At the close of 2016, a year when many people saw that rampant sexist attitudes can win you the U.S. presidency, Icelandic artist Björk made an impassioned post on Facebook denouncing sexism within the music industry.
In her post she made a point about the seemingly double standard of record companies accepting male artists who jump between political, humorous or experimental songs, while accepting only female artists that sing exclusively about love and heartbreak:
“On the activist Volta I sang about pregnant suicide bombers and for the independence of Faroe Islands and Greenland, on the pedagogic Biophilia I sang about galaxies and atoms but it wasn’t until Vulnicura where I shared a heartbreak I got full acceptance from the media.”
More recently, British artist Kate Nash began a Kickstarter to help fund her 4th studio album. Her intent was to curtail the record industry she felt had been exploitative and manipulative of young female artists, molding their commercial appeal at the expense of their self-expression.
It’s a tired but self-evident truth that sexist attitudes remain in the music industry. While many see an overall shift in society’s views and move towards a balance of gender equality in employment, the music world is still under the watch of mostly male executives put in places of authority in the 1980’s and 90’s and who are still trying to maintain their status quo.
Case in point: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Its nominating committee and choice of inductees has not been without its share of criticisms. The push for mostly white, male artists from the 1960’s and 70’s is a selection bias reflective of the committee created by Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner.
After this year’s paltry 1 female inductee of Joan Baez (already overdue), many are predicting next year’s list which includes the likes of Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and The Cars.
One wonders when Whitney Houston or Carole King will be recognized for their innovations, as opposed to Eric Clapton being inducted 3 separate times. And will current artists like Rihanna or Taylor Swift gain this credibility in the next 10 years?
Many commentators are hesitant to call even the most experimental music made by a woman anything except “pop”, a label that carries baggage of fashion, fads and an image. Translation: something not to be taken seriously.
Just to name a few examples, St. Vincent, Sia, and Florence + the Machine have been labelled by the press as “indie pop” or “chamber pop” countless times.
Kate Nash’s venture may make her as innovative as Radiohead’s “pay what you want” approach for their 2007 release In Rainbows. In both cases the artist is confident enough in the strength of their own material to gain acceptance not from the record industry but from those who matter: the fans.
Most importantly, female artists like Kate Nash using the online community to their advantage may mean record companies in general may eventually go the way of the CD or VHS tape. We’ve yet to see if 2017 will bring this about.