Though last month’s Grammys award show may make it seem like women are at the forefront of the music industry and respected as such as they rightfully should be, the reality leaves a lot to be desired. Progress has been made, yes, as women nominations in key categories surged in 2021. However, only 13% of Grammy nominees, as a whole, over the last nine years were women*. Of the women nominated, 38% were women of color*. Looking on a wider scale in the industry, only 2% of hit songs were produced by woman in the last year**. According to USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s annual report on music creators, only 21.6% of artists, and 12.6% of songwriters, have been women on the 100 highest-charting songs of the last nine years. They summed up their research saying there has been “no meaningful and sustained increase” in regards to leveling the playing field in the male-dominated music world in the last decade, ending with the perfect, highly upsetting, note, “It’s International Women’s Day everywhere, except for women in music.”
How can that be, you may ask?
Watching a few documentaries about popular female artists of all ages, I noticed even more a disturbing trend that keeps popping up in them and never seems to go away: the unrealistic and unrelenting pressure placed upon them to be an “ideal” standard, or role model, or anything else that’s impossible to live up to. Obviously, this isn’t new, and it’s sad that every woman feels societal weight on her shoulders in one way or another. The cycle of misogyny just seems to keep repeating itself. In different ways, sure, but repeating itself nonetheless with no real change.
Billie Eilish, despite all her success at such a young age, credits wanting to avoid being body-shamed as one of the main reasons she chooses to wear oversized clothes. “I never want the world to know everything about me. That’s why I wear big baggy clothes. Nobody can have an opinion because they’ve never seen what’s underneath.” Billie gets called a prude for not choosing to show off her body, but an artist that freely does so, such as Miley Cyrus, is then slut-shamed whenever she wears something revealing. Remember when Disney parents freaked out when 15-year-old Miley had her bare back exposed, but literally everything else covered, on the Vanity Fair magazine cover in 2008? Or how about how Miley was dragged through the mud for twerking at an award show? More ridiculously, when she was faulted for being “too wild” in the tabloids and blamed as that being reason her marriage ended.
Lady Gaga once had a rumor circulating she was a hermaphrodite because somebody looked at her crotch too long and started wondering. In one of her most infamous interviews, when she had just broken into the industry, she had to defend the sexual nature of her songs being labeled “distracting”. (See below for her badass, totally true response.)
For years, Taylor Swift has been very publicly shamed for “dating around too much”. Is that anybody’s buisness who she dates? No. Can you even do that “too much”? Probably not. Then, she does what any songwriter would do, and writes about her own life or love experiences, she’s oversharing. In her documentary, “Miss Americana”, she even reveals for the first time how the world’s constant thinking that she needed to be a size 00 caused her to have an eating disorder. “If you’re thin enough, you don’t have that ass that everybody wants, but if you have enough weight on you to have an ass, then your stomach isn’t flat enough. There’s always a standard of beauty that you aren’t meeting. It’s all just impossible.”
Lizzo and Adele are constantly talked about for their weight and lifestyle choices just as much, if not more, than their amazing musical abilities. First, she’s a size she’s totally fine with, but is told she should feel bad for. Then, she may try to lose weight, or even do it, and it’s “she should have loved herself more and not felt the need to do that”. Well, which is it? Why do we feel it’s necessary to police what women are eating, or if/how often they are working out? When was the last time you heard of a male celebrity being questioned for those things? Not at all saying they should be body shamed either, because it would be just as wrong in the reverse scenario, but a man putting on extra weight gets headlines such as “hot dad bod” while, god forbid, a woman eats a cookie and doesn’t do the juice cleanse or run 5 miles a day like you think she should. These woman are gorgeous at any size and can sing circles around every single one of us. That’s what actually matters.
Even most recently as this past week, in Demi Lovato’s YouTube documentary, “Dancing with the Devil”, she reveals her choice to living a “California Sober” lifestyle. The viewer YouTube comments were disgusting, saying “guess she didn’t learn”, “why is she still talking about this”, and “that’ll never work”. This woman has been an outspoken advocate for so many years about her most personal, deeply serious issues and illnesses she’s faced. If anything, she should be praised for dismantling a stigma around mental health, seeking help, and choosing to live a happy and healthy life.
