Sexism in the music industry: gender stereotypes and the trivialization of pop musicians

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Editor’s Note: The FII #MoodOfTheMonth for November 2021 is Popular culture stories. We invite submissions on various aspects of pop culture, throughout this month. If you would like to contribute, please email your articles to [email protected]


Pop music and its role in the representation of female art has undoubtedly crossed barriers of language, culture and creativity, but has it already crossed gender barriers? From Rihanna to Gaga to 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo, almost all of pop’s greatest musicians have had stories to tell that speak volumes about the stereotypes the music industry has against female artists. We know how the criticisms against these artists are barely constructive and always boil down to words mixed with direct or indirect sexism.

In a Vogue interview, Taylor Swift once said: “I would hear people talk about sexism in the music industry, and I would say I don’t see it. I do not understand. Then I realized it was because I was a child. Men in industry saw me as a kid. I was a lanky, skinny, horny girl who reminded them more of their little niece or daughter than a successful businesswoman or colleague. “Swift was subjected to criticism regarding her body and even her artistic inspiration as a songwriter throughout her musical career. However, these were mostly concerns that had nothing to do with her art. .

A few years after this interview, young contemporary female artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish face the same criticisms of their choice of dress and even the choice of language in their own music. During a recent flurry of events, Rodrigo made headlines for not owning enough ‘originality‘in her songs, and Eilish faced an appalling rage of body criticism for appearing in a tank top in public. Despite being decades away from Swift, these young pop musicians continue to be humiliated for reasons that rarely have anything to do with their art.

This inherent attitude of complacency among people to appreciate one sex in the same industry where the other is constantly under the gaze of scrutiny is certainly something to be addressed further. Artists like Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus have always voiced the way ageism and sexism are still faced by women in the industry, while men writing about drugs and infidelity are hailed by pop culture as something ‘costs‘. To quote Lady Gaga in a 2009 interview, “You see if I was a guy and I was sitting here with a cigarette in my hands, grabbing my crotch and talking about the way I make music because I like fast cars and fucking girls , you’d call me a rock star. But when I do it in my music and videos, because I’m female and I do pop music, you judge and say it’s fun. “She then ends her comment by saying:”I’m just a rock star

The stereotypical view of female designers translates into headlines that mostly talk about who they are currently dating, who they feud with, or how well or poorly dressed they are. Magazines and news channels rejoice in feeding the world with news that simply overlooks the rest of the headlines they make with their award nominations or new releases. An attitude like this completely negates the impact they have on the music industry in the long run.

This continued hatred for young female artists is also reflected in a broader sense of the hatred of the fandoms they create among teenage girls. Their music is almost always dismissed as’the music of a 13 year old child‘on love songs and breakups. It is important to notice how words like ‘hysterical‘,’frenzy‘,’emotional‘,’hyper‘etc. are used to describe the fandoms of female artists, while the same for those of male artists like Charlie Puth, Harry Styles and Adam Levine are often described with diluted adjectives like ‘costs‘ Where ‘nervous‘.

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Read also : Sexism in the music industry: women are either marginalized or sensationalized

Along with their choice of lyrics or inspiration, record-breaking female artists also face questions about their portrayal of sexuality in music videos. If a Rihanna clip topped the charts today, the headlines would mostly be about her appearance, with less focus on the part of her creative expression in the video. The same goes for many other artists like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Shakira, who have always confidently expressed their sexuality on camera.

This trend is also very typical among artists who started out as young musicians and made their breakthrough as independent and assertive women in the industry. A few examples would be Disney stars like Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, who have faced harsh criticism over the years for their public transition from child artists to adults, fully taking charge of their sexual expression.

So, as we unravel these gender stereotypes that exist in the pop music industry, it is also extremely important to shed light on the brilliance these musicians have managed to weave in the face of all adversity. Addressing sexism in award nomination procedures, exposing unsolicited paparazzi photos and refusing to answer sexist questions in interviews are solidarity steps many artists have taken in recent years, but they are not enough.

It is important to note here that contemporary male artists like Justin Bieber or Bruno Mars, who also started out as young Internet sensations, hardly faced a scrutiny of their choice of expression while growing up. Rather, they have always been appreciated for their brilliance over the years. It doesn’t matter if they write love songs about their exes or appear nude in music videos, but if a woman of the contemporary genre does the exact same thing, she suddenly becomes’too much a lot‘for the world to take.

This inherent attitude of complacency among people to appreciate one sex in the same industry where the other is constantly under the gaze of scrutiny is certainly something to be addressed further. Artists like Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus have always voiced the way ageism and sexism are still faced by women in the industry, while men writing about drugs and infidelity are hailed by pop culture as something ‘costs‘. To quote Lady gaga from a maintenance in 2009, “You see if I was a guy and I was sitting here with a cigarette in my hands, grabbing my crotch and talking about the way I make music because I like fast cars and fucking girls , you’d call me a rock star. But when I do it in my music and videos, because I’m female and I do pop music, you judge and say it’s fun. “She then ends her comment by saying:”I’m just a rock star.

So, as we unravel these gender stereotypes that exist in the pop music industry, it is also extremely important to shed light on the brilliance these musicians have managed to weave in the face of all adversity. Addressing sexism in award nomination procedures, exposing unsolicited paparazzi photos and refusing to answer sexist questions in interviews are solidarity steps many artists have taken in recent years, but they are not enough.

You have to realize that just looking at the artistry of these musicians from a feminist perspective is not enough to bring about change. It depends on what we choose to listen to, support and buy. It is also about ensuring that more women gain access to critical positions such as producing and controlling their own art. Entertainment is an exchange between the art, the artist and the audience, and we need to integrate all of these facets in a more gender-equal way to ensure that a gender is not subjected to unfair scrutiny. to the other.

Read also : The feminist journey of popular music and counterculture in India


Mrittika is studying English Literature at the University of Jadavpur. She always liked to express her emotions through her words and songs. We often find her binging series late at night, roaming the city or trying delicacies wherever she goes

Featured Image Source: Vice

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