Awards season is upon us—and, along with it, much ado about persistent gender gaps in the entertainment industry. New research from the USC Annenberg Inclusivity Initiative serves as a powerful reminder that the Grammy Awards should be no exception—and that the music industry at-large has far to go to get to equal representation across lines of gender and race.
Analysis by USC researchers of 700 chart-topping songs by 1,455 artists found that only 21.7 percent were by women—and only 12.3 percent of the songwriters and 2.1 percent of the producers were women. These numbers show that women make up a significant number of popular recording artists, even if they remain underrepresented—but that the people in control of their content are largely men.
Despite a stronger showing for artists of color—44 percent of the songs analyzed featured a non-white singer, and the recording artists with the most credits were Rihanna, the leading woman with 21 solo credits, and Drake, the leading man with 33—only four women of color producers were listed out of 871 total mentioned in the study. The numbers of songwriters, too, suffered from double-binds of racism and sexism: Max Martin, a white man, led with 39 songwriting credits; Nicki Minaj, who was the leading female songwriter, only had 18.
When 75 woman songwriters and producers were asked by USC researchers to name their biggest barriers to success, 43 percent reported that their skills were discounted by others in the industry. These gender gaps shape the Grammys: From 2013 to 2019, only 10.4 percent of Grammy nominees at-large were women.
The study’s authors outlined solutions that could help the music industry reach parity, including fostering all-female spaces and “creating environments where women are welcome.” The experiences of those same 75 women showed what impact that could have: 39 percent said they had been objectified, 28 percent said their ideas were dismissed and 25 percent said that they were the only woman in the room.
Gaps in gender representation across the music industry don’t just prevent women from advancing or achieving acclaim—they push them out of the studio. Time’s up on that kind of sexism. Instead, it’s time to demand action.
Ashley LeCroy is an editorial intern for Ms. and a passionate self-identified feminist who aims both to advocate and make space for the world’s most marginalized communities. Ashley is currently pursuing a dual degree in Political Science and English with a minor in Anthropology at UCLA—where she writes for FEM, the student-run feminist news magazine, and works on the Art Series staff for the Cultural Affairs Commission.