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"Wondering if I'd get there quicker if I was a man" - Sexism in the music industry

In 2018 the then president of the Grammy’s, Neil Portnow, faced backlash when he said that female musicians, engineers and producers needed to ‘step up’ (NYTimes) to win industry awards and be a part of the ‘executive-level’ of the industry. That year, only one woman, Alessia Cara was presented a solo Grammy during the televised awards and women were severely underrepresented in many of the categories. The issue of women being under-represented in music isn’t isolated to this one awards show. The ‘Inclusion in the Recording Studio” report looked at the artists, songwriters, and producers on the Hot 100 year-end Billboard Charts from 2012-2018. In the three creative roles highlighted by the study, they found that 21.7% of artists, 12.3% of songwriters and 2.1% of producers are women. This report also showed that #GrammysSoMale trended for a valid reason, as only 10.4% of Grammy nominees from 2013-2019 were female. Sexism is commonplace in the music industry. Not only do women face under-representation, but they also face additional barriers and discrimination due to their gender. #MeToo exposed sexual harassment in Hollywood and also exposed it in the music industry. Kesha and Lady Gaga have spoken about the sexual abuse they have experienced during their career and many female artists working in Britain have also experienced sexual harassment (Marie Claire). Female artists are often objectified and judged for their choices when it comes to expressing their sexuality. Their body is also constantly judged, with their weight being a common topic for media outlets, and constant pregnancy speculation (Medium). Female artists are consistently held to a higher standard than male artists. Whether it is the way they dress, their performances or their songwriting, as Dua Lipa told GQ: “it takes a lot more to be taken seriously”. There is an expectation when female artists tour and perform that there will be elaborate staging, dancing, light shows and huge spectacle. However, this isn’t expected of male artist and they can “perform by just standing behind a microphone on stage” (Mediated Pop). This can be seen in the difference between One Direction and Little Mix. Both are X Factor produced bands and their performances on the show highlights the different expectations of male and female artists. In One Direction performances, they are standing on stage, with minimal choreography or staging for their songs and generally wearing plain average clothing that wouldn’t look out of place on the high street (this even applied to their ‘costume’ for their Halloween performance). However, just a year later Little Mix performances have choreography, elaborate costuming and sets. These differences and expectations didn’t end at the X Factor and continued into their careers. The fact is that “women have to do back-flips and constantly be at the top of the game to even have a shot at winning” (Medium). Female artists are constantly expected to have their personal lives and relationships exposed to the media and fans. Last year Adele announced that she was getting divorced from her husband Simon Konecki (BBC). After it was announced Twitter was flooded with some well-wishers but many of the comments were focused on the effect the divorce will have on her music. Some fans seemed to be overjoyed at the news because they think Adele will now produce more “unforgettable music that they can cry to” (She Knows). Some of the happy tweets circulating were: “Adele got divorced?! B****, that next album bout to be straight FIRE.” “Adele, I am SO sorry about this… that being said, THIS ALBUM IS ABOUT TO BE SO GOOD”

(She Knows)

There wasn’t this reaction when Chris Martin from Coldplay publicly divorced from Gwynteth Paltrow (2016), or about Ushers divorce (2018) (Vogue). “Female artists face a constant pressure to disclose personal relationships” and when they write music about their relationships they are framed as “obsessive” (Muse) as fans clamour for any small clues about who they are writing about. This has especially occurred with Taylor Swift, with people speculating who the inspiration behind her songs are, highlighted in the piece "Taylor Swift's Boyfriend Timeline: 12 Relationships & Their Songs". This kind of scrutiny and personal intrusion is very rarely aimed towards male artists.


Female artists who find themselves facing sexism and harassment at the start of their careers also face severe ageism when they get older. Maturity is seen as a negative for women in the music industry, with artists such as Madonna criticised for not ‘ageing gracefully’ (Medium). Bebe Rhexa was told by a music executive that she was ‘getting too old’ and posting sexy pictures on Instagram is ‘not what female songwriters are supposed to do’ at her age of 29 (Twitter). Male artists have the privilege of being able to grow old in the public eye without this harsh criticism.


Most of the inequalities I’ve highlighted are not just present in the music industry but many different industries and workforces. I’ve only scratched the surface of the discrimination women face in music. Women face these barriers in classic music (Guardian), in production roles (Culture Trip) and as DJs (Everyday Feminism). It’s so important to keep working at identifying and tackling misogyny where we see it. Refusing to click on those gossip headlines, listening to more empowering female artists and calling out double standards are just a few things we can do as music listeners to contribute to the dismantling of this sexist environment. Title song lyric - Taylor Swift, The Man

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