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Glastonbury has its big female breakthrough moment

Glastonbury has its big female breakthrough moment

Ahead of this year’s 49th Glastonbury festival, co-organiser Emily Eavis was happy to comment on the strides the festival has made in recent years – especially this year – when it comes to booking more female-identifying acts and also putting them on prominent slots. The biggest day for that was the third and final day on Sunday. The buzz onsite was the eager anticipation of a back-to-back hat-trick in the afternoon and early evening with Kylie, Miley and Billie Eilish

It might seem redundant to continue to raise the issue of gender lineup bookings. But until the present inequalities become a thing of the past, credit must be served to those who are working hard to get it right.

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Once the artists are on the bill, the next step towards progress is to allow them the freedom to use the platform as they see fit and dispel all notions of tokenism at play. The range on show from Kylie, Miley, Billie and later Christine & The Queens, who headlined the Other stage proved that there is no minimal quota of female acts to service a festival. You need to book talent regardless of gender identity and book in abundance. 

View image of Miley Cyrus at Glastonbury 2019

One of the most interesting observations was that as far as Christine, Billie, and to a lesser extent Miley, were concerned they posed the question of what gender even means as regards to the performance you deliver. Miley’s set is the one steeped most in respect for Glastonbury’s rock roots. Hers is the most crossover catalogue: a popstar who’s made albums with both Pharrell Williams and Wayne Coyne; a singer who can convince with soul and hip-hop, country and contemporary pop. Eavis told the BBC that her Cyrus epiphany happened in the middle of the night, as she woke up panicked about whether it might be too late to book her. 

In a ribbed bralette and leather pants Miley commands the stage like a one-woman Rolling Stones, offering renditions of Led Zeppelin and Metallica, inviting her father Billy Ray Cyrus and rapper Lil Nas X out for the viral hit Old Town Road, belting out her new EP and more infamous older hits while strutting the stage like Mick Jagger himself. She even does the full splits in those skin-tight trousers. 

Glastonbury genuinely looks to mean a great deal to Cyrus, as much as it does to Kylie, as both superstars tear up onstage.

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View image of Kylie Minogue at Glastonbury 2019

For Kylie, it was an overdue appearance on the Pyramid Stage, 14 years after cancer forced her to cancel a headline slot in 2005. “I wished things were different, but life is what it is,” she said to perhaps the biggest crowd of the day, if not the whole festival. “We’re all here in this moment.”

Until the present inequalities become a thing of the past, credit must be served to those who are working hard to get it right.

Cyrus offered up a more expletive-driven reason, referencing her father’s advice about working hard. “I wake up every day and I say: give me something that scares the shit out of me and I’m gonna fucking do it,” she cries. She says this show has “changed my life”, understanding the impact of a Glastonbury slot even when you’re already an act as mainstream and stratospheric as her. It’s a feather in the cap that can’t be manipulated.

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Teen phenomenon Eilish followed Cyrus and she didn’t wear her gratitude quite so nakedly, until later in the set. Eilish’s rising star is almost beyond orbit by this point. She’s pretty impossible to frame in the context of past popstars, having a punk energy more akin to a Trent Reznor or a rapper than any teen female vocalist predating her.

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View image of Billie Eilish at Glastonbury 2019

Aside from the Radio 1 Big Weekend performance a few weeks back, this is Eilish’s potential Glastonbury moment. It’s her shot at being the artist on everyone’s lips after the festival ends. The fever is high. “She’s tiny,” screams one onlooker hyperventilating as Eilish emerges in full Stella McCartney-designed streetwear, jumping around like an astronaut defying gravity. 

Her set is mired by technical difficulties but the crowd go hysterical for Eilish regardless, singing every word of her 2019 debut album. Eilish feels the need towards the end, however, to apologise for the issues onstage, and explains that her pout wasn’t an indication that she isn’t delighted to be here. The set itself isn’t quite the making of Eilish, but the cult of her absolutely pervades the site. Eilish can’t be reduced to gender, or even age. She is other and she is singular. With such an abundance of younger attendees at Glastonbury, there’s a need to service them formative moments with artists that the older generation can’t entirely grasp, and that’s the way it should be. 

At 10pm, Christine And The Queens took a Glastonbury moment she had in 2016 in the pouring rain after the news of the Brexit vote and ran with it. “Glastonfreaky!” she screeched, addressing the crowd, before indulging them in a peerless display of airtight choreography, emotive singing and high intellect. Her presentation as the eternal outsider who somehow snuck through the cracks via the machismo character Chris speaks less to being a woman and more of an emblem for fluidity, as mobile as her rolling muscle flexes. Her cover of David Bowie’s Heroes is a choice move for that reason too, as she nods to one of the most celebrated gender-bending artists ever. 

View image of Christine And The Queens at Glastonbury 2019  

Christine’s contributions were funk-based R&B jams and electronic balladry, all self-produced and realised. If it’s true that women must work twice as hard to get the recognition men do, then Christine & The Queens is a gift we don’t deserve in a stifling world. She is unmatched. 

It shouldn’t feel necessary to have to thank a festival for giving so many deserving artists their moment in the sun, but Glastonbury should get a huge round of applause for lending its platform to these females whose sole agenda is to be the pinnacle of excellence. Glastonbury 2019 wasn’t about one particular star breaking out above the rest. This year the breakthrough moment came for the festival itself. 

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