Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs performs on day one of the 2013 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in Indio, California on April 12, 2013.
Coachella is hugely attended by fans, press, and other industry people — last year, the festival drew crowds of around 80,000 people each day over two weekends. Coachella’s packed lineups tend to span many diverse genres and serve multiple generations of music fans, making it seem more inclusive to large audiences than specialized, smaller festivals. Curiously, though, there’s still a considerable blind spot when it comes to the way Coachella is booked: Where, exactly, are all the female performers?
Although most other festivals are no better in this regard, Coachella, which regards itself as a “diverse” leader in the field, is the most indicative of this problem. BuzzFeed analyzed the gender imbalance of Coachella bills by comparing the statistical breakdown of how many female-fronted acts have played not only this year’s festival, but each one since it began. The research conducted under these terms reveals that women musicians have always been severely underrepresented at Coachella. Since its inception in 1999, the average of female-driven acts at Coachella represents about 16% of the total bill, and throughout the festival’s history on the whole, there has never been a year with more than a 25% female lineup. This year was especially disproportionate in terms of gender visibility.
The data becomes even more troubling when one weighs the amount of male top-tier headliners versus female ones at Coachella. Throughout all 13 festivals, exactly two female musicians have appeared at the highest level of its bills — Björk in 2002 and 2007, and Portishead in 2008. This indicates that even when women are booked for the festival, it’s very improbable that they’ll reach higher than a secondary position on the bill, at best. Still, it’s clear from the charts that for the most part, Coachella has made minor steps forward in terms of gender inclusion over the past few years. But this also makes it especially striking that 2013’s bill is among the top five most male-dominated of the festival’s entire run. In a recent interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Coachella founder Paul Tollett had the following to say about selecting performers: “In general, we like the diversity when we’re putting a festival together.” Except, it would seem, when it comes to gender.
Graphic by Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed. Original research by Jane Kelly and Maria Sherman.