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BEHIND THE CURTAIN:
WOMEN IN MUSIC

As the Grammy's launch a new study to investigate women’s representation in music, we take a look at how far there is still to go.

It’s no secret that women have been overlooked and underrepresented for years in the entertainment industries, even after the #MeToo movement began, and the music industry is no exception. So it’s well overdue that the Recording Academy, Berklee College of Music and Arizona State University are partnering to finally launch an investigation into the issue. 

Artists have previously openly voiced their disappointment with awards such as The Grammy’s. In fact, in 2018 only 17 out of 86 awards went to women or acts fronted by women. But when asked about the struggles and obstacles women were facing in the industry, The Recording Academy’s ex-boss Neil Portnow responded with this: “I think it has to begin with women who have the creativity in their hearts and their souls who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, who want to be producers, who want to be part of the industry on an executive level to step up,” Portnow said, adding that the industry should create opportunities “not only for women but for all people who want to be creative”. 

The suggestion that women in music are not in higher positions of power or being rewarded for their talent is because they need to “step up” and not because of the sexism, bias and structures in place that make it harder to do so, is reductionist and, frankly, insulting. There are countless women in the music industry who still aren’t celebrated in the same way as their male counterparts. Notably, the ratio of female nominees to male nominees between 2013 and 2020 is testament. 42 percent of nominees for the Grammy Awards in the category Best New Artist were female, but for Record Of The Year, it was a different story – where only 8.2% were female nominees. And for Album Of The Year, only 7.6% were female nominees. 

“There are countless women in the music industry who still aren’t celebrated in the same way as their male counterparts."

The music industry clearly has a long way to go before we reach a point of true representation for women. And the issue runs deep. There is also gender disparity behind the scenes: in 2018, only four out of 871 producers were women of color, and out of 400 songs and 871 producers, only 2% were female. than just gender comparison. But we can’t discuss gender representation without addressing misogynoir, a type or discriminiation and abuse against Black women. Misogynoir is perpetuated through societal and individual physical violence against women. 

Take Chris Brown, for instance, who has still continued to storm the charts, make millions and collaborate with A-list artists despite physically assaulting Rihanna back in 2009. She was pictured bruised with a split lip after he attacked her in his car when the relationship broke down because of his own wrongdoing (allegedly having been unfaithful). The day the story broke, much of the world watched on in concern, disgusted and in disbelief, but many others were silent, quietly condoning what Chris Brown had done. We also saw a similar pattern last year with Tory Lanez’ alleged shooting of Megan Thee Stallion. After the news was released, Twitter broke out in frenzy and the reaction was mixed. There were responses of concern but also cruel memes created that were mocking in tone, evidence that violence against Black women just isn’t taken seriously. 

But there are positives among the negatives. An International Women’s Day report from PRS for Music revealed that more women registered as professional songwriters in 2020, a good sign that women are not being discouraged from pursuing a career in music. It was reported that approximately 1.9k women registered as professional songwriters and composers last year, which is a 12.3% year-on-year increase when compared to 2019. However, the report did also reveal that male musicians did still earn more money than female musicians last year, with results showing that the top 10 highest earning female songwriters and composers generated 70% less income than their male counterparts.

It’s clear that the music industry has a problem. Abusive, toxic and predatory men in music need to be held accountable for their actions and more women need to be hired across the board, not just for the Billboards.

Words by Lola Christina Alao

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