Splendour in the Grass‘ 20th anniversary lineup is facing backlash, with many observing a major gender imbalance. But is it justified? 

Splendour In The Grass just announced its 2020 lineup, with Flume, The Strokes and Tyler, The Creator topping the bill. You’ll notice that none of those artists include women or non-binary members. So has Splendour failed on gender diversity?

Let’s crunch the numbers

We’re just going to survey the official personnel of acts included in the first lineup announcement. So potential guest vocalists or touring musicians won’t be taken into consideration, and we’ve also put aside the mix-up DJs.

93 acts (solo artists, duos, bands) feature in SITG’s first lineup announcement. Of the 93, 40 include women or genderqueer individuals. In percentage terms that means 43% of the SITG acts include female/non-binary members.

Watch: Alex the Astronaut – I Think You’re Great

How does SITG compare to other major festivals?

Just 20 of the 91 (22%) acts announced for the Reading & Leeds festival include women/genderqueer members. This prompted The 1975’s Matty Healy to commit to only accepting festival bookings if there are at least 50% women or non binary performers on the lineup.

Acts featuring women make up 36% of this year’s Coachella lineup, but none of the festival’s three major headliners are women. Rage Against the Machine, Travis Scott and Frank Ocean lead the way, while the second-tier headliners are also predominantly men. Lana Del Rey is the only name to show up in the top ten artists listed.

The fact SITG trumps both Coachella and Reading & Leeds in this regard indicates they’re not oblivious to gender diversity, but are making an effort to counter the industry’s typical imbalance.

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Watch: Lana Del Rey – Doin’ Time

What about Australian acts?

52 of SITG’s 93 acts are Australian or Australian-based. 23 of the 52 Australian acts include women (44%). All up there are 87 men and 27 female/non-binary members. That means 23.7% of the Australian performers are women or non-binary.

Despite women being a definite minority here, these numbers aren’t out of step with APRA’s membership. The APRA website states that “only 21.7% of APRA writer members identify as female.” This means Splendour has outdone the national average, and points towards a bigger issue in the music industry.

Is Splendour at fault?

Festivals respond to consumer demand. Labels, booking agencies, radio programmers and industry organisations like APRA have a huge influence over which artists are given opportunities for career advancement.

It’s not that festivals can’t be leaders, but a major event like Splendour in the Grass needs to sell a lot of tickets if it’s to continue. The easy retort is “why would you assume that having more female artists would negatively impact ticket sales?” And it’s a fair point, but if you look at the streaming and airplay numbers in Australia then it seems like SITG are trying to be leaders.

According to Spotify, women featured in 32 of Australian listeners’ 100 most streamed songs of 2019. According to triple j’s Hack, “21% of the top 100 most-played tracks on Australian radio stations in 2018 were by solo female acts or all-female groups.” The number rose to 27% when you included acts featuring both men and women.

What about triple j? A record-breaking six women featured in the top ten of the Hottest 100 of 2019. Overall, 29 songs came from female artists or all-female groups and a further 14 songs were from artists including both male and female members. So that’s 43% – the same as the number of SITG acts to include female/non-binary members.

So what do we make of all this?

Decades of boys-club mentality and systemic barriers have made it harder for female/genderqueer individuals to break through in the music industry. These days stations like triple j are clearly prioritising female/non-binary artists, but it’s fair to presume it’ll take a few years before this equates to a commercial sure-thing for festivals like Splendour.

Similarly APRA has “implemented initiatives and programs” to create more opportunities for women, but it’s naive to expect this’ll produce a raft of big-ticket festival headliners overnight.

Yes, more can be done to raise the number of female/genderqueer performers at music festivals. Of Splendour’s ten headliners, just one act (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) features a woman; it’s the sorest point of the lineup. But the total figure of 43% is ahead of national radio numbers and Spotify streams. Likewise, with 23.7% of Australian performers being women/non-binary, the Splendour lineup exceeds APRA’s membership figures.