On Thursday, Jan. 3, it was announced that Ariana Grande would be headlining the 2019 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, marking a monumental moment in the festival’s history. While the new gig places the 25-year-old singer as the youngest to ever receive top billing at the annual concert series, it has also made Grande only the fourth female headliner in Coachella’s nearly two-decades in production. In other words, Ariana Grande headlining Coachella is history in the making.
There have only been four women to ever headline Coachella since it started in 1999. The news may feel shocking to some still reveling in the glory of Beyoncé’s wildly feminist and invigorating Coachella performance from 2018. However, the sad reality is that women have had to continually fight to be recognized in the same way as their male counterparts in the music industry — even at the trendsetting and progressively-billed Coachella festival.
While women have always performed at the festival, its organizers have seemingly fallen short in the representation of female headliners. In 2002, Björk became the first woman to ever lead the show, returning in 2007 to do the honors once more. After that, it would be a whopping 10 years before another woman, Lady Gaga, would take the reigns in 2017 (Beyoncé was initially slated to headline, but had to cancel due to her pregnancy). Beyoncé would also make history, becoming the first Black woman to lead the festival in 2018.
It’s unclear why women were absent from headlining for 15 out of the 20 years that the music and arts festival has taken place. A 2016 think-piece from Billboard speculated that the prioritization of certain genres could be a contributing factor of the gender inequality seen at festivals like Coachella. The report noted that the festival seeks audience members who enjoy a mix of “cool” genres such as rock/alternative, dance, and crossover hip-hop, leaving little to no space for pop superstars such as Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Pink, Janet Jackson, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, and Nicki Minaj. However, with the recent inclusion of Beyoncé and Gaga there may be a real change on the horizon as Grande becomes the third woman in a row to be named a headlining performer. TMZ recently noted that Grande was specifically chosen to showcase female empowerment. A source allegedly told the outlet, "Ariana is inspirational, and millions of people, particularly women, will connect with her."
Grande, who is slated to command two performances during the festival on the weekends of April 12 and April 19, appears to be overjoyed about opportunity. "Humbled and excited as all hell @coachella thank u," Grande wrote on Instagram. Childish Gambino and Tame Impala are also set to join Grande as headliners for the 2019 show.
All-in-all, it seems that 2019 is going to be quite the year for Grande. She announced plans to release her fifth studio album, Thank U, Next, and will also set out on her Sweetener World Tour in March. She scored her first number-one single in the U.S. with "Thank U, Next", the lead out song from her forthcoming album and released its follow-up, "Imagine" this past December. And now she can add headlining one of the biggest music festivals of the year to her ever-expanding resumé.
While Grande’s latest feat proves that she’s totally on top of the world when it comes to her career, equality for female headliners at Coachella has been a long time coming. Here’s hoping that Grande’s achievement only ushers in more female headliners to come.
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