Sexism in the Music Industry


Written by Naomi Kay
01 Monday 01st June 2009

With a record number of female solo artists making the cut, the recent Mercury Prize nominations were revered as a triumph for women. Florence, La Roux, Speech Debelle, Bat for Lashes and Lisa Hannigan all help to confirm why 2009 was supposedly the ‘year of the female artist’. However it is unclear whether this has been a revival for female empowerment or just an underhand continuation of male dominance within the industry.

Uses gimmicks to help mask the fact she can't sing.


There are few examples where female singer-songwriters are completely doing it for themselves. Take La Roux (above)- fronted by a woman (who technically can't sing) but whose songs are actually co-written and produced by Ben Langmaid. Little Boots’ first song ‘Stuck on Repeat’ was produced by Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard, a name that undoubtedly helped to elevate her to the mainstream. Lady Gaga, Florence, Roux and Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes) all pride themselves on some sort of flamboyant gimmick. It’s hard to ascertain whether dancing around half-naked in flimsy costumes was entirely their own idea.

Parlophone's Pop Art Princess

Indeed, record labels and studios are places that are dominated by men; a scene they would be wary to change. There are plenty of female singer/producers out there but the fact that few are well known is testament to the pull of the industry. The prospect of signing a young, blonde singer (preferably from Essex) is far more alluring than a mouthy singer/producer. This probably helps to explain why Pixie Lott got a record deal far quicker than say, Mpho Skeef (above). Even then, Parlophone’s marketing strategy was to limit Skeef’s creativity and diversity and brand her down the ‘Pop Art’ route. Indeed for her debut, Skeef samples ‘80s tune ‘Echo Beach’. Although nothing screams Brixton more than singing over a Canadian dance song, there must have been compromise at some level.

Producer MCs

To be a successful mainstream artist it’s normal to have to compromise but women have always had to do it to a far greater extent. In the late ‘80s, Salt-n-Pepa were so frustrated by the misogynist aspects of gangsta rap they set up their own record label. Many female rappers knew that to get the respect and control they deserved, this route was the only one to take. Cue Missy’s ‘Gold Mind Label’ (where she also producers many of her own songs) and more recently M.I.A’s N.E.E.T label. Compared to the majority of the Mercury nominated artists, the girls emerging from such labels (like Rye Rye from N.E.E.T) appear to be less gimmicky.

Perhaps it's too easy to say that gimmicks are synonymous with a male-dominated music industry. There are artists, such as Mercury Music Prize winner Speech Debelle, who are promoting women in different fields of music. However, there are too few truely talented women following suit. This shows that, really, little has changed and instead of a fire for women to dance in front of, it’s now a room full of label execs.

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