Women in music: Are we forgetting something?

There is a natural bias that most men hold against female comedians. Many would tell you that they do not find women funny and to a degree I can understand the logic. We are different creatures, we find different subjects funny and men are usually more raw than women thus having a bigger scope for comedic gold. Sure, it may be a little wrong but it seems to be a pretty strong trend. A trend that is more worrying in my eyes is the skewing toward male artists in major polls on major music websites and radio stations such as Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and more locally, Triple J. Again, I must reiterate, we all hold our preferences and it isn’t wrong but it does seem to be something that is unusually out of whack.  For all the brilliant male singers, particularly in the soul field, we have just as many, if not more outstanding female vocalists. I’m talking Aretha, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu, Diana Ross, Carole King and Joni Mitchell.

Exhibit A on the matter:

Top 10 soul singers of all time according to the Rolling Stone.

Whilst it is a very difficult decision to make with just ten artists out of a plethora of wonderful soul singers from all around the world (and I must add that the Rolling Stone is clearly based in the United States), to have just Aretha Franklin representing women in the top 10 seems to undervalue their contribution. The Top 100 singers of all time also had Aretha in the top 10 (number 1 in fact) but had just 2 in the top 25 (Tina Turner). Outside of the top 25 included the rapturous Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, Patti Smith and my personal favourite, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac. Of course, the poll was a judgement on numerous criteria mainly surrounded the distinctiveness of voice, originality of sound rather than simply on the utter beauty of the vocals.  In any case, how Freddie Mercury was at 18 is still a mystery to me. MYSTIFY. MYSTIFY ME. Sorry, I got lost in an INXS haze for a moment, excuse me.

Top 100 singers (according to the Rolling Stone)

Now, this isn’t on the same scale of suggestions of a quota for women to become board members of major companies or within political circles so if you are slowly clenching your fist and muttering about ‘tokenism’ and ‘faux misogony’ then relax bro. I’m listening to Luther Vandross while I write this so I’m not attempting to push any agenda, just curious as to the representation of women in the music industry. It’s hardly news to anyone that sex continues to sell when it comes to popular culture. You just have to look at old Miley for an example on how some female singers continue to (attempt to) stay relevant.

Miley Cyrus going all Lil’ Kim on yo’ ass.

Miley Cyrus comes from the Disney background where she was basically groomed for pop music success. She is pretty talented and has that Southern charm but has taken an interesting direction of late. It reeks of desperation to free herself from the good girl on Disney persona she has developed. However, plenty of shit goes down behind the scenes with pop stars. It could be a back room move to keep her ‘fresh’ and ‘with it’. Apparently people get bored of pop stars quickly. Like what happened to Hilary Duff and Jesse McCartney? To me, it really is a depressing world. Surely Billy Ray Cyrus knew about the perils of fame when he sent her daughter into the fire.

Mainstream music is dominated by misogynistic tendencies. I’m not talking hatred of women but the objectification of women in order to sell records. Video clips with scantily clad women including the artist and general lyrical content of a large portion of genres such as hip-hop. Again, I thought A$AP Rocky’s ‘Fucking Problems’ was one of the hip-hop tracks of the year but it doesn’t exactly enforce a liberating message for women. However, hip-hop did not begin the culture of misogyny and objectification of women and there are many great things about the culture and genre itself. Attractive women have been used as a marketing tool for as long as the free market has existed. We all know that it is generally an unrealistic portrayal of women as a whole but it is basically a fact of life; men are turned on by sexualised imagery and it won’t stop until either the whole world is homosexual or a watershed moment occurs and men stop thinking with their dicks. Let’s face it, it’s just not going to happen.

A$AP Rocky – Fuckin’ Problems

Anyway, I am sort of straying from my original point. Is it that we simply prefer male artists or that we have rarely been given the choice in the matter? Generally in hindsight, highlighted in the Triple J top 100 of the past 20 years, male acts dominate proceedings. Just nine of the songs featured in the countdown was a female solo act or a band fronted by a female.

Triple J Top 100 of the past 20 years analysis

It’s not that we are not graced with the presence of brilliant female artists either. Currently acts such as Daughter, The Preatures, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Haim, Adele, Beyonce and her sister Solange, PJ Harvey, Laura Marling and Regina Spektor are widely regarded. Yet, whilst male leads in most genre bang on about their exploits and hang their hat on them, female artists are seemingly always on the back foot. It’s like the music industry wants them to be apologists. Taylor Swift for instance is continually hounded and depicted as a desperately clingy young woman. Adele’s weight is still mentioned in the same breath as her outstanding voice and success and we gawk and snigger at Beyonce’s bad Superbowl snaps.

Left side, strong side.

Depending on which way you look at it, it reflects something about Western society. It either reflects that we don’t the music of women as seriously as we do that of men or the culture of these music genres is dominated by male artists and thus the numbers are made to look worse than they actually are. I’m leaning toward the former as there appears to be a cannibalising function that comes to light when a female is gaining success particularly in the pop field. There is still massive expectations placed on the shoulders of female pop stars. Be slim, but never lose too much weight. Be quirky, but don’t become a drug addict. Have an interesting sex life but don’t be a slut. Oh yeah, and occasionally perform live but don’t you fucking dare mime it or wear too much or too little! Jack White, Julian Casablancas et al, do what you want man, you’re a fucking rockstar!

Then we all start laughing when someone like Miley Cyrus appears to be losing her marbles. Don’t worry if all A$AP Rocky raps about is codeine cups and all that jazz, at least he’s not hiding from his addiction…

Enough about Miley, we’re not giving out free pop culture insight here at Trifles and Tidbits. Clearly women are underrepresented across the board in the music industry but is it due to females being less enthusiastic and passionate about music than men? I don’t believe there is any evidence that correlates to that being true and from my personal experience I have found many women are totally absorbed in the scene. A stigma seems to persist that female leads are far more demanding than their male counterparts, that they are harder to work with, that it will always remain a male dominated industry. I agree that the latter point is probably true  in certain genres, namely rock and hip-hop but the other points are complete bullshit. In my opinion there are a couple of things at work here. Firstly, that we generally place all male bands on a pedestal and still see female leads as a novelty and thus don’t consider these artists as legendary in the mist of years gone by in comparison to male artists and there is still a pervading insecurity from both sexes when it comes to female dominance in any field, not just simply in the music industry.

We could go on about the politics behind the issue and I’m sure there are many valid rebuttals that are worth considering on the topic. So let us showcase is a very tiny portion of the scope of work brilliant female musicians have served up.

Not bad at all.

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4 comments

    • To be honest, wasn’t really familiar with her before you mentioned it Kate! Love it, very honest songwriting and a good voice to boot. I’ll have to come check out that discography sometime. Who else were your absolute favourites growing up? Male and female.

      • Here are some of my favourite Aimee Mann songs, but check out “Bachelor Number 2”, “I’m with stupid” and “Lost in Space”, my three favourite albums of hers. Some links below.
        Some of my favourites growing up were also The Pretenders, Marvin Gaye, The Cranberries, and a lot of mum and dad’s old Motown records.

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