By Forrest Wickman | Posted Wednesday, April 24, 2013, at 3:19 PM
Last week, an article on BuzzFeed asked, “Where Are All the Women at Coachella?”
Coachella is a big outdoor rock music festival every April in the Greater Palm Springs area that appeals to white kids with 3 digit IQs who like electric guitars and new wavier synthesizers. Heck, I even know who some of the bands playing there this year were (e.g., New Order, Social Distortion, Violent Femmes, Dropkick Murphys, Jello Biafra, Sparks, The Selecter, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Vampire Weekend, and OMD).
The conclusion the authors reached was unsurprising. As they had expected, a breakdown of the festival’s lineups by gender showed that, year after year, the bills have been dominated by men. In fact, it wasn’t even close. In this year’s lineup, female-fronted acts represented only a little more than 10 percent of the more than 500 artists who played. The festival hasn’t fared much better in the past: On average, just over 15 percent of the festival’s acts have been fronted by women.
... Perhaps they didn’t want to lob accusations of sexism, which can be uncomfortable, or to face the commenters, who have been mostly vicious and defensive. “There is legitimate gender inequality in the music industry,” says one unusually civil commenter, “but the problem does not lie in Coachella.” “Stupid article,” says another. “This suggests that the actual pool of marketable music acts is 50% male and female-fronted, but festivals are the ones f—— it up. Please.”
I've noticed that professional journalists who are paid to wield Occam's Butterknife are getting angrier and angrier over how they get repeatedly cut to pieces by anonymous commenters wielding Occam's Razor.
The idea behind both comments is that festivals simply reflect disparities within the music industry, which is supposedly dominated by male acts generally. The problem with this line of argument is that it relies on assumptions that simply aren’t true, and have long been outdated. In fact, the festivals are the ones f***** it up, while women practically dominate the music Americans listen to and enjoy.
If that sounds unlikely or surprising, just look at the Billboard charts, about as cold and dispassionate a measure as we have. ... In 2009, women held not just the top spot, but the top five spots, with Taylor Swift leading the way. In 2010, Swift came in at No. 2, while another multitalented singer and songwriter, Lady Gaga, came in at No. 1. In 2011, both these artists were crushed by Artist of the Year Adele, who had both the biggest album and the biggest single of the year, with three other women filling out the top four spots. I
... Still, this doesn’t excuse Coachella. Each of these measures, chosen not by planners but by unplanned democratic consensus, celebrates many more female voices than that festival does.
So am I saying that the organizers in Indio, or the fans they’re trying to please, hate women? No. The problem is larger than that and not nearly so simple. Indeed, most of the big music festivals have the same problem. For this year’s Lollapalooza, the top 13 acts are all fronted by men. At Bonnaroo, Björk is the only woman among the top 10 headliners. Festivals like Outside Lands, Sasquatch, and the electronic music festival Ultra are similarly male-dominated, though Pitchfork—four of whose top six acts this year are great solo female artists—shows that each of these festivals could do better.
Instead, 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.
The basic issue is that rock music traditionally celebrates artistic diversity and innovation, which comes overwhelmingly from men. Women are more conformist and less driven, so they are less likely to push the envelope.
This is a general conundrum in culture in the 21st Century: We are supposed to celebrate diversity and we are supposed to admire the épater le bourgeois spirit that motivated Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and so forth. No problem, right? Except that the épater urge and achievement was — and remains — strongest in white males.