Glastonbury is more than a music festival. Over the years, it has become an event of almost religious proportions, with thousands of music worshippers making their annual pilgrimage to Worthy Farm. People come back wide-eyed and wobbly legged, having been transformed by the magic of Glasto, a festival where anything seems possible, where – at least for those of us stuck watching it on TV – everything is idyllic. For artists, Glastonbury is a rite of passage. You know you’ve made it when your name is down to play the Pyramid Stage, perhaps the most sacrosanct stage in the world.
But it’s not just the music that makes Glastonbury special. Glastonbury is a place that represents freedom, anarchy and rebellion. It is a place where open-minded free-thinkers unite and, for a brief period, live in paradise together. Glastonbury is a place where the hippy utopia so many envisage and yearn for becomes a reality.
But this utopia still has a problem. Namely, its headlining acts. Year after year, Glastonbury rolls out the same tired people to rule over their paradise, their names topping the bills in big letters, nearly always male, nearly always white. This year, every headlining act is white and male. In 2017, this simply shouldn’t be happening.
Glastonbury has the power to transform the music scene. Once a year, the top 40 becomes a reflection of the big acts who have performed over the weekend. The headliners see their sales surge even if their albums are years old. Any artist headlining Glastonbury can also expect a serious boost to their credibility and status. A headlining slot can transform a pop star to a rock star, a rock star to a living legend. It is a place where careers are made and legacies are set in stone. Each year, the Glastonbury organisers have the power to handpick three acts and turn them into legends. So why do they consistently pick white men?
Over the last ten years, only three women have headlined Glastonbury (Adele, Beyoncé and Florence and the Machine) and only four non-white acts (Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder and Kanye West). Half of the last 10 festivals have been headlined solely by white males.
What is so frustrating is that there are so many female and BME acts that should have headlined by now. Surely this should have been the year Rihanna finally took to the Pyramid Stage. She embodies the punky, rebellious spirit of Glasto far better than Ed Sheeran and offers something fresh and genuinely exciting compared to the staid dad-rock of Foo Fighters. Or how about Drake? Or Lady Gaga? Or Madonna? Or Kendrick? Or Kylie? In fact, Ms Minogue was scheduled to headline back in 2005 but had to pull out due to being diagnosed with cancer. Similarly, Foo Fighters had to pull out in 2015 due to Dave Grohl breaking his leg. While they were invited back two years later however, Kylie is still waiting for a call back. Those hoping to see her on the Pyramid Stage instead had to make do with Basement Jaxx and a crap Coldplay cover of ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’. Jesus wept.
Year after year, Glastonbury is presented as a left-wing, hippy utopia, a place of love and peace, of acceptance and equality. But still, in 2017, this is not reflected in the festival’s line-up. Stale white blokes (I mean Ed Sheeran, ffs really) are still being promoted over women and people of colour. This year, Katy Perry is on the bill, yet is lower down the bill than the beigeness of Sheeran and the mid-noughties thump-rock of the Foos. And this happens almost every year. In 2007, Björk was lower on the bill than The Who, while the following year, Amy Winehouse was denied a headlining spot in favour of The Verve. I mean The fucking Verve. In 2009, Lady Gaga, one of the most exciting new pop stars on the planet, was cold shouldered in favour of three past it dad-rock acts (Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Blur).
Glastonbury has the power to change the face of the music industry yet remains compliant in its promotion of white, male acts over their equally talented – and usually far more exciting – female and BME contemporaries. If the festival really wants to represent change – and this weekend’s inclusion of a Pyramid Stage speech by Jeremy Corbyn suggests it does – then it needs to lead by example. As it stands, while Glastonbury continues to promote its image as an idyllic, free-love utopia, the uncomfortable truth is that this is only really the case if you’re white and male.