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Kylie at Glastonbury: The feminist significance of her “record-breaking” performance

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Hollie Richardson
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Kylie Minogue at Glastonbury

Kylie Minogue stood up against sexism and ageism in music, while also celebrating LGBTQ+ rights, during her iconic Glastonbury 2019 performance. 

Kylie Minogue – bringer of joy, spreader of sparkle and singer of hit after hit – finally played Glastonbury over the weekend, after having to pull out 14 years ago following her cancer diagnosis.

“In 2005 I was meant to be here,” she told the huge crowd during her Legends slot, in between performances of a full range of songs from her 30-year career. “Circumstances meant that I did not make it. I wished things were different, but life is what it is. We’re all together in this moment.”

It was the perfect sugary pick-me-up on a Sunday heatwave afternoon, taking us on a journey from the disco days of I Should Be So Lucky up to the country twangs of feel-good banger Dancing. According to Sky News, the number of people who turned up to watch Minogue perform could be a record-number figure for the festival (it certainly looked that way while watching from my sofa).

Consider the performance a little deeper and the significance of what this means to women in music is clear. Minogue is a female artist in her fifties who continues to be hugely successful after 30+ years of working in an industry that is riddled with ageism against women.

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First, let’s take a look at just how bad sexism is in music festival line-ups. All three headline acts at Glastonbury were male: Stormzy, The Killers, The Cure. It was a similar picture in 2017, with Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters and Radiohead taking the Pyramid Stage’s top spots. Only two women have headlined since 2007: Adele and Beyonce. And, although 42% of this year’s bill were female acts, it still didn’t hit the 50/50 ratio that the festival aims for.

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Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis addressed the gender disparity prior to the festival, explaining to the BBC: “I’m ashamed to say that, within our organisation, there’s men who book stages, and quite a few of them are old men and they don’t understand why I’m pushing all the time. One of them presented their line-up this year and I was like, ‘I’m really sorry but you’re just going to have to take some of the blokes off. There’s no women.’ And they were like, ‘Oh for God’s sake, you’ve lost your mind.’”

Focusing on the issue of ageism, Minogue is “really frustrated” over the ageism that she faces in the industry, telling ABC last year: “[On] my previous album promotion I was just asked so much about having an answer for being a woman my age in the industry. I just didn’t know the answer and I was getting really frustrated. I do have to rise above sometimes, I’ve trained myself to do that.” 

Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave performing Where The Wild Roses Grow at Glastonbury
Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave performing Where The Wild Roses Grow at Glastonbury

To reiterate the prevalence of this, just last week Madonna also spoke out about ageism in music in an interview with The Cut, saying: “Why should only men be allowed to be adventurous, sexual, curious, and get to have all the fun until the day they leave this earth? What I am going through now is ageism, with people putting me down or giving me a hard time because I date younger men or do things that are considered to be only the domain of younger women.”

Minogue has also constantly had to put up with the press being more interested in her relationship status and her biological clock than the actual music she creates. The success of her Glastonbury set must feel like a massive “giving the middle finger” moment to this, proving that people want the music more than the gossip.

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And, lastly, Minogue has been a hugely positive figure in the LGBTQ+ community since starting her career, and will headline this year’s Pride in Brighton. Unsurprisingly, she used the Glastonbury performance to once more celebrate the LGBTQ+ movement by launching an explosion of Pride-coloured confetti over the audience.

It was clear that she wanted to make the performance as significant to her fans and supporters as it was to her, and it certainly feels like she succeeded in doing this. It was also just a pure joy to watch. 

Hopefully, the male artist bookers who told Eavis she had “lost her mind” over wanting more female artists were part of Minogue’s “record-breaking” audience, feeling a little bit stupid for not putting her in the headline slot. 

Images: Getty

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