coachella has only had one female headlining artist in its entire history

Björk played headlining sets in 2002 and 2007. She’s the only solo female artist to have ever done so.

by Emily Manning
Jan 6 2016, 6:20pm

Björk at Coachella 2007

On Monday night, Coachella released its highly anticipated 2016 lineup. Billboard dubbed it history-making, as it's the first time the world's highest grossing music festival has placed two dance/electronic acts -- the newly reunited LCD Soundsystem and Calvin Harris -- in headlining slots. You know what's not so history-making? In its nearly 17 year history, Coachella has only had one female solo artist perform headlining sets: Björk.

Arcade Fire -- a rotating outfit of some 12 musicians, two of whom are female -- headlined the festival in 2014, female powerhouses like Siouxsie Sioux, Madonna and MIA placed highly on past bills, and the 2016 lineup sees more female-fronted acts than ever before (27% reports Mic, when the usual average is around 16%). And yet, the Icelandic mother of electronica remains Coachella's only female headlining performer, having played top slot sets in both 2002 and 2007.

In a think piece published yesterday, Billboard's Chris Payne explored why Coachella's gender inequality might persist. It doesn't make much sense for top-tier pop stars like Beyonce, Rihanna, or Katy Perry to play festival sets when their own elaborate tours draw festival-sized crowds and dollars (Taylor Swift's 1989 tour is now the 17th highest grossing of all time, having raked in $250 million last year). But, Payne argues, slightly less massive artists like Ellie Goulding, Lorde, and Lana Del Rey should certainly be considered for those slots.

Part of the gender equality issue is probably due to Coachella's alt-rock roots (a very gendered genre) and its penchant for persuading acts out of quasi-retirement for reunion shows. Sure, who wouldn't book a Guns & Roses classic lineup when it's been over 20 years since the band shared the stage? But why isn't Coachella banging down Britney Spears, Missy Elliott, Blondie, or even Fleetwood Mac's doors? Dolly Parton drew larger crowds than both Arcade Fire and Metallica at her 2014 Glastonbury set.

We're stoked that Coachella's 2016 lineup is making a push for more established and emerging female-fronted acts on the bill. But it's definitely time more of music's most important women start being heard. 


Text Emily Manning
Image via Flickr Creative Commons