Festival Republic managing director Melvin Benn has responded to criticism of the Reading & Leeds line-up, and outlined his plans for helping female artists.

Headliners this year include Kendrick Lamar and Fall Out Boy, alongside the likes of Dua Lipa, rapper J Hus and Wolf Alice. The bill was met with widespread complaints that it had strayed from the festival’s rock tradition.

Benn told BBC News: “The ticket sales tell me that we’re doing the right thing […] You can’t keep drumming up the same acts and expect people to continue to come and see them. Festivals have to be a reflection of what the public are listening to.

“I don’t think I’m very far away from what the essence of Reading and Leeds has always been, which is that it’s a rock ‘n’ roll festival. But I guess my interpretation of rock ‘n’ roll might extend a little beyond guitar music – and that’s the key here. The fact that people are slightly surprised at Kendrick headlining is a bit of a shock to me. Especially after Eminem headlined last year.

“And Public Enemy were a headliner in the ’90s. We’ve had Cypress Hill, too. It’s always been the case that we’ve had that along with the old rock stars. I think people were a little shocked [about Kendrick] to start with and now they’re realising it’s an incredible booking.”

Benn also addressed the issue of gender balance at UK festivals after PRS for Music is set to announce that 45 festivals have pledged to work toward achieving a 50/50 gender balance by 2022 – covering music line-ups, conferences and commissions.

Benn’s festivals have yet to sign up to the initiative. He said: “Is that the right way to go about it – to say it’s got to be 50/50? I don’t know that it is,” he said.

Benn has launched a project called ReBalance, which will provide 36 female artists with one week’s studio recording time over the next three years to “create a bigger pool of female acts” so that festivals have a “greater choice” when it comes to booking their line-ups.

“So actually, I do support the principle of it [gender equality]. I’ve chosen a slightly different way to go about it, but with the same principal aim,” he added.