Glance over this year’s FYF lineup and something, perhaps subtle to some and glaringly obvious to others, becomes apparent: There’s a definitive lack of white guys with guitars on the bill. Considering the now-massive event was, essentially, launched from a local underground rock scene predominantly built upon the scuzzy riffs of pasty teenage boys — the inaugural 2004 show took place at the Echo and Echoplex (back when the Echoplex was just a banquet hall) and featured the likes of Wires on Fire, Toys That Kill and Horse the Band — the ways in which the festival’s identity has transformed over the years is significant. And, perhaps more importantly, influential.
Between founder Sean Carlson's credibility as a tastemaker and producer Goldenvoice's deep industry ties from 18 years of doing Coachella, FYF is in the position to book pretty much anyone it wants. Last year, the festival presented style, culture and music icon Grace Jones — a unique choice that undoubtedly brought hundreds, if not thousands, of new fans to Jones’ camp, and ultimately went down as one of the best moments in the event’s history. The year before, Carlson and Goldenvoice were able to book Kanye West at the last minute after Frank Ocean dropped from the bill (and then brought in Morrissey the next night, to boot).
Given the event’s power, then, it’s refreshing to see FYF leverage a lineup that features not one but two female headliners, something that has never been done at any of the highest-grossing music festivals in the United States, including Coachella, Outside Lands, Bonnaroo or EDC Vegas. Coachella, for instance, has only booked a female headliner at three of its 18 events: Björk in 2002 and 2007 and Lady Gaga (filling in for Beyoncé) this year. Meanwhile, Outside Lands featured its first female headliner, Lana Del Rey, just last year, despite the fact that the festival has been around for nearly a decade. (Outside Land promoters seem to have learned that putting women at the top of the bill pays off, however, as they’ve given Lorde a headlining slot at this year’s fest.)
Every iteration of a festival has a certain feel to it, and some are decidedly more egalitarian than others. While this year’s FYF lineup as a whole is only about 30 percent women — a number that is progressive in the grand scheme but still leaves a lot of room for improvement — half of the heavy hitters at the top of the bill are women (Missy Elliott, Björk, Erykah Badu, Solange), and all but one of those performers is a person of color. In other words, women (especially black women) have been entrusted by the event’s promoters to bring in a huge chunk of their projected 30,000-person audience, and that’s pretty damn remarkable.
In other places on the ridiculously stacked bill, women represent a multitude of genres, from indie rock (Angel Olsen, Blonde Redhead) to rap (Noname, Kamaiyah) to neo-soul (Kehlani) and even electronic music (The Black Madonna, Kelly Lee Owens), which is historically the most exclusionary genre toward women (year after year, EDM festivals represent the largest gap between number of male and female performers). FYF’s curation of female artists across many realms allows for women to have a presence in every audience member’s FYF journey, no matter what type of music they’re drawn to.
But what is maybe even more impactful than just the increased representation of women on the FYF lineup is the festival's decision to book female artists who put girl power and fearlessness at the forefront of what they do, several of whom are true pioneers for women in music.
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Missy Elliott emerged onstage flaunting a cap with “Queen” emblazoned across it, then delivered a set that reinvigorated the rapper’s status as one of the most progressive performers of the past two decades. Her performance served as a reminder that Elliott was out there pushing boundaries in regards to sexuality, strength and artistic vision long before the likes of Nicki Minaj entered our collective consciousness.
Björk, while giving a comparatively subdued performance (while also looking like a rainbow paper lantern — two things that could only be said in the same sentence when talking about Björk), commanded the audience as she has throughout her career: through unapologetic expression of identity. She is, and always has been, an example to women across the world that they, too, can be larger than life, and it has resulted in her being the most frequently billed female headliner across all U.S. festivals.
Other female and female-fronted artists on the bill, like Cherry Glazerr, Mitski and Princess Nokia, progressively explore the topic of feminism through their lyrics, videos and day-to-day identities. They are at the forefront of a new wave of unafraid women in music, and are invariably recognized for their confidence alongside their talents — something FYF is smart to bring into its own identity, and that it will hopefully continue to push for in years to come.