
Hopefully as other festivals begin to release their line-ups for next year’s events we will see some women in headline positions. It would be great to see more festivals aiming to achieve a more even gender split with their bookings. If we keep having the same conversation every year about the lack of female bookings, change will be forced to take place and the festival management won’t have any choice but to showcase all of the fantastic female artists that are out there right now.
Photo courtesy of Krists Luhaers