Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for November, 2021 is Popular Culture Narratives. We invite submissions on various aspects of pop culture, throughout this month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to sukanya@feminisminindia.com


Pop music and its role in representing female artistry has undoubtedly crossed barriers of language, culture, and creativity, but has it crossed the barriers of gender, yet? Starting from Rihanna to Gaga to 18-year old Olivia Rodrigo, almost all the biggest female pop musicians have had stories to tell that say a lot about the stereotypes the music industry holds against female artists. It is not unknown how criticism against these artists are barely constructive and always come down to be words laced with direct or indirect sexism. 

In a Vogue interview, Taylor Swift once said, “I would hear people talk about sexism in the music industry, and I’d be like, I don’t see it. I don’t understand. Then I realised that was because I was a kid. Men in the industry saw me as a kid. I was a lanky, scrawny, overexcited young girl who reminded them more of their little niece or their daughter than a successful woman in business or a colleague.” Swift has been subjected to criticism concerning her body and even her artistic inspiration as a songwriter throughout her music career. However, these have mostly been concerns that have to do nothing with her artistry.

Cut to a few years after this interview, young contemporary female artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish face the same criticism over their choice of clothes and even the choice of language in their own music. During a recent flurry of events, Rodrigo made headlines for not possessing enough ‘originality’ in her songs, and Eilish faced an appalling rage of body criticism for appearing in a vest top in public. Although decades apart from Swift, these young female pop musicians continue to get shamed for reasons that rarely have anything to do with their art.

This inherent attitude of complacency among people to appreciate one gender in the same industry where the other is constantly under a lens of scrutiny is definitely something to be addressed more. Artists like Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus have always been vocal about how ageism and sexism is always faced by the women in the industry, while men writing about drugs and infidelity is hailed by the pop culture as something ‘cool’. To quote Lady gaga from an interview in 2009, “You see, if I was a guy and I was sitting here with a cigarette in my hands grabbing my crotch talking about how I make music because I like fast cars and f**king girls, you’d call me a rock star. But when I do it in my music and videos, because I’m a female and I make pop music, you’re judgemental and say it’s distracting.” She then ends her comment saying, “I’m just a rock star

10 Ways Female Pop Stars Have Changed the GD World | Glamour
Image: Glamour

The stereotypical outlook towards female creators results in headlines that are mostly about who they are currently dating, who they are feuding with, or how good or badly dressed they are. Magazines and news channels rejoice in feeding the world with news that simply forgets the rest of the headlines they make with their award nominations or new releases. An attitude like this completely nullifies the impact they make in the music industry in the long run.

This ongoing hate for young female artists is also reflected in a broader sense of hating the fandoms they create among teen girls. Their music is almost always dismissed as ‘a 13-year old’s music’ on love songs and breakups. It is significant to notice how words like ‘hysteric’, ‘frenzy’, ‘emotional’, ‘hyper’ etc. are used to describe the fandoms of female artists, while the same for those of male artists like Charlie Puth, Harry Styles and Adam Levine are often described with diluted adjectives like ‘cool’ or ‘edgy’.

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Also read: Sexism In The Music Industry: Women Are Either Sidelined Or Sensationalised

Besides their choice of lyrics or inspiration, record breaking female artists also have to face questions on their portrayal of sexuality in music videos. If a Rihanna music video topped charts today, the headlines would mostly be on how she looks, focusing least on the part of her creative expression in the video. The same goes for many other artists like Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and Shakira, who have always been confidently expressive about their sexuality on camera.

This tendency is also very typically seen in artists who had once started out as young musicians and made their breakthrough as independent, self-assertive women in the industry. Some examples would be Disney stars like Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, and Demi Lovato, who had to face severe criticism over the years for their public transition from child artists to adults, taking complete charge of their sexual expression. 

So, as we unravel these gender stereotypes that exist in the pop music industry, it is also extremely important to shed a light on the sheer brilliance that these female musicians have managed to weave in the face of all adversities. Addressing sexism in award nomination procedures, calling out on unsolicited paparazzi pictures, and refusing to answer sexist questions during interviews are some solidary steps that many artists have taken in recent years, but they are not enough

Few women top music charts – Nord News
Image: Nord News

It is important to notice here that contemporary male artists like Justin Bieber or Bruno Mars, who had also once started out as young internet sensations, hardly faced scrutiny over their choice of expression growing up. They have rather been always appreciated over their glow-up through the years. It has barely mattered if they are writing love songs about their exes or appearing naked in music videos, but if a woman of the contemporary genre does exactly the same, she suddenly becomes ‘too much’ for the world to take. 

This inherent attitude of complacency among people to appreciate one gender in the same industry where the other is constantly under a lens of scrutiny is definitely something to be addressed more. Artists like Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus have always been vocal about how ageism and sexism is always faced by the women in the industry, while men writing about drugs and infidelity is hailed by the pop culture as something ‘cool’. To quote Lady gaga from an interview in 2009, “You see, if I was a guy and I was sitting here with a cigarette in my hands grabbing my crotch talking about how I make music because I like fast cars and f**king girls, you’d call me a rock star. But when I do it in my music and videos, because I’m a female and I make pop music, you’re judgemental and say it’s distracting.” She then ends her comment saying, “I’m just a rock star.

Women In Music 2019 Music Playlist: Best Women In Music 2019 MP3 Songs on  Gaana.com
Image: Gaana

So, as we unravel these gender stereotypes that exist in the pop music industry, it is also extremely important to shed a light on the sheer brilliance that these female musicians have managed to weave in the face of all adversities. Addressing sexism in award nomination procedures, calling out on unsolicited paparazzi pictures, and refusing to answer sexist questions during interviews are some solidary steps that many artists have taken in recent years, but they are not enough.

It should be realised that simply viewing the artistry of these musicians from a feminist lens is not enough to bring a change. It depends on what we choose to listen, support and buy. It is also about having more women step into decisive positions like production and control of their own art. Entertainment is a give and take between the art, artist and the audience, and we must integrate all these facets together in a more gender equal manner to make sure one gender is not subject to unfair scrutiny above the other.

Also read: The Feminist Journey Of Popular And Counter-Culture Music In India


Mrittika is a student of English Literature at Jadavpur University. She has always loved to express her emotions through her words and songs. She is often found binging series into the late night, travelling round the town or trying delicacies wherever she goes

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