The Glastonbury problem: Why European festivals aren’t struggling with female headliners

Guns'N'Roses will be headlining Glastonbury - but where are the female acts?
Guns'N'Roses will be headlining Glastonbury - but where are the female acts? Copyright Nousha Salimi/AP2010 - ABC
By Jonny Walfisz
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Apparently the all-male headliners for the UK's biggest music festival is a "pipeline" problem. We're not convinced and here's why.

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Glastonbury Festival has recently announced its line-up and the headliners are notably pale, male and stale.

While the UK’s biggest festival’s co-organiser Emily Eavis claims this is a “pipeline” problem, we considered which female acts should be topping the festival’s bill this summer.

For those unaware, Glastonbury is the UK’s premier music festival, attracting over 200,000 people every summer to the luscious fields of south-west England. In December, Eavis announced that Sir Elton John would headline the festival.

Sir John’s placement as a headliner is classic Glastonbury. The festival’s programming is typically eclectic and more pop-orientated than similar rock festivals. As part of his final tour, Glastonbury will be Elton’s final ever UK date - a fitting place for a British classic.

It’s the other two headliners, announced late last week, that people have a problem with. 

Arctic Monkeys return to the headline slot after playing the top bill twice before - in 2007 and 2013. The final slot went to Guns N’ Roses.

The dad rockers are hardly an exciting prospect to anyone with a deep interest in contemporary music. At least Arctic Monkeys released an album last year to justify their set.

Pre-empting the criticism, Eavis spoke to The Guardian to say that she was trying to put female musicians in top billing. “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,” she argued.

Eavis has also claimed that a female performer was in conversation to headline but a change in touring plans led to the booking of Guns N’ Roses.

On Glastonbury lineup poster, Lizzo has been placed alongside the three headliners and above the alphabetical list of other performers. There are only three headline slots though and Lizzo’s placement at the top, despite opening for Guns N’ Roses, could be seen as an attempt to rebuff criticism.

Joel C Ryan/Invision
Singer Billie Eilish performs on the final day of Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm, Somerset, England, Sunday, June 30, 2019.Joel C Ryan/Invision

A lack of female headliners doesn’t seem to be as big of a problem at many of the major European music festivals. 

Previous Glastonbury headliners Billie Eilish (2022) and Florence + The Machine (2015) have top billing at France’s Rock en Seine, Belgium’s Pukkelpop and Hungary’s Sziget. At Madrid, Barcelona and Porto triple-locationed festival Primavera, the six headliners include Halsey and Rosalía.

It’s clearly not that hard to book female acts in headline positions, so we thought we’d have a go suggesting some. Unlike Guns N’ Roses, an act with almost no contemporary relevance, all the acts suggested make some sense as a booking in 2023. 

To make it fair, here are some basic rules:

  1. All acts suggested must have had a new album released in the past three years that is of a similar success level to Arctic Monkeys’ 2022 album The Car.
  2. Any legacy act must be currently touring, just like Elton John who’s on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour.
  3. Artists can’t have played for at least two editions of Glastonbury.

Lots of great artists have been excluded by this policy. Lady Gaga falls afoul of rule 1. Rumoured for 2024, Rihanna is excluded by rule 2, as despite a Super Bowl performance, there’s no indication she’ll tour anytime soon. And as last year’s headliner, Billie Eilish can’t feature due to rule 3.

Without further ado, here are our top 10 suggestions for artists who could have replaced Guns N’ Roses at Glastonbury.

Lizzo

Eavis herself said Lizzo could headline, but the slot was already promised to Guns N’ Roses. It’s likely that an egotist like Axl Rose is hardly going to allow a younger performer like Lizzo to swap places, but since ‘Truth Hurts’, Lizzo has had audiences enraptured with her energetic performances and single-handed renaissance for woodwind instruments.

Lana Del Rey

Another female artist already booked to perform at this year’s Glastonbury but listed in the main body of the poster instead of the top, Del Rey has been vocal about her displeasure at the line-up announcement, snarkily writing: “Thanks for announcing that I was headlining the other stage. Thumbs up” on her Instagram post.

