Statistics consistently show that it’s harder for females to make it into the pop industry. Real-life stories from stars like Ariana Grande and Mabel reveal the huge gender gap in pop. But female singers shouldn’t be disheartened, as female empowerment in music is on the rise.
It’s not just female vocalists who face hurdles trying to launch their singing career, but the odds are less in their favour. Hitting it big as a female artist can be hard, but it’s far from impossible. Knowing what you’re up against is the best way to beat sexism and join the surge of female empowerment in pop.
Male to female ratio in music industry
It might seem like you hear female musicians on the radio all the time. But in 2019, the Inclusion in the Recording Studio report revealed the sheer size of the gender gap in music. Female singers only make up 21.7% of artists, and only 12.3% of songwriters are women.
It’s estimated that there are four male singers to every one female singer.
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Male vs female musicians
Female singers appear to be doing really well at the moment. Billie Eilish was recently signed to record the new Bond theme tune and Tones & I’s “Dance Monkey” has been in the charts for 32 weeks and counting. However looks can be deceiving.
Women singers seem to have gained precedence in music and feature in mainstream music more than in the past. But statistics on the BBC actually reveal that the number of female singers doing well in music is no different now to what it was 12 years ago.
In 2008, 30 female artists featured on the best-selling songs of the year. In 2018, that figure didn’t go up – it remained the same. But in the same year, male pop singers were three times as successful. 90 male singers featured on the top 100 most popular songs in 2018, leaving female artists in the shadows.
History of sexism in the music industry
The growing #MeToo movement has shone a light on sexism in the music industry. The gender gap may be closing, but there’s a long way to go before female singers are recognised for their talent. Women have a harder time releasing new tracks and sadly, history shows sexism goes deeper than chart ratings.
In a 2014 radio interview with Hot 97, Iggy Azalea opened up about how fans have tried to sexually assault her at her gigs. She revealed that fans take the lyrics of her songs as an invitation to make advances on her.
Her ordeal was made light of by the radio hosts, however. They brushed over the seriousness of her sexual assault claims to instead talk about the “puffiness of her butt.” Watch the interview here.
In 2016, #FreeKesha started circulating on social media. The TiK ToK singer had launched a case against her producer Dr. Luke in 2014, claiming he had physically and mentally abused her. Despite her claims, the court ruled she had to remain in her contract with the producer.
Support from fans and fellow musicians erupted online, but the case is still ongoing today.
Diversity in the music industry | Music consumption by gender
The term “glass ceiling” refers to the barrier to success (which is sometimes invisible) that women face in their careers. It is coined from a theory by Marilyn Loden, a diversity advocate, almost 40 years ago. Modern–day pop is often slammed as having a glass ceiling and a lack of diversity.
Female singers are often faced by the glass ceiling when they try to break into the pop music industry. This isn’t due to competition from male pop singers; it’s down to the overwhelming expectations and pressure that’s put on female pop stars.
Female singers are typically expected to be more eclectic than male artists; they have to incorporate lots of different styles, genres, and ambiences into their music to stay popular and relevant.
That’s not to say that male singers don’t face pressures too, but it’s often more acceptable for artists like Shawn Mendes and Charlie Puth to produce back-to-back hits in the same style than their female counterparts.
Who dominates the music industry?
Pop and R&B singer Mabel argues that getting into pop is much harder for females. Talking to the BBC, she explained: “as women, we get moulded into something that we don’t necessarily want to be, whereas as a boy I think you’re encouraged to just sort of figure it out and do whatever you want to do. I think it’s just about encouraging the younger generations to have fun with it.”
Grammy award winner Dua Lipa has experienced first-hand how hard it can be for female artists to get acknowledged. “For a male artist, people instantly assume they write their own music, but for women, they assume it’s all manufactured,” she said in an interview with GQ. “For a female artist, it takes a lot more to be taken seriously if you’re not sat down at a piano or with a guitar.“
How bad is the music industry?
Sexism was the hot topic of debate after the 2018 Grammy’s. When only one female artist walked away with an award during the entire event, the #GrammysSoMale thread exploded.
This wasn’t a one-off occurrence; female singers are typically less likely to be recognised with an award in the music industry. At the Grammys, only 10% of the nominees were female between 2013 and 2019. That means 90% of the 899 nominees during that time period were male.
The percentage was even lower than that for women singers nominated for album or single of the year.
When challenged with these statistics, former Recording Academy president Neil Portnow responded: “Women need to step up because I think they would be welcome.”