It’s very concerning to see how the literal obsession and lust (not to mention creepy and extremely outdated) over the female body in society continues to perpetuate a “downfall” for females. At ten years old, yes, TEN, Britney Spears was asked by a man old enough to be her grandfather if she had a boyfriend after singing for a TV contest. Of all the things that could’ve been asked of a preteen aspiring singer? As if we can’t fathom her being successful on her own without any man propping her up? Start them young, right? (Sound familiar to what was mentioned earlier about Miley Cyrus at 15? Sexualizing the young girls prematurely and then critiquing them even more years later when they grow into that role? But of course, even that has an expiration date. If you want to be like Madonna and still rocking your older years, you’ll then get judged for not “giving up a long time ago.” Apparently post-30s and still desirable isn’t a thing?) In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Britney is told that the governor of Maryland’s wife said (or, more accurately, threatened) that she would “shoot Britney spears if given the chance.” To which, of course, Britney responded horrified, “that’s really sad she said that”. Sawyer seemed to side with the accusation and dismiss the severity of it, saying “it’s because of the example for kids and how hard it is to be a parent.” “I’m not here to babysit her kids”, Britney responded. Ladies, we can do better. We’re being pitted against one other, just to fit into some “good girl” image and always wanting to say “at least I’m not like HER!” Why? Who and what is gained from that? All of this, and so much more, is in her deeply upsetting documentary, “Framing Britney Spears”, which goes into more detail about how Britney was thrown unfair jabs and made to look like she was the crazy one her entire life. All leading up to the still-ongoing case of her conservatorship where she isn’t in control of any part of her life. Which led me to think, if even these entertainers, especially one like Britney Spears, can’t catch a break, when and where can any woman feel free?
Lest we forget of all the women of color and other minority groups who often get forgotten about and tossed aside for literally no other reason than misogyny and racism. Who can forget Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl in the early 2000s, when her breast was accidentally exposed. You’d think she went on TV and put a curse on all the viewers’ family lines based on the response it got. Thousands complained to the FCC for the mishap, which led the chairman to declare it as a “celebration tainted by a classless, crass and deplorable stunt.” Want to guess if the chairman at the time was a man? Then the next album Janet released following the mishap was her least-successful in the previous twenty years. Coincidence? I think not. She’s part of the most talented family in music history, yet all of this uproar and boycotting, over a boob?!
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Name any other popular female artist and you can find more examples of this. Ariana Grande? Rihanna? Yes, even Beyonce. Nobody is immune.
How can we change this? Like anything else, it starts small. It starts by not judging the music girls listen to. Yes, boy bands count as “real music”!! Who typically sells out stadiums for their favorite artists and make them the stars they are, buying the merch, spreading the news, showing undying loyalty at every opportunity? The female fanbase. It shouldn’t be feared or ignored, but celebrating as the strongest, most important force in music. It starts small by giving those girls, who then turn into women, roles and chances in the industry to prove themselves like any other man should have to. It then continues by letting those women rise in the ranks in those music companies, to roles where she actually holds real power, not keeping her at a low-level positions just to prove you hire women. The narrative around what we expect a woman and a male to be, in regards to clothing, attitude, artistry, and beyond, should be equally respectful. The music industry would only benefit from adding more women lead the charge of the forever boys club it’s been. We’re so creative, talented, see our emotions as a strength rather than a weakness, and above all, are always ready and willing to exceed expectations. Especially to prove people wrong. Trust and invest in her ideas, aspirations, instincts, and knowledge. Not only in music, but every facet of life. We can’t change the world’s issues with this overnight, but we can make misogyny sing a different tune, here with the music. Now Alexa, play “Boys Will Be Boys” by Dua Lipa.
*According to She-Is-The-Music
**According to Rolling Stone