After the phenomenal chart success of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, you could be forgiven for thinking women were equal in the music industry. But while album sales may be up for those at the top, few can reach these heights and hang onto their integrity, following Mrs Carter’s mantra dominant themes of sexual power, self-love, confidence and independence. Instead, for most female artists wanting to make it into the big time, labels encourage them to go down the route of over-sexualisation, changing their appearance to suit a male-focused market, all for one thing: sales.
There is a fine line between pushing the boundaries through individuality, and through sheer irresponsibility, a fact record bosses are clearly aware of, encouraging singers such as Miley Cyrus into crude performances all for the sake of some Twitter coverage. As much as an artist like Rhianna demands respect for her musical talents, it feels somewhat undermined when she finishes a show by prancing around in her underwear, belting out sexual innuendos.
But then isn’t this what women have been fighting for? The ability to wear and say what they want to without judgement? It’s frequently discussed amongst my peers, with some arguing that there is more pressure for women to be role models than there is for men. After all, people still listen to convicted abuser Chris Brown, whilst the ever-popular Eminem continues to write songs about raping and murdering his ex-wife. If the media are willing to except such rudimentary justifications of art from men, then why is there still one naked truth to be addressed?
Aesthetics are still one of the governing factors of success for a female artist, holding more sway over the artists success than their musical ability. Paparazzi are not shy to prey on stars in the same mannerism as a vulture stalking a wounded carrion – diving to feast on their ‘worst outfits’, ‘weight gain’, ‘bad hair days’ and the classic ‘no make-up disaster look’, and we then ridicule them senseless. But do we see any of these belittling, so-called storylines of male figures in the daily mail online? Short answer: no. Here is where the true issue lies – the general public’s media fuelled inability to view these musicians as anything else beyond their make-up artists and stylist skills. Women are still treated like dolls with a shelf like before the new model comes in.
32.2: The percentage of jobs in the music industry held by women
4: The number of women to have reached number one in 2015
Despite prominent female figures like Rihanna, Adele and Nicki Minaj, only 32.2% of music industry related jobs go to females. In 2015 so far, the UK number one spot has been taken by fifteen male artists, compared to just 4 women. Where female singers frequently appear as “featuring” artists, men dominate the titular spot.
Despite rejecting the label of being a feminist, Beyoncé simultaneously advocates gender equality and women’s rights. Her recent work received much criticism, demonstrating the turbulent nature of feminism and gender equality within today’s mainstream consumer culture. People seem to expect female artists to be role models to young girls, yet male artists consistently get away with crude and revolting innuendos within their songs… just look at ‘Blurred Lines’.
Rihanna’s video for ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ was a slick, vividly-shot film seeing Rihanna taking a rich white woman a hostage to get money from an accountant. The video was criticised for its exploitation of drugs, violence, sex and whatever else the media chose to meticulously pick out from it. Eminem’s lyrics “I’ll still be able to break a motherfuckin’ table/ Over the back of a couple of faggots and crack it in half,” are justified as creative license, with Eminem being rooted in a much darker, creative place. Instead, the public chooses to concentrate on the developing sensuality of Selena Gomez’s music videos, or the tiff that Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj engaged in at the VMAs. There are clear double standards when it comes to gender.
As far as the financial equality of men and women in the music industry goes, gender clearly plays no role. Physical and digital sales, merchandising and gig tickets are all easy enough to make money from, whether the artist is male or female. No, the discrepancy lies not with the money women can make, but instead with the fact that women are consistently pushed to the side of the music industry and subjected to a deluded concept of “beauté deviant cerveaux” (“beauty before brains”). It’s funny, isn’t it? How a simple gendered phrase in French masks the damaging potential of its true meaning? Just like a sexist lyric with a catchy beat.