Pop's gender imbalance

Female stars are enjoying record success in the charts. But, says Gillian Orr, their industry and media profile is dictated by sexism
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The Independent Online

It was the weekend when it was announced that women were responsible for each of the UK's top five albums that finally pushed me over the edge. Let me be more specific. It wasn't the fact that Amy Winehouse, Adele and Beyoncé were occupying those top spots that I took issue with – it was the predictable flurry of media reporting, proclaiming that women in music were having some sort of moment.

Have we not been hearing the same thing for years? Stories about some sort of female pop renaissance have been delivered faithfully by a media desperate to latch on to any sort of "trend", no matter how tenuous it may be. In 2008, the near-simultaneous arrival on the scene of Florence, Lady Gaga and La Roux's Elly Jackson exacerbated the problem.

If you were to believe the media, a new genre of music had arrived: the female genre. This group of artists has gone on to include the likes of Ellie Goulding, Little Boots, Marina & the Diamonds, Pixie Lott, Nicki Minaj, Jessie J, Katy Perry, Laura Marling, Robyn, Katy B, Eliza Doolittle and Paloma Faith. They have different levels of talent and disparate music styles, but they are lumped together, solely for having a bit of chart success and a vagina. It needs to stop.

Certainly, there are many female solo artists around, but surely this is more to do with the fact that after Winehouse and Duffy had the biggest selling albums of the year, in 2007 and 2008 respectively, record labels decided that the music-buying public was receptive to female performers.

Such companies have been keen to emulate this commercial success. Marketing budgets for such acts have been increased and they are being pushed more than ever before. It is not surprising there are plenty of women in the charts. (By the way, guess who are making most of the decisions at the record labels?)

The continued interest in female performers is helped along, no doubt, by a press that salivates at the opportunity to print an article alongside a colourful picture montage of these women, many in various states of undress (and yes, I realise the irony of writing that, in an article that is accompanied by said pictures).

And let's not even get into the fact that many (though not all) of these so-called "empowered women" are over-sexualised and have to use their bodies to sell records.

Of course, many male artists have broken through over the last few years. But you would be hard pushed to find an article discussing the successes of Tinie Tempah, Example, James Blake, and Tinchy Stryder as a trend.

Some might argue that the women above are far more visible than the men mentioned previously, but the media is obsessed with covering the women's outfits, rants and lovers in such detail.

More than anything, the idea that women have taken over the charts is not even particularly accurate. After all, of the UK's top 10 albums of 2010, four were by men, three by women and three by groups. This year, men have been responsible for six UK No1 singles, women seven.

Also, it is not as if female solo success is anything new. If you were to look further back, to cover the period from 1981, you would find that the list of bestselling artists each year for the last 30 years includes 10 women, eight men and 12 groups. Female performers have always had success. Should we not be looking to champion women behind the scenes in music, as label heads, executives and in the live arena?

Women, regardless of talent, are lumped together as part of a trend. Paloma Faith and Nicki Minaj have barely anything in common, music-wise, but they are both used to show that women are "having a moment". It is absurd.

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