Boycott Reading and Leeds Festival 2021

Six headliners and not one womxn: it's time to demand Reading and Leeds Festival does better.


Twenty years ago, I went to my first Reading Festival. Back in 2000, it was a rare and fleeting sight to spot a woman on the main stage. We had Elastica and Daphne and Celeste – and that didn’t exactly go… well.

In the two decades since, we’ve moved towards a more representative and diverse society. It’s no secret that the music industry has lagged painfully behind but in the last couple of years we’ve seen festival bookers acknowledge that representation is important, making a conscious effort to book more womxn and artists of colour on their bills. Bookers, that is, apart from those at Reading and Leeds Festival.

“Double the stages!” came the promise from Festival Republic’s Managing Director, Melvin Benn, in an NME interview last week.


It reeked of bullshit. My initial thought: it’s an easy way to still put the tired and tested rotation of old-man-band headliners atop the bill while also shoehorning in more women, thus giving the appearance of progression. The truth of it, is even more laughable.

Double the stages, it seems, just means double the men: with six headliners announced and not a single womxn among them.

Given the continuous conversation around diversity, it’s a move so troll-y, it has to be a deliberate act of exclusion. Even the flimsiest of arguments about why years of repression have meant there “just aren’t enough” female headliners to fill the spots, no longer stands true.

In truth, it’s hard to think of any possible reason – other than a core belief that men are more talented and important than women – to not book a single female headliner in 2021. There are so many brilliant women who deserve to be on that bill, frankly, it’s boring to list them.

Of course, I am aware of the complexities of booking festivals – particularly in a pandemic. You need the artist to be available, you need them to be promoting something. You need them to be big enough to sell tickets and have a back catalogue extensive enough to carry a two-hour set. It’s hard. But for a festival that is such a rite of passage for so many young people, there’s a responsibility to do better.

Perhaps, you think none of this really matters. Maybe all you care about is having a lovely time moshing to Queens of The Stone Age (just don’t get too close ladies, or Josh might kick you in the face). But it does matter. It matters because young girls deserve to see themselves represented on those stages. They deserve to dream that they’re looking out over sprawls of people just like Billie and Bully and Beabadoobee and Ms Banks and every other brilliant female artist should be doing.

I have no doubt there’ll be more women announced further down the bill in a “look, see, we’re fine” moment – but the damage is done. We should be revelling in the glimmers of a post-pandemic future, instead of feeling utterly disappointed that a company that wields that much power, has proven yet again, they do not give a shit about women.

Bands, fans, journalists – there are so many other festivals that ARE doing better so I implore you, boycott Reading and Leeds 2021. Writing this piece will – as I’ve experienced personally in the past – in all likelihood get me and my writers banned from every upcoming Festival Republic show, because that’s just how they roll. But as 2020 has proven so wonderfully, staying silent is no longer an option.


  1. What a load of shite. So regardless of availability, suitability and whether anybody wants them to headline there should be a female headliner at every festival? Would anybody – especially the Leeds/Reading crowd – want to listen to Billie Eilish or Azealia Banks for two hours? And if they did they wouldn’t even have enough songs for a headline set. Most bands are made up of boys (sorry ) so it’s only logical that most bands that become huge enough to headline a festival are boys too. What if Blondie, Elastica and Evanescence (god help us) were to headline? Would you complain that out of all the members of the headline bands, only 20% are women? I’m a staunch feminist myself, but arguing for this sort of inane positive discrimination undermines the plight of women all over the world who have real problems to deal with

    • Let’s get into this shall we, Jane. Firstly, Billie Eilish’s mid-afternoon set at Reading a couple of years ago was one of the largest I’ve ever seen. So the answer to that one, is yes, definitely. I assume they did try and get her to play. They’d be short-sighted and not very business minded to not do so and given the direction the festival has been going in in recent years – eg booking Post Malone twice – they seem to have been moving away from traditional rock headliners.

      Your Azealia Banks comment is funny. She would, of course, be a ridiculous choice for a headliner and not one I’d recommend them booking. She has very questionable views and one good song.

      Most bands aren’t made up of boys anymore. A study from a few years ago proved that 50% of new guitar buyers are women. Also – as mentioned – the festival now covers a range of genres of music. I can easily list – but shan’t because it is a waste of my time preaching to someone who clearly has no real interest in modern music – over 100 female acts that would be great on that bill, alongside men. We are not asking for it to be a solely female lineup. Women make up 50% of the population. There is so much great female talent out there. If you are going to make the point of booking TWICE the headliners than usual but not making a single one of them a women. Not one. You are making a very definite point that the representation of women does not matter to you at all.

      I would question your statement that you are a staunch feminist if you don’t believe that women should be equally represented.

      • Festivals will book more women as headliners when it makes good business sense to do so. And at this time, concertgoers – women included – seem to have no objection with spending money on festivals sans female headliners. So you can write all you want about equal representation, but the customers need to put their money where their mouth is if that’s what they really want.

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