- 10 Mar 21
A recent study from the University of Southern California has once again demonstrated the bleak reality for women in popular music.
A newly published study has highlighted the further exclusion of people who identify as women in popular music charts from the last decade. The study only analysed this genre of music, whereas there is a higher proportion of women, non-binary people and BAME artists in the independent music industry and charts.
The latest report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative sought to “assess the gender and race/ethnicity of artists, songwriters, and producers across the 800 top songs from 2012-2019,” using data from the Billboard Hot 100 year-end charts.
Less than 23 percent of artists and less than 2 percent of producers were women, the researchers found. In 2020, women were outnumbered on the US Billboard charts by men at a ratio of 3.9 to 1.
Women including Dua Lipa, Maren Morris, Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion made up 20.2% of the 173 artists that appeared on the chart in 2020, dropping from 22.5% in 2019 – and a high of 28.1% in 2016.
“It is International Women’s Day everywhere, except for women in music, where women’s voices remain muted,” said Dr Stacy L. Smith, who led the survey. “While women of colour comprised almost half of all women artists in the nine years examined, there is more work needed to reach inclusion in this business.”
This year’s study generated the fourth annual report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which was compiled by Dr. Smith, Dr. Katherine Pieper, Hannah Clark, Ariana Case, and Marc Choueiti - with funding received from Spotify for the research.
The University of Southern California also reviewed the Grammys’ five biggest categories: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, Best New Artist, and Producer of the Year.
The number of women nominees is trending upwards but the nine-year peak in 2021 represented only 28.1 percent of total nominees, and as recently as 2017 was a mere 6.4 percent. The Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences hired its first chief diversity and inclusion officer last year.
Other trends include the divide between women solo artists (31 percent) and women in bands (7.3 percent), and between women artists in total (21.6 percent) and women songwriters (12.6 percent).
Genre-wise, female artists were most prominent in pop (32 percent) while only 12.3 percent of hip-hop/rap songs were performed by women. And though all-male writing teams were common (57.3 percent), less than 1 percent of songs had women-only writing credits.
Black, Brown and Asian female artists made up 45.4 percent of performers in the 800 songs in the study. The report determined that this grouping were essentially “invisible” as producers, landing just eight of the 1,093 producing credits.
Offering a contrasting view, Heba Kadry, who worked as a sound engineer for Björk, Deerhunter, and many more, expressed her discontentment with the limited data behind the study.
“It’s the same three majors hiring the same nine dudes to work on everything," she wrote of the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
She added, “I’m getting a bit tired of peddling this 2% statistic when there are objectively far more women in audio production & engineering in the independent music scene across all genres. We are actually out here.”
Read Kadry's full statement on the data below:
— Heba Kadry (@hebakadryy) March 9, 2021
In 2019, the Recording Academy (responsible for the Grammys) launched the Women in the Mix pledge, inviting anyone in the music industry responsible for hiring producers and engineers to commit to considering “a slate of candidates that includes at least two women” as part of its inclusion taskforce.
Of the 38 pledge-takers with a song on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart in 2020, none had worked with a woman producer (although they may have done on non-charting songs).
The sole artist to work with a woman engineer was Ariana Grande – who took on the role for her lockdown duet with Justin Bieber, 'Stuck With U'.