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Glastonbury 2023 Angers Fans and Music Industry With No Female Headliners

A band plays to a handful of music fans at the end of day five of Glastonbury Festival 2022.

Recently, Glastonbury—one of Europe’s biggest music festivals—finally announced its 2023 lineup, with the festival taking place June 21–25. In total, there are 54 acts playing, curated to reflect “every aspect of diversity” … and yet, there are no women headlining the festival, let alone any people of color.

Indeed, the headliners are the Arctic Monkeys, Guns N’ Roses, and Elton John—three performances largely led by men, and great assets to any festival, no doubt … yet all the same, male-led performances that have been around the block already. Elton John, I can at least understand, given that after this year, he’ll officially retire from touring in the U.K. But the Monkeys? The Roses? What have they done to definitively solidify a spot ahead of all the other showstoppers in this lineup?

In a lineup featuring the likes of Lana Del Rey, Rina Sawayama, and, oh yeah, Lizzo (whose placement on this bill is misleading, as she’s opening for the Roses), it feels a little ridiculous and servile to insist that the headline be organized in this way. However, I also understand that, in the music world, it’s easy to feel like your hands are tied. Glastonbury’s co-organizer, Emily Eavis, maintained that headlines are fairly rigid, and that while someone like Lizzo could definitely headline at Glastonbury, the slots are usually promised to someone from the jump.

What I find a little confusing is the duality of alleging this sort of rigidity, while also acknowledging that femme acts need more of a leg-up:

The music industry needs to invest in more female musicians to create future headliners, said Eavis. “We’re trying our best so the pipeline needs to be developed. This starts way back with the record companies, radio. I can shout as loud as I like but we need to get everyone on board.”

Next year’s festival should see two women headline, said Eavis – one confirmed, one close, and both of them Glastonbury first-timers. Rihanna and Madonna are among the top-billing acts who have never played the festival.

Eavis said that as a woman in the music industry she saw the matter as a personal issue, recalling the days where there was only one woman working as a live booking agent. “It’s top of our agenda, and it probably makes it a bit harder because we’ve decided to make that important to us. To be honest, sometimes it’s easier to keep your head down.”

The Guardian, in conversation with Emily Eavis

I’m sympathetic to all of this, I truly am. I understand that in order to succeed in an industry you really want to succeed in, you sometimes feel pressured to make concessions, ESPECIALLY as a woman. As well as this, Eavis is the daughter of the festival’s founder, so she likely feels the need to play along with traditional demands in order to keep the operation running.

All the same, I find the criticisms against this year’s headline to be absolutely justified, because Glastonbury consistently brings in good numbers each year, and therefore it doesn’t need to pull in the money-confirming Big Boys of Music Past. As it is, the article confirms that G&R were a replacement for a female performer who had to cancel, and that they were specifically chosen to “provide something totally different to the rest of the headliners.”

This rings a little sour to me, considering Eavis’ assertion that the festival wanted to stand out via its diverse array of performers. If that’s really the case, what are you saying by allowing an old, traditionally masculine band (whose only recent release was an album of remasters) to win out in favor of another woman, like Carly Rae Jepsen, or even one of the lineup’s queer performers, like Lil Nas X? Or I mean, come on, just someone a little more with the times?

This also stood out to me, thinking back to her compulsion to keep her head down:

The John Peel stage would also be renamed Woodsies, said Eavis, part of a push to name stages after the fields that they stand in, such as West Holts and Silver Hayes. “We’ve had 20 years of John Peel and it’s been an honour to use his name.”

The shift was not a response to a minor 2022 petition calling for a name change owing to Peel having married a 15-year-old girl when he was 25 (then legal in Texas, where they were wed). “I haven’t got involved in that because it’s not our area,” said Eavis. “We’ve had a really good relationship with the Peel family and everyone’s on board.”

It’s increasingly apparent to me that many members of older generations don’t find all this age-gap, gender-gap talk to be worth discussing. The defense I often hear is, “It wasn’t a big deal back then, so why should we care now?” But the thing is, these conversations are important, especially if you publicly claim to be a feminist as Eavis does, because they’re linked to sexism in the industry in tangible ways. Regardless of the festival’s relationship with the Peel family, John Peel is still on record having said, “All [young girls] wanted me to do was abuse them, sexually, which, of course, I was only too happy to do.” He’s got a whole history of ick behind him, which I’m too icked out by to go into further.

Ultimately, what I’ve taken away from this headline mess is that, at the end of the day, Glastonbury very well could have put women in the front of the festival, and it wouldn’t have come at any great cost or effort. They just chose not to, for reasons fueled by fiscal paranoia and archaic standards. Part of being a feminist with power in the industry is using your power to advocate for women performers, and while I’m sure the ins and outs of organizing are riddled with their own challenges, it’s still disappointing to see femme musicians get shafted yet again. We shouldn’t have to fight for replacement slots, or for a stage on the outskirts of a venue—we should be considered with as much merit as the boys are.

As it is, most of the tweets I see about the festival are Lana-related, as in, “I’m only going to the festy for Lana LOL.” So, I mean, shit. Missed Opportunity City.

(featured image: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

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Madeline (she/her) is a writer, dog mom, and casual insomniac. Her prior experiences with media have taken her down many different roads, from local history podcasts to music coverage & production. Niche interests include folk music, elves/wizards, and why horses are cool actually.