Why Cardi B, Beyoncé and Janet Jackson Prove the Power of Booking Women on Festival Lineups

Amy Harris/Invision/AP
Cardi B performs at the Coachella Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 15, 2018 in Indio, Calif.

As summer-festival organizers began announcing their 2018 lineups earlier this year, it appeared that female headliners would remain scarce. But as the season starts, it’s clear that when female stars are booked (as headliners or otherwise), they often steal the show. Beyoncé slayed expectations with her history-making appearances at Coachella -- aka “Beychella” -- and her Saturday performance on the first weekend became YouTube’s most-streamed festival set ever with 458,000 live global views. And she wasn't the only big story at the show: A pregnant Cardi B made headlines twerking onstage without missing a beat; SZA followed a shaky first weekend with a triumphant set on the second; and HAIM opened up for Beyoncé with a visually stunning performance featuring direction from Paul Thomas Anderson. Male headliners The Weeknd and Eminem, meanwhile, arguably generated less buzz than even non-headliner Cardi.

And some of the most promising festival appearances by women are yet to come. Cardi B canceled her scheduled set at Panorama, as well as tour dates, due to her pregnancy. But Janet Jackson will headline Panorama on July 28, and also close out the Essence Festival on July 8 (ending her eight-year festival hiatus), play FYF Fest on July 22 and top one of Outside Lands’ three nights (Aug. 10-12). Dua Lipa and Sheryl Crow are scheduled for Bonnaroo (June 7-10); Florence + The Machine will headline Outside Lands, FYF and Osheaga (Aug. 3-5); and in Barcelona, Spain, Björk will headline Primavera Sound on May 31 and Lorde will take top billing on June 2.

For Jackson in particular, closing out a given night of a festival is a notable feat for a legacy artist who hasn’t released an album since 2015. Of course, Jackson, who turns 52 on May 16, is no stranger to defying convention. She abruptly halted her Unbreakable World Tour in 2016 owing to her pregnancy with son Eissa Al Mana, then picked up where she left off, resuming the tour (renamed State of the World) last September to critical acclaim and commercial success; it grossed an estimated $33.4 million, according to Billboard Boxscore. Jackson has since extended the run, with new dates starting in July.

“When opportunities arise, she’s so ready and wants to stay out there,” says Jackson’s creative director, Gil Duldulao, who first started working with Jackson 23 years ago as a dancer on the Velvet Rope Tour. “These festivals will keep reminding people of what a great artist [she is] and career Janet has had. She’s still going -- nothing is going to stop her.” And, well aware of the often younger-skewing crowds that festivals cater to, Duldulao assures: “Her demographics have no boundaries.”

The same could be said for when Beyoncé welcomed Destiny’s Child onto Coachella’s main stage -- the reunion sent ripples of excitement across the Internet. It was one of many highlights within Beyoncé’s black pride/female empowerment-themed set that spawned countless appreciation pieces and remains part of the conversation a month later.

“There’s a season for everything,” says Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams. “For a long time, it seemed like the male artists [were dominating] music, and [now] the girls are like, ‘Hold up, step out the way!’”

While Williams acknowledges there are many factors contributing to a triumphant return to the stage -- new music, time spent on hiatus (like Jackson), a long-awaited reunion (Destiny’s Child) -- artists themselves must capitalize on the opportunities they’re given: “With everything going on with various movements as far as women are concerned, it’s up to empowered and inspired female entertainers to go out there and kill it. We have to show up this year.”  

Additional reporting by Lyndsey Havens and Steven J. Horowitz.

This article originally appeared in the May 5 issue of Billboard.