Gender & The Music Industry

No Girls Aloud. Sorry Cheryl.

When my good friend Dr. Barry asked me to curate a playlist to reflect gender in the music industry for his Fashion Concepts and Theory class at Ryerson University, I wondered where to start. From the recent complexities of #FreeKesha to Taylor Swift’s gender equality speech at the Grammys (who coincidentally, was surrounded by an entirely male crowd at the time), the music industry is inherently mired in gender politics.

To state the music industry is by default, geared towards men, would be a colossal understatement. Considering statistically speaking there are no genres of music where men are the minority listeners, you can understand that the music industry is latently targeting preconceived male ideals in an attempt to sell. more. music.  To provide a brief demonstration, I’ve selected a few prominent figures from the exclusive Billboard 100 club to highlight the influence gender has on their artistry.


Taylor Swift

Tired of her long list of Starbucks lovers and being labeled ‘crazy’ in a hypocritical world where men in her position would be hailed as ‘studs’, T-Swizzle completely reversed her public image with ‘Blank Space‘, embodying a plethora of sexist tropes to expose them.


Rihanna

Aside of the obvious ‘Rude Boy‘ title and it’s sexually explicit content (I mean, the album was called ‘Rated R’ for a reason) when you actually repeat the lyrics to yourself, like ‘can you get it up?’ and ‘are you big enough?’, RiRi is not only making an explicitly obvious references to gender but she’s aggressively countering the misogynistic lyrics of a male dominated genre.


Beyonce

Who run the world? Beyonslay… and she didn’t just wake up like this (and by ‘this’ I mean a leading feminist) – almost every track under Beyonce’s extensive musical portfolio can be assigned to gender in some way.

From the ubiquitously feminist anthems ‘Flawless‘ and ‘If I Were A Boy‘, to the subtle negative complexities of ‘Bills Bills Bills‘ which enforce the idea that men are only good for paying telephone/automo’ bills (and if you do then maybe you can Netflix and chill).

Drake

Yes, Toronto’s heart-throb Drizzy relies on gender just as much as his trusty lint-roller. ‘Hotline Bling’ is the perfect example of Drake reprimanding an unknown female for ‘wearing less and going out more’, and because ‘sipping champagne out on the dance-floor’ requires permission… from a man. Take several seats, Drake.

Fifth Harmony

In contrast to Destiny’s Child’s reliance on a male breadwinner, we have Fifth Harmony’s female empowerment anthem ‘Bo$$‘. If name dropping Michelle Obama and Oprah in the same sentence isn’t a giant equal gender reaffirmation for you, then honestly, I don’t know what is. So swipe your card and let’s do the nae-nae for some girl power.

Little Mix

Fifth Harmony’s UK rivals Little Mix haven’t quite reached integral music industry status, but after their Brit Awards performance, they should. Ever hear their girl power anthem ‘Salute’? No? Well grab your killer heels and have a listen.


Justin Bieber

JB’s ‘Sorry‘ isn’t a direct gender related track, but the success behind the respective video featuring a number of professional female dancers is widely attributed to the fact that:

  1. The dancers are simply dancing for the sake of having fun, and not to seduce a male. Note, there are zero males in this music video; and
  2. Justin Bieber is not included in the video either – rendering these ladies the subject of the video, not the object. Dance kweens!

Britney Spears

Let’s not forget The Holy Spearit. At the tender age of 14, I would actively emulate Britney’s VMA python performance of ‘I’m A Slave 4 U‘, unfortunately this was with little realisation of the underlying tones of female objectification and ultimately, submission. Male validation is rife with this one, trollops.

Lady Gaga

Last but not least, music industry heavyweight champion that pays zero attention to gender norms – Lady Gaga. The ‘Bad Romance‘ music video sees Lady Gaga become a victim of sex trafficking, only to end up murdering the man that turned her into a commodity in the first place. Take that, overbearing patriarchy.

So there you have it trollops – a shallow delve into the figurative iceburg also known as predominantly male music industry. Fortunately for everyone involved, the wind of change is upon us and the constrictive boundaries of gender are gradually eroding to irrelevance.

There is, however, a particularly hefty way to go, especially when we look further than cis-gender. For example, Anohni was nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars this year, but she was also not invited to perform (whereas cis The Weeknd, Lady Gaga, Sam Smith and Dave Grohl were scheduled to perform) – a sobering reminder that gender related prejudice is still an issue, even in 2016. I mean, Dave Grohl? WTAF. So let’s keep that Spice World casett- ahem, CD on repeat, yeah?