Sexism is something that is often parallel to the world of visual arts. If you have already heard of the hacking of intimate imagery of female celebrities, you know that the same system does not happen with males in the industry.
Music is an interesting amalgam of double standards as an extension of the visual arts. If one were to look at the iTunes charts, which is currently the most-accurate reflection of music buyers today, at any given moment (or kept up with Billboard charts), one can see the disparity between gender.
On the albums chart one barely sees female artists. You can count them in one hand: Beyonce, who is enjoying the aftermath of the VMAs, Ariana Grande whose plethora of top ten hits this summer assured her sophomore album reaching number one, and Taylor Swift, a product who is being re-branded as unapologetic pop. Others, like Miranda Lambert and Lana Del Rey simply remind us that for every one of them there are three of four men being just as successful. For every Miranda there is a Paisley, Urban, Bryan and Aldean. For every Del Rey there is a Smith, Passenger, and White.
This exercise could be done with many: For one Beyonce, Rihanna or Minaj, there are Timberlake, Williams, Mars, Songz, Sheeran, Jay, West, Drake, Ross, Eminem, etc.
On the singles chart one will find that many entries of the top five and top ten are from female artists. Sometimes one may even find half of the top twenty belonging to female artists. That is great. However, if one were to split halves as it gets to the top forty, seventy-five or a hundred, one would see that half is unlikely the case for female artists.
When one goes to the top twenty of the music videos, most of the most popular and downloaded videos are of female artists. The list reflects the most popular entries on the songs chart, and just as there, the videos begin to become more and more male-oriented as the list goes on.
It bluntly appears to be the extension of what we see everywhere else; women are used as tools to titillate men, to objectify each other and the opposite is not even a social twinkle at this point of the social journey. Which is why most videos of half-naked women, full of eroticism and sexuality are often the sole reason a song succeeds or is even more successful than the song itself.
Last year Lily Allen’s video for “Hard Out Here” was criticized not for being sexist, but being racist. Still placing gender at a lower level on the social hierarchy. If Allen’s video had a woman of each ethnicity (and less black female dancers) it would have been okay? Obviously, whether it agreed with the masses or not, the video was set up as a criticism of male artists and songs like “Blurred Lines”. But what about videos like “Work Bitch” by Spears, or “Pour It Up” by Rihanna, or even “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj? Surely, as respectful and consenting adults, we can do what we want with our image and body; female or male. It appears that objectifying oneself as a female and other females, without objectifying males equally, is still the one solid message of empowerment we want females to hear. And music is a huge reflection of that.
This year Jennifer Lopez released a video for her single “I Luh Ya Papi” where that is discussed. Watch the video attached to the article.
But why is the music industry so unbalanced? We always hear about the best-selling artists or most influential according to Time and Forbes and we often hear and see females leading the pack. Madonna and Lady Gaga were the highest-paid music artists of 2013. Katy Perry, Beyonce, Rihanna and Taylor Swift are still endorsement-queens and selling-machines, from music to movies, to tours and other lucrative deals. Not to mention that Adele has become one of the best-selling artists of all time with only two albums under her belt.
But the industry is still heavily monopolized by men, catering to men on all counts. Sure, there is much eye-candy for those who want to objectify men, but as one knows, men are hardly objectified on the same counts which brings forth the idea that female collaborations and female-led content are not as successful as their counter parts.
Part 2 : Part 3
Here are some facts about female collaborations in popular music:
[[“Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves”]] was released in 1985. Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin led this Eurythmics track into number nine in the UK and number eighteen in the US. The single reached top ten in over seven charts around the world. The song has become a female empowerment song covered by the likes of Spice Girls, and Kylie and Dannii Minogue.
Aretha Franklin also teamed up with Whitney Houston in the eighties. Houston had seven number-ones in the eighties but that did not help their collaboration. [[“It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be”]] was seen as a huge disappointment when it reached #41 in the US in 1989.
In 1994 two female groups united to release one track together. [[“Whatta Man”]], featuring En Vogue and Salt-n-Pepa, hit number three on the Hot 100. The song is cited as one of the most powerful female collaborations of all time. The track was released on the heels of the success of “Shoop” and “Free Your Mind”.
Yet, another forgotten collaboration of the rap group came at the end of their career in the late nineties (before their resurfacing in the 00s) with another major nineties powerhouse. [[“Imagine”]] with Sheryl Crow has a video, but it did not enter any chart.
Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion released [[“Tell Him”]] in 1997. The song did peak at number three in the UK, and twelve in Canada but the song did not enter the Hot 100. The megastars’ profiles did not assist the success of the track. By comparison, Dion reached number-one with R Kelly at the end of 1998 and beginning of 1999 with “I’m Your Angel”. She also reached number two with Peabo Bryson with “Beauty and The Beast” in 1992.
[[“I Can Love You”]] by Mary J. Blige with Lil’ Kim was released in 1997 and reached #28 on the Hot 100. The next highest female-collaboration entry was in 2003 when Mary released “Not Today” with Eve. The song reached #41. In comparison, she reached #12 with Ja Rule when they released “Rainy Dayz”.
[[“Because of You”]] was re-released as a single two years after Kelly Clarkson brought it into the top five. This time the duet with Reba McEntire in 2007 reached #50.
[[“Son of a Gun”]], which samples Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”, was released in 2001. Janet Jackson, Carly Simon and Missy Elliot took the track to #28. Janet also worked with Khia on [[“So Excited”]] with reached #90 in 2006.
Perhaps the most known and popular female collaboration came in 1998 when Brandy and Monica released the mega hit [[“The Boy is Mine”]]. The song stayed at number-one for thirteen weeks.
The second most recognizable female collaboration of recent history is [[“Lady Marmalade”]]. The song features Christina Aguilera, P!nk, Maya, Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot. The remake of the LaBelle classic hit number-one in the US, UK and around the world. The lead of the Moulin Rouge soundtrack was one of the best-selling tracks of 2001.
Christina Aguilera followed suit in the spring of 2003 with [[“Can’t Hold Us Down”]] featuring Lil’ Kim. The song hit number twelve. Then in 2004, for the Shark’s Tale soundtrack, she released [[“Car Wash”]] with Missy Elliot. That song peaked at #63.