The percentage of women performing at Voodoo remained stagnant from last year with only one woman occupying a headlining slot. Sort of.
Voodoo Music + Arts Experience isn’t actively improving the number of women it books. The gender breakdown of the festival this year isn’t moving in the wrong direction, but it isn’t moving in the right direction either. Voodoo is doing slightly better than Buku, and slightly worse than Jazz Fest, but is in basically the same place as last year.
Voodoo isn't alone in this situation; festival booking is notorious for its gender inequality. In 2013, Buzzfeed’s Amy Rose Spiegel, Chris Ritter and Maria Sherman investigated Coachella lineups and found that between the festival's inception in 1999 and that year, lineups that were on average 16 percent female-fronted, and that number never reached 25 percent in that time. That article prompted other writers to similarly scrutinize other festival lineups almost yearly since, and progress across the board has been so incremental that it’s easy to miss it. In 2018, 72 percent of the acts playing Voodoo were male-fronted acts, while 27 percent were female-fronted. This year, 71 percent are male-fronted acts and 28 percent are female-fronted acts. There doesn’t appear to be any urgency to even out this gender inequality, which is a surprise since this critique has been in the air for six years now. Voodoo promoters C3 have been aware of the issue since 2013 when Abby Johnston asked them for a comment for her article on the gender composition of festival lineups for Salon.com because they also book Lollapalooza and ACL, two of the festivals examined in her piece.
This year, the female-fronted acts came from the bottom half of the talent lineup, with a surprising number of female DJs. While this shows that they’re trying to bring smaller, up-and-coming female artists to a larger audience, this has hardly translated to headlining slots. The lone exception is REZZ, who closes out the Le Plur Stage for the weekend. The prestige of that booking is muted though since she doesn't appear until the third line of the lineup, behind the other headliners and non-headliners Brandi Carlile and The National.
Bookers can only get artists that are available, and major acts such as Adele, Rihanna, and Beyoncé show little interest in the festival experience these days. But there are relevant female-fronted acts such as Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Cardi B, and Florence and the Machine who have all headlined festivals recently. Florence and the Machine headlined Voodoo in 2015, and Eilish played the C3-booked ACL the last two weekends. Last year, C3 booked Childish Gambino to play both festivals, and when he had to cancel, it booked Travis Scott as his replacement at both festivals. This year, it booked Guns 'N Roses for both festivals. That doesn't mean Eilish was available this weekend, but C3 has shown it is able to get artists to play ACL and Voodoo.
Voodoo works to position itself as both timely and classic, and this year’s headliners, Beck, Post Malone, and Guns N’ Roses, exemplify that in a particularly lackluster way. I’ve yet to see major excitement about any of the three headliners on the Ritual stage, but they do technically fit the brand that Voodoo has built for itself. Voodoo has had a hard rock and alternative rock base since its beginning, and the festival has worked to maintain a guitars-firs posture, even when it needed to cater more heavily to younger fans as well. Le Plur embodies that impulse, and Post Malone works to usher in the fest's younger attendees toward the Ritual stage. Guns N' Roses definitely satiates the hard rock component, with Beck falling somewhere slightly askew from both. But these don’t feel like bold choices, and there are plenty of women who would fill those slots better. Billie Eilish has skyrocketed in the past year, especially amongst teenagers who make up a large portion of Voodoo’s attendees. In 2018, Janelle Monáe, who didn't headline, had a larger and more enthusiastic crowd than Arctic Monkeys, who did headline. The disconnect between enthusiasm and ticket sales is something festival planners are constantly working to bridge, but this bridging is often centered around men. When will Voodoo start trying to bridge the gap with more women?