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Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, The Isle Of Wight, Latitude – all big hitters on the UK festival scene, all summertime rites of passage for scores of generation Z’s –  and all have one big problem in common – female headliners.

With Billie Eilish headlining Glastonbury this summer – it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that inequality within the music industry is all in the past, when in fact Eilish will be only the 5th woman to be named a headliner in the festival’s fifty-plus years history (joining Beyoncé, Adele, Florence and the Machine and Taylor Swift who was due to headline in 2020 before Covid lead to Glastonbury being cancelled.)

But it’s not just Glastonbury – this festival-wide idiosyncrasy has been recognised for years.  In 2017 two major projects were launched to try and level-up the imbalance and create a more inclusive music industry for present and future generations – ReBalance and KeyChange – but five years on, it appears little has changed.

In a 2019 interview with the BBC Emily Eavis (co-organiser of the annual Glastonbury Festival) spoke about the discrepancy …

“I’m ashamed to say that, within our organization, there’s men who book stages, and quite a few of them are old men and they don’t understand why I’m pushing all the time.  One of them presented their line-up this year and I was like, ‘I’m really sorry but you’re just going to have to take some of the blokes off. There’s no women.’ And they were like, ‘Oh for God’s sake, you’ve lost your mind.’  I know they’re labelling me as a real hassle and it’s such a pain. They’re like, ‘Shut up,’ and, ‘It wasn’t like this when your dad was in charge.’  But if you want to make progress you just have to do it, and you have to be up for being a bit of an annoyance.  We’re nowhere near where we need to be. We’re making slow progress, but there’s still a long way to go.”

It’s brilliant to hear that Glastonbury organisers are pushing so hard for change but progress comes at a dishearteningly slow pace.  Just like putting together a festival line-up, when our team are curating a musical line-up for one of the brands we represent, as we do every day for our clients, diversity has to be at the centre of our musical decision-making because if we don’t – we know a huge section of our audience will feel excluded – which is the last thing we want.

Hope on the festival circuit comes in the form of a more recent generation of events – this year’s Wireless will be hosting an exclusively female line-up across it’s Finsbury Park event with Cardi B, SZA and Nicki Minaj taking the top spots, whilst over half the performers at Hertfordshire festival, Standon Calling are female and non-binary artists, and Strawberries & Creem in Cambridge says 60% of its artists this year are female or non-binary, with Ella Mai, Mabel and Tems headlining alongside Lil Wayne.

Festivals have always been an inclusive environment, not just accepting of but revelling in the differences that make us all unique and yet equal at the same time.  Let’s hope future line-ups come to reflect this in a more representative way.


Written by Helen Warner, Client & Content Manager at AVC Immedia.