Female stars have invaded the boys club at Coachella

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Randall Roberts

Courtney Barnett is one of the dozens of artists who will perform in the desert this April.

Courtney Barnett is one of the dozens of artists who will perform in the desert this April. Photo: Ian Laidlaw

Given Coachella's history, the news that its three 2016 headliners - Calvin Harris, Guns N' Roses and LCD Soundsystem - consist of mostly male artists isn't surprising. With apologies to LCD Soundsystem's Nancy Whang, that's often the case in the American musical patriarchy.

But a rundown of the dozens of acts that will appear in the desert this April reveals a roster that, unlike last year, is rich with big-ticket female creators.

The lineup, announced this week, will showcase a relative bounty that includes the magnetic beat music of Grimes, whose recent album topped many year-end polls, future-pop singer Ellie Goulding and the brilliant songwriter Sia, who is responsible for some of the best pure pop songs of the past half-decade. Australian rocker Courtney Barnett, a Grammy nominee in the new-artist category, will spin her skillful lyrics and huge-riffed music on the big stage.

The shift stands to reason. These days women run the commercial pop charts, where sales numbers are the only barometer that matters. There, Taylor Swift, Adele, Beyonce and others dominate the conversation. But at marquee festivals like Coachella, where commercial success is often less a consideration than critical buzz, female artists have been woefully underrepresented.

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The nadir came last year, when the field was dense with dudes. Only 26 of the nearly 160 artists performing at Coachella were fronted by women. At Bonnaroo in Tennessee, only 20 of the 100 scheduled artists were fronted by women. Across the thriving festival circuit, that trend continued.

Which leads us to this year's roster, which features at least three dozen female-fronted acts - an increase that may not qualify as a quantum leap but a definite improvement. Like the whole of the fest, they make music that includes experimental pop, EDM, folk, R&B, old-school soul, indie rock and beyond.

Highlights are plentiful. In addition to the above, last year's breakout chanteuse Halsey will make her Coachella debut. The Los Angeles beat producer Tokimonsta, whose rise from tiny clubs to huge festivals has been gradual and assured, will hit a new peak in the desert.

French Cuban sisters Ibeyi will make their Coachella debut to showcase their under-appreciated 2015 album of percussive pop. The Lebanese Nigerian house producer Nicole Moudaber will pummel one of the dance tents on Friday. Art pop innovator Bat for Lashes will draw her many devotees.

Ascendent R&B vocalist SZA, part of the Top Dawg Entertainment roster that also features Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, will perform Saturday. The blistering post-punk Savages, one of the best live rock bands of any gender, will silence any misogynist doubters. Los Angeles expats Girlpool will offer a more nuanced version of the same. Nina Kraviz and Nina Las Vegas will work the dance tents.

Those highlights are in addition to the many acts led by female vocalists, including the Kills, Melody's Echo Chamber, Lush, Beach House, Purity Ring, CHVRCHES, AlunaGeorge, Autolux and Phases.

All that said, this isn't the Lilith Fair. Dudes still make up a majority of the acts, and they'll likely scream along with Axl Rose as he goes on about the many crazy but sweet women in his life. But when he does, expect way more eye-rolls and dismissive laughs this year than in years past.

Los Angeles Times