Beyoncé made history over the weekend. She became the first black woman to headline the Coachella music festival in a stunning two-hour display of her singing, dancing and step skills.
The next morning, #Beychella was trending across the Internet.
It’s still a bit surprising that one of the largest music festivals in the country didn’t roll out the red carpet to Queen Bey earlier. (She was scheduled to perform at Coachella last year but dropped out per her doctor’s advice while she was pregnant.)
Take a step back from this year’s surprisingly inclusive line-up, and you’ll notice it wasn’t just Beyoncé who has been snubbed in the years leading up to this moment, but dozens of other big-name artists.
Why are music festivals so male-centric when both women and men attend in droves?
The answer is bigger than festivals themselves. Like the Grammys or even the Oscars, one of the biggest challenges facing women in the music industry goes back to the lack of access. A study from USC Annenberg published last year revealed women were less represented on the charts in 2017 than they were six years ago. The study looked at Billboard Hot 100 year-end charts from 2012 to 2017 and evaluated gender and race/ethnicity for six years of Grammy nominations.
Of the songs that charted, only 16.8 percent of them were by women artists. The study’s behind-the-music stats only get grimmer: “12.3 percent of songwriters of the 600 most popular songs of the last six years were women, while 2 percent of producers across 300 songs were female. For producers, this translates into a gender ratio of 49 males to every female.”
This marginalization is also at the center of music’s #MeToo movement. Kesha’s lawsuit against her producer, Dr. Luke, should have been a wake-up call to an industry where men hold the majority of power over – mainly young – female artists. This was the case with Kesha, as details of her legal battle reveal her claims that Dr. Luke had raped her and threatened to end her career if she spoke out against him.
Kesha’s story is an emblematic case in a long history of demeaning the control artists have over their music and not believing women. But even once you’ve established your sound, topped the charts and hit the road, there’s little guarantee you’ll be booked into shows or headline at venues.
A look at the artists that played last year’s festival circuits finds a handful of women regularly toured through the season. Lorde, Solange, and Tegan and Sara were all festival regulars (playing more than five shows each), but only Solange got the top bill at Pitchfork.
The lineups of past Coachellas already look antiquated in the wake of Beyoncé’s performance. But on-stage diversity does more than just put Bey on stage, it invites different fans into the festival space, which tends to be heavily white and sometimes offensively appropriative of other cultures. In 2013, less than 5 percent of Coachella’s attendees identified as black.
Leaving underrepresented artists on the sidelines also means they’re not getting a cut of the big festival shows, which might be crucial financially and promotionally for up and comers.
The student paper of Berklee College of Music proposed last year that inclusivity would also diversify the acts, leading to more interesting festivals and extra incentive for concertgoers to shell out money for those pricey tickets. That’s a real industry threat, as regional festivals keep growing and more or less copying each others’ ideas, audiences may be more likely to stay home. Curing that issue may be as easy as “don’t rely on the same 10 bands for the whole summer.”
There’s a concerted effort by some festival organizers to shake up their line-ups and make them more representative of the crowds than the music industry. Now, the industry needs to follow through with their promise and lend other women artists the chance to follow in Beyoncé’s footsteps.