On Wednesday, The 1975 frontman Matt Healy responded to a call (via Twitter) from Guardian writer Laura Snapes to commit to playing music festivals with “ideally 50%” groups made up of women and nonbinary artists.
Snapes’ call came in response to the just-released Reading and Leeds Festival lineups, which included 20 women artists out of 91 acts. Healy told The Guardian of the people in charge responsible for such lineups, “I’m not saying the people in those roles now are blindly ignorant, but people need a kick up the arse.”
He encouraged his fellow artists to be that kick. “When it comes to big sociopolitical issues and governments are involved, sometimes action or protest can just be ignored. But when it comes to the music industry, we can change that. It’s not a geopolitical nightmare: It’s the music industry, and it’s something that if everyone gets on board, we can fix.”
The Keychange Initiative seeks to do just that; it encourages festivals to commit, as Healy did, to featuring 50% women and nonbinary artists by 2022. 190 festivals, most of them in Europe, have signed on so far.
In the meantime, gender equity remains an issue at festivals worldwide, especially concerning headliners. Coachella 2020 has no female headliners, and this year Lizzo will become Bonnaroo’s first in its almost 20-year history. In 2018, Pitchfork reported that women make up 19% of the average festival lineup.
The composition of festival lineups does matter. A Coachella or Lollapalooza lineup announces who the big players in music are right now; it’s the industry’s big-kids table. Hence the annual fan outrage at their favorite artists’ exclusion or low billing, regardless of whether they’ll actually be going to the festival in question; the Coachella poster doesn’t just state who will be playing that year, it asserts who matters in music.
It’s not only contradictory but actually harmful, then, for such lineups to be so gender-inequitable. Many of the biggest names in music are women; Billie Eilish recently swept the Grammys (with Spotify’s most-streamed album of 2019), Taylor Swift became the American Music Awards’ most-awarded artist of all time, and Beyonce essentially invented the surprise album drop; so those artists’ subsequent exclusion from the festival poster big font is effectively an understatement and undermining of their success.
Perhaps more importantly, a festival’s lineup speaks to each individual festival-goer. Nielsen Music found that in 2018, a quarter of Americans had attended a music festival. 400,000 people attend Lollapalooza each year, numerically qualifying the festival as a city. A festival lineup can then send a message to huge numbers of folks that they are included, welcome, an important part of culture, or that they shouldn’t be onstage.
That’s why Healy said he made the move to commit to booking equitable festivals: “because the people that go to them feel more included and more represented. It’s as simple as that. All the best art for me made me feel personally addressed.”
Watch a 2013 performance by The 1975 from the Paste archives below.