After a year that felt both retrograde and unprecedented when it came to shitty men seizing and losing power, 2017 in pop reflected one of the most significant gender gaps in chart history. For the first time since 1984, the entire top 10 of Billboard’s 2017 year-end top artists were men. (Billboard begun tracking an annual artist list in 1981.) Their success extended to singles and albums, too, where men entirely populated the top 10 as lead artists—with the exception of Halsey, who broke through as a feature on The Chainsmokers’ “Closer.”
Scanning down the lists, you’ll find the usual suspects: Ed Sheeran was the top artist of the year, had the top single of the year (“Shape of You”) and the fourth-highest charting album of the year. Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. was the top-selling album of the year, and he landed in the top 5 for both artist and single categories (“HUMBLE.”). Bruno Mars, Drake, The Weeknd, and The Chainsmokers are all well-represented. Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber’s “Despacito” clocked in at No. 2 on the year-end singles chart, despite tying the longest-running streak at the top with 16 consecutive weeks.
So where are the women? Perhaps the first big omission to note is Taylor Swift, whose triple-platinum Reputation is technically the top-selling album of 2017—the eligibility period only extended from Dec. 3, 2016, to Nov. 25, 2017. Swift will certainly be considered for the 2018 year-end chart, similarly to how she missed the window on this most recent round of Grammy nominations. “Look What You Made Me Do” appears further down on the singles list, at No. 39.
Cardi B, Taylor’s great foil and critical favorite, who had the second No. 1 single by a woman this year, only shows up at No. 24 on the year-end singles list. Despite any perception among critics and fans (this blog included) that “Bodak Yellow” was a seismic phenomenon, it was technically just a little bit less popular than Shawn Mendes’ “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” and Charlie Puth’s “Attention.” Anytime an artist hits No. 1, it can skew the perception of how big a song really is, when factors like longevity and competition in that moment render it even more arbitrary than the ways in which artists can game the system.
We felt the absence of pop’s biggest female players who were between albums this year: Adele, Beyoncé, and Rihanna were all laying low. (Rihanna’s Anti was still the highest-charting appearance by a woman on the albums chart, at No. 23.) Katy Perry, who used to be a sure thing in each of the three major Billboard categories, released an astonishing flop this year (Witness) that kept her out of the top 50 on each chart, save for artist of the year (barely squeaking in at No. 49). Although Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman came out way back in May 2016, she was the highest-placing woman on the artist chart at No. 15.
The pendulum will swing back a little next year: Swift may have already clinched top 5 placement on artist and album charts, and if any of the aforementioned artists who took 2017 off come back, they’ll be in play for the top 10 on all three year-end charts. Ed, Bruno, and The Weeknd aren’t necessarily bigger stars than the most powerful women in pop—they just picked the right year to make a dent all at once.
For as much talk about how streaming has skewed the game in favor of hip-hop, a predominantly male-dominated genre, from the labels on down, there’s still space for a blockbuster pop release to sell a boatload of copies and spawn successful singles. As Katy showed us this year, poptimism has moved beyond its too-big-to-fail period, but you still have to be the biggest to make it.