Some of the biggest, brightest, and most commanding voices in pop are women—and it seems like the music industry only wants to champion a few of them. A new report from the USC Annenberg Inclusivity Initiative shows that female musicians and songwriters are overwhelmingly left out of the top of pop music. The think tank’s analysis of the year-end Billboard Hot 100 charts from 2012 to 2017—600 songs in total—revealed that women only made up 22.4% of artists and 12.3% of songwriting credits.
The Billboard Hot 100 is one of the main ways, unfortunately, that the music industry ranks and rewards talent. The Grammy Awards are another, and when you look at the representation of women there, it’s even more depressing. The report examined a male/female split (other genders not included) between nominees from 2013 to 2018 across the top four categories, Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist, as well as Producer of the Year. The authors (Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti and Dr. Katherine Pieper) found that women made up only 7.9% of nominees for Record of the Year, 6.1% for Album of the Year, 21.3% for Song of the Year, 36.4% for Best New Artist, and a whopping 0% for Producer of the Year.
The percentage of female nominees for Best New Artist is somewhat relieving. Over the past five years, women made up about a third of the nominees, but the music industry shouldn’t exclusively trumpet young, up-and-coming women musicians when they are young and up-and-coming, then proceed to undervalue their work once the first hit single/first album cycle/first world tour buzz wears off.
The representation of racial minorities—and interestingly, women of color—at the top of pop music is slightly better. Across the 600 songs analyzed from five years, 42% of artists were from an “underrepresented racial/ethnic group,” i.e. they were black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, or another or mixed race. In 2016 and 2017, women from underrepresented racial minorities made up exactly half or more than half of the artists associated with that year’s hottest songs.
That’s progress—but I also hope it’s not because the music industry is throwing its support behind non-white musicians only because it’s trendy and will forget about them when race no longer sells. Too often, women and non-white folks are evaluated on how good they are within their gender or race, rather than how good they are, period. Until then, don’t let anyone tell you sexism and racism aren’t alive and well.