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She’s apparently threatened to pull out, but that would be a damn shame as Del Rey is one of the best artists currently releasing music today. Bursting onto the scene with 2011’s ‘Video Games’, Del Rey has consistently released her unique brand of Americana pop over nine albums.

Jonathan Short/Jonathan Short/Invision/AP
U.S singer Lana del Rey performs at Glastonbury music festival, England, Saturday, June 28, 2014.Jonathan Short/Jonathan Short/Invision/AP

Taylor Swift

Rumour has it, Taylor Swift is the female artist that had to pull out due to a scheduling conflict. 

Swift was originally booked to play the 2020 edition of the festival that was cancelled due to Covid-19. Since then, she’s released not one but three albums - including last year's 'Midnights' - and two re-recordings.

Swift is about to go on a world tour and the dates haven’t given her a chance to be at the festival, but it doesn’t change how obvious she is as a choice for a headline slot.

Beyoncé

Queen Bee returned to the charts this year with the undeniably brilliant 'Renaissance'. The dance-hall influenced tracks would be incredible in a festival setting and Beyoncé is currently preparing for a world tour that includes five nights in London.

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Beyoncé has played Glastonbury before, headlining in 2011, so she knows the festival well and would knock it out the park all over again.

Joel Ryan/AP2011
U.S singer Beyonce performs on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury Music Festival, Sunday, June 26, 2011.Joel Ryan/AP2011

Adele

Glastonbury loves to celebrate British talent, and who in the last decade has showcased the Isles’ musical brilliance more than Adele?

Her triumphant return with 2021’s album '30' hasn’t had many opportunities for performances with a Las Vegas residency cancelled unexpectedly. A previous headline set for Glastonbury in 2016 was a hit and it’s time she returned.

Madonna

Another artist with rumours circling for 2024, Madonna is an equivalent legend to Elton John, to the extent that having both in one weekend might be too much to handle. Nonetheless, the Queen of Pop is about to start her first world tour since before the pandemic.

Madonna has never played Glastonbury, so it stands to reason Eavis should be begging for her to turn up sometime soon.

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HAIM

A lot of the suggestions so far have been on the poppier side, so it seems only fair to give some space to an incredible all-women rock band that’s taken the music scene by storm in recent years. We're huge fans here at Euronews Culture

The Haim sisters third album 'Women in Music Pt. III' was a pandemic release, and they’ve been touring extensively since it became more possible in 2022. They were third billing on the main stage below Paul McCartney and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds at the previous year festival, but they’re definitely ready for the top slot. 

East London open-air festival All Points East agrees, as they've just confirmed that the American indie-rock trio will headline the festival this summer. 

Björk

The reason why Glastonbury Festival should have Björk is because everything should have more Björk. 

The Icelandic eccentric released her tenth album 'Fossora' last year and took inspiration from mushrooms and other kinds of fungi. Naturally.

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Björk has currently been touring with an orchestra with reworked versions of her classics. It’s been 16 years since she last came to Glastonbury. Eavis, what are you waiting for?

JON SUPER/AP
Bjork performs on the first day of the Glastonbury music festival in Glastonbury, England, Friday, June 22, 2007.JON SUPER/AP

Florence + The Machine

In 2015, Florence + The Machine were pushed to the top slot after Foo Fighters had to drop out due to Dave Grohl breaking his leg. 

Instead of dad-rock, Florence Welch put in one of the most vital sets of the festival's history. With a new album out last year, 'Dance Fever', it’s time to bring her back as a deserved first choice for headliner.

Dua Lipa

There were so many more choices to pick from, but our tenth pick goes to British-Albanian pop sensation Dua Lipa. 

Her debut album is the most streamed female album on Spotify and her second effort 'Future Nostalgia' is exactly as the title suggests - an 80s nostalgia-trip packaged in some of the most innovative pop tunes we’ve heard in years. Where is her headline slot, Eavis?

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