Music’s gender gap: why so few women make the US pop charts, whether as singers, songwriters or producers
A recent survey of the US Billboard Hot 100 and the Grammy Awards shows a gender gap that rivals Hollywood: women make up less than a quarter of artists and account for only one in eight songwriters
A new survey of top pop charts over the past six years finds that men overwhelmingly dominate the ranks of artists and songwriters and that only 2 per cent of producers in music are female.
The University of Southern California study shows women comprised just 22.4 per cent of artists and 12.3 per cent of songwriters on the Billboard Hot 100, a singles chart that crosses musical genres.
Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift dominated the charts during this period but the survey found that relatively fewer other women in the music industry are employed behind those superstars.
“For women, pursuing music as an artist is largely a solo activity, and appears to be a lonely one,” the researchers write. They note that the numbers were “surprising” because women are big customers of music, making up 53 per cent of digital music buyers in 2014.
The night Dolores O’Riordan made Gwen Stefani sound terrible – Hong Kong fans remember The Cranberries singer
The university’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative researchers examined 600 songs appearing on the Billboard Hot 100 end-of-year charts from 2012 to 2017. A total of 1,239 solo performers, duos and bands were included.
Some of the more eye-popping numbers include that only two women of colour were among the ranks of the 651 producers listed in the charts while nine male songwriters were responsible for one-fifth of the songs in the sample.
“What’s really problematic about this is that those many men and their views of the world are setting an agenda for pop culture,” says Dr Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the Inclusion Initiative. She calls the handful of powerful men in music “gatekeepers” who may not reflect the “dynamic world in which we live”.
The Inclusion Initiative has also previously examined gender disparity in films and found that a bias in favour of men seems to be the reason female directors aren’t tapped to helm major motion pictures.
“My sneaking suspicion is the exact same bias is operating with producers – that mental template pulls male. And that bias is preventing women from being considered and brought on board these really important projects,” Smith says.
Some of the biggest gender disparity data was shown in 2017, a year in which the researchers note women “forcibly took hold of the cultural conversation”. In 2017, a mere 2 per cent of producers of 300 popular songs were female and only four female producers worked on the 100 top songs. Females comprised just 16.8 per cent of popular artists on the top charts.
The researchers also looked at Grammy Award nominees and found more of the same. A total of 899 people were nominated for Grammys between 2013 and 2018. Of those, 90.7 per cent were male and 9.3 per cent were female.
“If the industry is concerned about issues of inclusion, this is the way forward – by actually having a road map of what this issue of representation looks like,” Smith says. “So they can set target inclusion goals and think more critically about how to meet the needs of not only consumers but also developing artists and to ensure that they look like the world we live in.”