Billie Eilish’s Glastonbury set proves headline slots shouldn’t be reserved for men and ‘legends’

Written by Amy Davidson

The singer brought her blend of pop, principles, and protest to thousands at the Pyramid Stage last night.     

It’s official. Billie Eilish has made history as Glastonbury’s youngest ever solo headliner. The 20-year-old singer closed Friday night of the festival on the Pyramid Stage with a set that included flames, a sloped stage, mass singalongs, and a call against the US abortion ruling.

But with female performers still accounting for only 13% of festival headliners, according to a study earlier this year, her set also put to bed the notion that headline slots are a hallowed position that simply must be occupied by men or those who have reached legend status. 

Of course, one solo female headline slot isn’t enough to start celebrating true equality in the music industry, nor should women in music have to ‘prove’ their ability and value. However for a new generation to watch a woman headline the most famous stage in the world on her own terms is pretty special.

Glastonbury co-organiser Emily Eavis has previously addressed the need for the festival to level the playing field, 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.”

And this year the festival has exceeded its goal for a 50/50 gender split, with a line-up favouring women, including a headline slot occupied by Eilish. 

Not only is she the youngest headliner, she’s one who has openly defied the male gaze and sent the idea that to be a successful female pop singer you need to be sexualised to bed. “Nobody can have an opinion because they haven’t seen what’s underneath, you know?” she said in a previous interview with Vogue. “Nobody can be like, ‘Oh, she’s slim-thick, she’s got a flat ass, she’s got a fat ass.’ No one can say any of that because they don’t know.”

Despite rumours spreading across Worthy Farm that Harry Styles would be joining her on stage, Eilish kept it all about her, in another demonstration that her presence alone is enough to command a headline slot without needing gimmicks or special guests.

Opening her set with bury a friend, Eilish went on to perform her catalogue of bangers across her two albums, breaking to direct the thousands-strong crowd in a breathing exercise and reminding them to be present and “think about how you’re safe and loved”. It’s these kinds of moments that make her a very special headliner. Eilish has built a fanbase based on the feeling that she understands every single one of them, whether it’s something as trivial as piling in on a TikTok joke with a comment, or as big as reminding a crowd of thousands that they’re ok.

Billie Eilish performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2022

Eilish also addressed the Supreme Court’s vote to overturn Roe v Wade, which has removed the constitutional right to abortion, triggering protests across the world. “Today is a really dark day for women in the US,” she told the crowd. “I’m just going to say that because I can’t bear to think about it any longer.” The singer then dedicated Your Power, a song about the habitual abuse of power to women affected by the decision.

Closing her set with bad guy and a shout-along to Happier Than Ever, Eilish’s decision to stick to her guns and perform a set without compromise, refusing to pander to the naysayers and the unconvinced, was a powerful moment. Forget needing 98 albums and deep cuts, forget the depressing history of male-dominated headline slots. Eilish’s Glastonbury set gave us a glimpse of the future. 

As for her mantra: “Don’t be an asshole, no judgement, and have fun bitch.” It’s one we can all afford to add to our affirmations.

Images: Getty

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