Two weeks ago, U.K. festival Reading & Leeds began its first waves of lineup announcements and music fans everywhere rejoiced. However, as people examined the festival more closely, they soon realized the initial lineup contains 57 male performers and only one woman: Chrissy Costanza, vocalist for pop-rock trio Against The Current. We caught up with Costanza to discuss this disparity and how she’d like to see things change moving forward.
How did you first find out you were the only woman on this iteration of the lineup?
CHRISSY COSTANZA: I didn't really look at the lineup that much at first. I just was like, “Oh, Jimmy Eat World!" and was pumped about that. And then all of a sudden, this other outlet pointed [it] out and it got picked up by [British online news site] The Independent. And all of the sudden Twitter was blowing up. Just “Reading & Leeds: 57 men and one woman” and I was just like, “What is going on?” That was actually the first time I realized [it] because I didn't really know a lot of the bands on the lineup aside from the really big ones. I was like, "Holy shit, I am the only girl. That's it—it's just me.” And granted, the rest of the lineup isn't announced yet, so who knows, but that was the first time I was like, “Wow, that's actually really infuriating."
What was your first reaction?
Everyone comes in on it from a different angle. I definitely talked to some people who wanted me to openly bash the festival, and for me the festival itself isn't the problem. It just really highlights what the problem is. The problem is we don't have enough of us making a loud enough stink, basically. I mean, yes, there are girls in bands. Of course there's Lynn [Gunn], and Jenna [McDougall] and Hayley [Williams]. Who knows? Maybe Reading & Leeds asked them to be on the festival. Maybe just conflicting schedules [or] that wasn't the right move for them at the time, so maybe there were supposed to be more girls if it had worked out that way, it just didn't. But there still is a deficit.
So I started looking into it a little bit more because I didn't want to speak without knowing what I was talking about. And I saw one site posted, “Who else do you want to see added to the Reading & Leeds lineup?" and I scrolled through the comments. [In] literally 350-something comments, I think there was like a handful of Paramore’s, one PVRIS comment, and that was it as far as girls go. Everything else was male bands and I was like, "Well, we're all screaming about how there's no girls on this [festival] and it's like, you guys, the girls, the fans—I'm watching you guys comment. None of you are asking for girls. None of you—you're all asking for guys, like every single one of you." So how is Reading & Leeds supposed to put girls in their festival if you aren't even supporting each other at this point? If we can make up over half the fans, women are the ones who are most actively commenting on all these things, the most active presences on social media. We have so much power and we're not using it.
You see it a lot at the bottom level. There's this awesome band that I really like; they're called VISTA. We needed another opener for our show in New York City, and I asked them to open up the show for us. And I thought they were really cool; they had a really awesome vibe. It was very reminiscent of when we first started playing shows.
"I'm not gonna tiptoe around the issue, because I genuinely want the issue to be resolved, I want there to be change. If that means having to say the things that are a little bit more uncomfortable, then I'm willing to say that."
Girls are quick to tear down girls—[especially] the girls that come out there with a boss attitude. I think Hope [Vista, vocalist] has that attitude. She gets onstage and she plays like she's playing to 10,000 people who are there for her only. No one's perfect when they're just starting out, but I think she has that attitude, that drive, that passion. It would be a real bummer to see her not crush it because people aren't willing to open up to it. You have to just worm your way through the door. You're not just a girl trying to be in a band, you are a girl in a band. But when you're trying to start out, people [don’t want] to support you. So when [a band doesn’t] already have a platform established, girls don't really want to back it a lot of the time.
And that's something that I faced a lot in our early years as a band. Especially opening up for guy bands, like the fans of that male singer didn't want to be my fan, too. It was just like, “I don't want to know you, I don’t want you to be on my stage right now. I want my band to be up there.” Whereas I don't think that issue happens as much in the guy world. You know, they wear like fucking skinny jeans and maybe a cute smile and dye their hair and like, "Haha, I'm going to make toilet humor jokes, like, the cutest thing ever." If I did that, it’d be like, "Why is this girl such a freak?"
When we did a lot of our first touring, I would see it in the faces of the crowd when I got out there, that “I'm not going to give you the time of day” face in a lot of the girls. Arms crossed and at the front of the stage—so they're clearly very excited for the headlining bands and they're there early. And they'd be texting during the set and looking at their phones, leaning on the stage. Just looking at me once in awhile with a raised eyebrow, rolling their eyes and looking away. There were times where you have to find a way to break through that mold, that I remember doing that a couple times, like watching their expressions changing and seeing them realize. I’m like, "Yo, it's okay to have fun here—I'm a girl, you're a girl. We can be cool, you know? You don't have to immediately count me out.”
