Music Festivals Remain a Man's, Man's, Man's World
Photo by Jim Bricker
As we round out the end of the week, all of the festival hangovers from the full-blown fuckery at FPSF have subsided and we're all a bit less foggy, it's time to look back at the festival in a slightly different light. Let's put aside the rants about overpriced water and gripe about something way more important -- let's talk about chicks, man.
I suppose I should clarify. As a chick, I will not be griping about the chicks at the festival, or their choice of attire, or any of the other random catty topic I'd normally be touching upon. What I'm talking about in this here blog post is how blatantly obvious it is that most festivals snub female artists, even as they book them into their lineups on a more regular basis.
Good luck finding more than a scant few female musicians headlining this year's major music festivals. Bjork is at Bonnaroo, making her the only girl to headline the festival over its four days. ACL has not thrown a single female headliner into its mix this year, and Coachella didn't buy into the idea of girls being able to hang with the big boys either. In fact, the desert fest only had an abysmal ten percent of female-fronted acts across its entire lineup, because, well, cool.
Photo by Marc Brubaker
This is not a dig at FPSF, either. Honestly, Houston's homegrown, five-year-old music festival is a rad thing to have around. But given that this is Houston, and we just came off of a sweaty-ass FPSF weekend, it's going to serve as my example here. In years past, FPSF has taken its fair share of flack over lineups that have been light on women in any form, and it appears that they've worked to improve that, with more female artists in the 2013 lineup than ever.
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But it's not just the quantity of female performers, but the type of female performer, booked at FPSF and other big festivals, that makes me wonder if the guys booking these dude-centric events still just don't get it. It's not enough to just throw some females on your lineup to quell the whining about equality and call it a day.
Where are all the female badasses on these lineups? Sure, this year's FPSF had some chicks, but I am going to go out on a limb here and say that these artists were booked less for their musical quality and more for the novelty aspect. I don't care for plenty of male artists who played at FPSF, but I still feel they were booked on their musical validity. The women? Not so much.
Take Kitty Pryde, for instance. It's no secret that I'm not a fan of her music, but that's neither here nor there. Kitty Pryde has little to no musical ability, and she's literally a product of social media; a flavor of the week, if you will. She's hardly an established artist, but nevertheless was chosen to help represent FPSF's female talent.
Perhaps it's because she's got this strange sexuality that is both alluring to men and appalling to women. She meows, flits, and flirts her way through her lyrics to avoid having to put any real effort into making music. It's ridiculous, and it seems to be that she was on that lineup merely because some dudes found her meowing and torn-tights schtick to be intriguing and assumed other dudes would too.
Cat Power is another example of how there was a wide margin between the established male artists booked this year and the female acts. I'm not, by any means, negating the fact that Chan Marshall has got some legit musical prowess, but let's be honest here. Part of the reason for watching her is to see if she fell back into that whole messy meltdown mode.
She's got the ability, to be sure, but has become more of a novelty than anything else thanks to her antics. And she is a recognizable name, in part, because she might throw a tantrum. Oh good. Let's go watch the chick have a meltdown, 'cause it's entertaining and somewhat comfortable to watch a woman throw a fit. We like it when they fit our preconceived notions.
Photo by Marco Torres
The same could be said of many other women booked this year, in one sense or another. Grace Potter? She's gorgeous, and that's intriguing to dudes. La Catrin -- a perfectly capable artist -- well, let's book her and the burlesque troupe Dem Damn Dames, so there's even more sex appeal on the schedule.
That's unfortunate, because the men weren't held to the same (lack of) standards. They were, for the most part, artists with some real clout.
Before you say I'm grasping at straws, let's look at the realities of the rest of the musicians on that lineup. The guys -- whether they be short, fat, old, bald, or totally goblin-like -- were all booked on their musical validity. They're taken seriously; no one went to watch Baroness simply because they had a tragic accident last year or peered over at Jandek because he's oozing sex appeal. They went to watch because those guys are musical badasses.
Iggy Pop? Legend. Ben Gibbard-fronted Postal Service? Huge fan base and total musical street cred. Even Calvin Harris, whether you like his shit or not, was booked not because he's a sideshow act, but because he is a card-carrying artist. So tell me, how did a female artist -- and I use the term "artist" loosely -- like Kitty Pryde, end up on that same bill as the only chick rapper?
And before there are protests about male musicians outnumbering female musicians in the industry in general, I call bullshit. Plenty of female musicians top both the indie and mainstream charts, and no, they aren't all corporate creations and sexed-up dolls, the Ke$has of the world. Believe it or not, there are lady musicians who happen to do more than just play into boring stereotypes.
No women closed out FPSF this year. None. Those artists -- Calvin Harris, The Postal Service, Bassnectar, and Social Distortion -- were all bros, creating a giant testosterone-fest up in Eleanor Tinsley Park, with not a bit of estrogen to break the monotony.
There were also no female DJs, no all-female rock groups, and no legit female rappers. (see earlier in re Kitty Pryde). Even if you count her, there numbers were way skewed in favor of male hip-hop artists; Saturday alone you had Paul Wall, the Geto Boys, 2 Chainz, and Devin the Dude.
And honestly, it's not about finding a perfect 50/50 ratio. It should be about the musicality of the festival first and foremost. There are plenty of rad female musicians, but the ones who do get booked always seem to take a back seat in these dude-heavy lineups, and to these silly, hardly interesting female flavors of the week. Even if the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Bjork aren't your thing, it's important to incorporate some female badasses into the mix.
Photo by Groovehouse
And then when they are represented, it's often under the guise of some post about the "Hottest women of...". We're still having them top lists about festival fashion rather than musical merit, or sticking them in an early time slot with little promotion a la Mavis Staples. Teh lame.
Look. I'm not sounding some battle cry about feminism and how women should share a full half of the bill, but surely these festivals could find a way to throw in a few lady artists somewhere besides the bottom damn half of the lineup, or perhaps book some women who aren't drug up from the musical dregs. All we're doing by putting jokes like Kitty Pride on the festivals like FSPF is reinforcing the wrong-headed stereotype that women can't play music with the big boys.
So, in my honest (girl) opinion, it would have made complete sense to me to have a true female musician somewhere up there with the big boys. There was no reason -- like, none -- that the Alabama Shakes couldn't have closed out Sunday's show in place of Bassnectar. Calvin Harris had already closed Saturday's show, and Bassnectar's show would have been just as decent during the day; just ask Borgore.
I stood through the Shakes' performance midday Saturday, and it was fucking packed. We were all the way at the top of the hill, under a tree, and damn near IN one of the portapotties. The Shakes have the pull to justify a headlining spot, and they certainly have at least an equal-sized fan base as Bassnectar. So perhaps give 'em -- and their badass front woman Brittany Howard -- a chance to show what they've got.
But don't negate the Kitty Prydes of the world, either. She has her use in pop culture, but don't weigh all female musicians with the same scale just because they're female. If they can hang with the headliners, maybe you should let 'em. They might surprise you.
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