The Future May Be Female, But So Is The Past & Present

2022 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival
MANCHESTER, TENNESSEE – JUNE 19: Stevie Nicks performs during 2022 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on June 19, 2022 in Manchester, Tennessee. (Photo by Erika Goldring/WireImage)

Women have made huge strides in live over the last decade, with more women on more stages, backstages and fronts of house, as well as in premium suites and C-suites than ever before. 

Witness Q3, which just wrapped up with Taylor Swift and Beyoncé currently ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on Pollstar’s Top Worldwide Tours Chart. A third woman, P!NK, made the Top 10 [see cover story, page 24]. Already, Swift has grossed an estimated $756.6 million and is on the way to be the highest-grossing tour of all time. By the end of the year, both she and Beyoncé will have broken Madonna’s previously held record for the highest grossing tour for a woman for her 2008-09 “Sticky & Sweet Tour,” which grossed $411 million ($560 million adjusted for inflation in 2023). But these extraordinary artists didn’t just appear out of nowhere; they follow a long tradition of brilliant and talented women who paved the way. 

Several weeks ago, Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner, who is also a co-founder of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, told The New York Times that he avoided interviewing women in rock music because he found them to be “less intellectual.” Hours after the interview was published Wenner apologized and the next day the Rock Hall announced that Wenner had been removed from the Board of Directors of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. 

Nearly everyone across the media vortex and beyond has universally condemned his ignorant statements. And to respond at this point would be like shooting fish in a barrel. That said, it’s still important to highlight the legions of brilliant women, who together not only helped smash that glass ceiling but whose contributions to the larger music canon as a whole are indispensable.  

“Society has treated women in music in unfavorable ways,” Live Nation’s Ali Harnell tells Pollstar. “We’ve seen women fighting for equity and the ability to shape their personal and professional future in our society for centuries – which transferred into the challenges women faced in the music industry as well. However, I think the world has evolved in many ways and what women today are experiencing is different than what I did 30-plus years ago when I entered the industry.”

Many of those who got their start in those early days are still out on the road. Stevie Nicks, the first woman Rock Hall double inductee, announced arena tour dates as this story was going to print. She grossed $13 million on her own headline shows in 2023 alone, along with $64.7 million for her co-bill dates with Billy Joel.

“Stevie is an icon, there’s no other artist like her,” Jeff Frasco at CAA, Nicks’ agent, tells Pollstar. “Her music is timeless and her authenticity comes through in everything she does. The longevity of her career has a lot to do with her spirit that has always pushed forward. I am thrilled to see her get the credit she deserves.”

Joni Mitchell’s one-off performances in the last few years – a surprise appearance at 2022’s Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, followed by her first ticketed performance in 23 years with “Joni Jam” at The Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington, in June – have become cultural moments that took the world by storm. While Cher hasn’t toured since before the pandemic, she brought in $109 million in 2019 (ranking No. 20 on Pollstar’s Worldwide Tours chart). 

Countless other women continue to sell tickets, including Bonnie Raitt, Reba McEntire, Missy Elliott, Wynonna Judd, Gloria Estefan, Debbie Harry, Dolly Parton and Patti Smith, just to name a few.

Additionally, the woman’s dollar is what has uplifted the industry as a whole with the power to make an artist’s career. The Beatles became the most successful band of the ’60s thanks to teenage girls, who’d earlier carried Elvis Presley to the top. Today’s chart toppers all come from what the current generation of young women is listening to. 

The economic power of women now extends past the fans, as Pollstar‘s high-charting women prove.    

“I think attitudes are definitely shifting and women are excelling in certain genres while breaking down barriers and challenging biases and gender-based stereotypes,” Harnell says. “The fact that P!NK, Beyoncé and Taylor are selling out stadiums around the world and commanding the economy is exciting progress.” 

The three superstars have long sung the praises of artists who’ve come before and influenced them. Beyoncé named Lauryn Hill’s acclaimed solo album, 1998’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, as one of the key things that helped inspire her music, along with Anita Baker, Diana Ross and Rachelle Ferrell. “There’s definitely something beyond Lauryn Hill that’s in her voice and her mind when she writes songs,” Beyoncé told EW in 2006. “She’s gifted and blessed.”

Over the course of her career Ms. Lauryn Hill has grossed $49.1 million, according to reports submitted to Pollstar’s Boxoffice. This year, the singer is celebrating 25 years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill with a headline tour that just launched earlier this month and is headed to arenas in North America and Australia.

Beyoncé also shouted out Madonna, who was in the audience during the “Renaissance Tour” tour stop at MetLife Stadium in Rutherford, New Jersey, July 30 saying “Queen Mother, Madonna, we love you!” Last year Madonna shared a note she received from Beyoncé, along with flowers, after they collaborated on the song “Break My Soul (The QUEENS Remix)” with Bey writing: “Thank you, Queen. I’m so grateful for you. You have opened up so many doors for so many women. You are masterpiece genius.” 

Madonna is gearing up for her own headline arena trek, her first in seven years. Despite North American dates being postponed due to health issues (otherwise, Madonna likely would have also landed high on Pollstar’s 2023 Mid Year charts), the European leg of the “Celebration Tour” is set to begin  Oct. 14 at O2 Arena in London.

P!NK also publicly shared who inspired her to start creating music. In 2020, she tweeted, “There’re a few artists in my life that’ve touched me in such a raw place in my heart that it changes the cells in my body. PJ Harvey. Linda Perry. Mary J Blige. Billy Joel. Donny Hathaway. To name a few …”

PJ Harvey set out on her first shows since 2017 this fall, performing in Dublin and Glasgow. She’s hinted she’ll play North America in 2024. 

Meanwhile, 2022 proved to be a massive year for Mary J. Blige, who started the year off with an iconic performance during that year’s Super Bowl halftime show. The “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” also curated the “Strength of A Woman Festival and Summit” in Atlanta and headlined the 23-city “Good Morning Gorgeous” tour in September and October. She ranked No. 45 on Pollstar’s 2022 Top Tours North America chart with a gross of nearly $36.9 million. 

Swift’s influences include Carole King. King and her late writing partner and former husband Gerry Goffin were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 with the Ahmet Ertegun Award for their songwriting. In  2021 she and Tina Turner became the second and third female artists inducted twice. Swift joined King at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2021, delivering a speech in the legendary singer/songwriter’s honor. 

“Carole taught artists like me that telling your own story is worth the work and struggle it takes to earn the opportunity for your story to be heard,” Swift said. “That musical connection can be generation-spanning. She created the purest works of love and strength and catharsis while navigating the politics of an era that didn’t make space for the idea of a female genius.” 

During her own speech, King made sure to recognize another of the all-time greats. 

“I keep hearing it, so I guess I’m going to have to try to own it, that today’s female singers and songwriters stand on my shoulders. Let it not be forgotten,” she added, “that they also stand on the shoulders of the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. May she rest in power: Miss Aretha Franklin!”