I think that was definitely one of those things that [was] harder when we first started touring with other male bands and trying to play the fans that were there to see guys. They definitely didn't want a girl they didn't know up on that stage with their favorite band. It's a hard thing to say and people will be quick to be very offended to put the blame on the people that are also the victim of the situation. I think it's a little bit controversial to say it and I'm sure I'll get shit for it. But I'm not gonna tiptoe around the issue, because I genuinely want the issue to be resolved, I want there to be change. If that means having to say the things that are a little bit more uncomfortable, then I'm willing to say that. If half of us are women, why can't we be loud enough that we can get other women on this festival? If we make up the majority of the fans, when we ask for it, it'll be given. The festival puts whoever the fans want to come and see on the show. And right now the fans are asking for male acts.
What are the ways we can begin to fix this imbalance?
From the band level: Take small female acts on tour. I see a lot of tiny guy bands make it on pretty big tours. I'm always like, “How did you get on this tour when you're not doing anything yet?” And people don't really pick the smaller female acts. It's like for us trying to put VISTA on the show. For me, that was important—because I'm sure if the venue or whoever put a local [band] on the show it would've been some guy band, because there's so many guy bands on the local level. A couple years ago when we did our Gravity tour, we had a band called Jule Vera on the tour—Ansley [Newman]'s an awesome singer—it was important that we were taking other girls out. Hopefully, promoters, booking agents, they start booking other girl acts for the tour. [Against The Current] have a platform, so I wanted VISTA to be part of that platform for that night.
"I want it to be a non-issue. I want this to be something that [isn't] even spoken about because it's the norm."
As far as fans go, you need to support girls at the local level. It's really easy for us to support guys at the local level, for some reason. Like, a guy just starting out, they're okay with supporting him even if they're not totally "there" yet. I think we need to start supporting girls who are trying to get in the scene. Showing up to their shows, being supportive of them like you would anyone else. Ask the festivals for them—request girls in bands! And be specific—don't just say, "We want to see more girls," but then when people are asked what bands they want to see, they're like, "Uhm..." and then name eight bands that are all entirely boys. Well, that's counterproductive. Everyone wants to see girls in bands but they don't know who. When you're going to a festival, tweet the festival, like, "Hey, I really want to see this band and this band!" Be relentless about it.
Are there any other bands you’re currently digging?
I made a playlist and, without realizing it, I put pretty much all women on the playlist. And it was such a good playlist! CHVRCHES, Milk Teeth, Phoebe Ryan, Tegan And Sara—like, I don't know why they aren't playing huge festivals. I feel like you just don't hear people making a big stink about it! They lose their minds for boys. They like girls, but it's not like that Justin Bieber/One Direction effect toward her. That's a once-in-a-while thing with girls, whereas there's such a fever with the guys. MisterWives are awesome, they were popping off for a while. Ingrid Michaelson's really good. I love Little Mix. Purity Ring [are] really good. Betty Who is such a badass. HAIM, already known, but they don't get enough love.
Are you frustrated by the fact that we still have to have these sorts of conversations in 2017?
Yeah! Obviously, I'm grateful for the platform to be able to speak about it, but I don't want to have to want the platform at all. I want it to be a non-issue. I want this to be something that [isn't] even spoken about because it's the norm. Being a girl in a band is a normal thing, it's not something that you have to worry about. Not like you have to worry about breaking through a million bands to "get it," but also being a girl and doing it. It's stupid that's an added pressure of being in a band. You should be able to just be in a band and have an awesome time and make music that you love and go on tour and see the world.
Directly speaking to girls who want to be in bands, but are just starting out: You have to go in there and break doors down. You can't ever second-guess yourself because you're a girl, you can't ever let that double standard push you down. You have to walk in there like you know you belong there. I think that's ultimately how Against The Current got through, because I didn't take any prisoners. I didn't let anyone tell me I couldn't do it because I was a girl. I just said, "Nope, I'm here, I wanna do this and I'm gonna do it." If you can't change everyone's mentality in one day, you just have to force them to see you. The only way to do that is by kicking the door and walking through it yourself. alt