Katy Holmes gives us her take on all of her favourite female pop queens.
So, let’s begin with what pop music in 2020 looks like. Can we agree that pop music has become an amorphous genre, rather than just a style of song with a repetitive chorus and a catchy hook? Our pop charts of 2020, are mainly dominated by artists from hip-hop backgrounds or country beginnings, and of course powerhouse K-Pop legends. Mainstream and charting isn’t everyone’s first choice, but there’s no denying pop music is still the most popular kid in school. In a male dominated industry, seeing the rise and reign of Pop Queens this year is as welcome as flowers in May. From this non-exhaustive roster, our Majesties of Pop: Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Lorde (whom we desperately need new music from!!), Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Blackpink, Dua Lipa, Lizzo… who wears the crown for you?
Let me first give you a rundown of what my current playlist curation looks like. Before anything, we’ve respectfully added ‘WAP’, 8 times for good measure, by the two biggest and most iconic household rap names in the game, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. After an energising and liberating listening session to ‘WAP’, we move on to find a heavily tiktok inspired list of songs, from Claire Rosinkranz’s ‘Backyard Boy’, a sprinkling of Doja Cat throughout, to a truly future nostalgic remix of ‘Levitating’ from Dua Lipa, Madonna and Missy Elliot. Making our way through this sonically incoherent playlist, I’ve added my favourite, what I call ‘rising star bops’: my antipathetic anthem of the year, ‘People I Don’t Like’, produced with the utmost quality and attitude from UPSAHL, then something a touch slower from FLETCHER’s boldly transparent and raw The S(ex) Tapes album. There is not a playlist I’ve created since July which has not included at least one song from Taylor Swift’s mystical escape-to-an-enchanted-woods-and-never-come-back fantasy album folklore. As you can see, the vibe created through this pandemic playlist is quite the rollercoaster of sounds, something for every occasion, but all in all it’s a playlist dominated by the women who I believe are reigning the charts right now. It is more than vital that we are seeing representation of female artists in the charts, alongside their male counterparts, for so many reasons. However, with any woman at the top of her game, along come uninvited yet predictable ‘discussions’ around her work, its authenticity and her respectability. That’s right, I’m particularly referring at this time, to the controversy surrounding the release of ‘WAP’…
Male rappers have spent their careers rapping about their sex lives and the women they’ve been with, but when a woman does the same thing and gains any level of success from it, she is met with unsolicited comments about her music, branding it as degrading and trashy, a double standard for the ages. There is such arrogance and entitlement towards the work of female artists, with endless strangers on the internet commenting on their career moves and artistic expression, deciding whether or not a woman fits their expectations enough for them to respect her. This is why it’s so important for women to be in pop, in rap, in the charts, to be seen in popular music, so we can have conversations, confront these misogynistic attitudes, call out the sexism and double standards, and let younger generations feel empowered by the success of other women.
Even with the progress of women in music, the USC Annenburg music report from 2019, which assessed the diversity of creators in the music industry, showed us why we still have so far to go. The report found only 22.5% of songs from 2019 were made by female artists, and even worse a microscopic 5% represented women in producing roles. You may ask why gender always has to be brought into it, but if these statistics are not enough to stir a thought, engender conversations about a deeply rooted issue of sexism in music, take a moment to reconsider. When there are sexist structural faults of the music world being blissfully ignored, no change for the better can be made. The industry has created profound barriers that inhibit the progress of truly talented female artists, women who belong on the same pedestal men have stood on for decades.
The industry has created profound barriers that inhibit the progress of truly talented female artists, women who belong on the same pedestal men have stood on for decades.
Pop is the music that reaches most people, is listened to most widely, played on the biggest radio stations and tends to be the most promoted on streaming services. With the way music can influence the mind-sets, the opinions and outlooks of society, it is a framework through which we can knock down and rebuild expectations set in place for each gender. What this means is popular music has the power to reset standards expected of women; it can influence and put into question any harmful or restrictive stereotypes that we’ve let fester too long. It is expected of women to constantly change their image, remain youthful and beautiful in order to be successful, with a cut off of their career once they pass 30. Unless you can be manipulated and fit this Barbie criteria, then you don’t get to reach the mainstream. But that is why, from years of subtle changes and activism we are starting to see female power rise, and seeing artists who have been in the game for a while break out of the cages and step out of the boxes they’ve been trapped in their whole career. That’s why I personally find Taylor Swift to be one of the most ground-breaking artists out there, not just in reference to her genius when it comes to lyricism, genre-shifting, global domination, but also because she is a woman who has about seen it all and ticked off every box of facing misogynistic tyrants in the music world. From male colleagues secretly buying the rights to her music or being humiliated at 19 on stage by an outspoken male artist, the list is rather long. Explained more thoroughly in her documentary Miss Americana, she talks through how being one of the most successful pop stars on the planet came with a fear that if she didn’t keep up a squeaky clean reputation and pop princess image, she’d be tossed aside ready for the next star to satisfy their expectations.
This conversation is in effect, but not finished yet, women in pop are essential and we need to continue to fight against the obstacles that have long been stood in their way. We cannot let there be any more limits to what women can achieve, so support your queens of pop, check your playlists, are you listening to female artists? Are you also supporting queer womxn and women of colour who face a whole other level of discrimination in the industry? You can always be a part of fighting against gender inequality, and bettering a creative field so many of us love, even from the comfort of your home and headphones.