We need to talk about music’s gender gap

Ella Guthrie /
Feb 6, 2018 / Opinion

When Cardi B became the first female rapper to top US billboard charts in 19 years, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it’s a good time to be a woman in the music industry.

Well, sorry to rain all over that parade, but that’s hardly the case. In fact, there is still a massive disparity between women and men in the music industry, and – much like in Hollywood with #MeToo and Time’s Up – it needs to be addressed.

Last week, the Grammys were awash with empowering speeches by artists such as Janelle Monae and Camila Cabello and featured a heart wrenching performance by Kesha of her power ballad ‘Praying’. But, the whole affair was more like a bad wedding cake: pretty on the outside and cardboard on the inside. While it may have looked and sounded like a ceremony built upon female empowerment, this ‘theme’ was barely reflected in the winners list. It’s not too dissimilar from the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of a few years before – something we’re only just managing to break down (go Posh Kenneth, go.)

Don’t be fooled by the idea that women need to ‘step up’ to win the awards that men are. Women have been killing it this year – and the Grammy awards are not the only indicator of the obvious disparity. Wireless festival’s line-up release conjured up quite a bit of confusion on Twitter, with people baffled as to why there were only three female acts playing over the course of three whole days.

Let’s be honest, women taking up space in hip-hop is difficult enough as it is. Those not so familiar with the intricacies of rap will have no problem moaning to you that it’s all about violence and drugs, the genre is famous as a propeller for change. NWA stirred controversy in the ’80s with ‘Fuck The Police’, a song addressing the violence against black people in America committed by law enforcement, while Kendrick Lamar has since grabbed the baton and is running ahead with it now. Similarly, grime – inherently political – helped spur a movement in the UK last year.

So, why are we still seeing such a lack of women represented in the genre? It’s not like there aren’t any women of note (as much as the Grammys president might have you believe). Jorja Smith has been making waves over the whole of 2017. Not to mention Steflon Don, Little Simz, Noname, Nadia Rose, Lady Leshurr, Ill Camille, SZA, Ms Banks, Remy Ma, Syd, Leikeli47, Nicki Minaj, Quay Dash, Gavlyn, Blimes Brixton, Neisha Ne’shae, RAYE and Princess Nokia – all of whom could also have easily made their way onto the line-up. In my opinion, all deserve to be there more than Tim Westwood, who can’t even send a snapchat to the right person.

The bar is set too high for the women of hip-hop.  They are largely held to a much higher standard – the Hillary Clinton of the music world, if you will. No matter what the radio or award shows might tell you, there are so many incredibly female artists across a variety of different scenes and genres at the moment – from soul to R&B to hip-hop and grime. To take a lesson from the hit Boy Better Know track: there’s way too many men and we really need some more girls in here.

Update: Since this piece was published, it was brought to our attention that Ray BLK tweeted that she was approached by Wireless, but unable to commit to this year’s festival. Her name has since been removed from the list of examples we suggested.

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Words by Ella Guthrie

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