Why did it take so long for women to be represented at Coachella?

Jessica Wang
Why did it take so long for women to be represented at Coachella?

The Coachella 2018 lineup is here, and headliners Beyoncé, Eminem, and The Weeknd will kick off the two-weekend festival along with performers like breakout artist Cardi B, SZA, and Portugal. The Man — among many others. More notably, there’s a larger influx of women in the 2018 lineup, following consistent criticism that the festival’s faced for its lack of female representation. So why did it take so long for women to be represented at Coachella?

In an examination of Coachella headliners from the past few years — think AC/DC, Jack White, and Drake in 2015, as well as LCD Soundsystem, Guns N’ Roses, and Calvin Harris in 2016 — gender ratios have remained prevalently imbalanced since its inaugural 1999 festival. And publications took note, with the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, and Refinery29 writing scathing commentaries on the festival’s culmination of bros and dubbing it with a more fitting term, “Brochella.”

But Slate, in an article titled The Real Reason Summer Festivals Have So Few Women, nailed the cultural analysis of festivals best — citing an industry deeply rooted in male-dominated spaces despite women dominating music charts. Forrest Wickman, Slate’s culture editor, writes:

“The real problem at most of these festivals lies in the alternative subcultures they celebrate. Formed out of the male-dominated music scenes of jam music (in the case of Bonnaroo), late-’90s indie rock (Coachella), and early ’90s alternative and grunge (Lollapalooza), these festivals tend to celebrate diversity while dismissing the most popular pop acts—the ones who tend to dominate the charts and who tend so often to be female—as frivolous or corporate. As the festivals expand beyond their narrow roots, maybe fans and organizers should start to take the commercially and critically successful female acts they currently deride more seriously.”

Wickman’s ideas of the trivialization of female entertainers are nothing new, as women and their work are often dismissed in various professional spaces. But still, Wickman’s ideas highlight the importance of dismantling male-dominated spaces once and for all. As for why it took nearly twenty years to achieve equilibrium in music festivals, the multifaceted reasons appear to be rooted in male privilege. But with Beyoncé (as well as other notable women and women of color performers) billed as Coachella 2018’s headliner, this year is certainly a step in the right direction.

After a polarizing year for women that saw scores of sexual misconduct allegations and underrepresentation in both media and politics (among other things), it’s refreshing that Coachella has seemingly taken the time to listen to calls for wider representation of women and women of color. Perhaps the near future of Coachella will see major headliners composed solely of women and women of color. A girl can dream.