Recently, the Icelandic artist Björk made a stir when she suddenly released her album Vulnicura almost two months early. The album was received positively by critics and fans alike, quickly shooting to the number one spot on iTunes and debuting in the Billboard top 20. Björk is not only making an impact with her music, she is using her album as a platform to discuss problems that she sees with the modern music industry.
It was mistakenly reported that Arca, a newcomer to the music industry, was the sole producer of Vulnicura. Arca quickly took to Twitter, stating that Björk and he were co-producers on the album. Björk told Pitchfork this was something that happens to her and other female artists often. Björk contrasted this with the way men are given credit for their work. Talking about Kanye West, Björk stated, “With the last album he [Kanye] did, he got all the best beatmakers on the planet at the time to make beats for him. A lot of the time, he wasn’t even there. Yet no one would question his authorship for a second.” Björk’s frustrations should cause us to investigate how the music industry and music fans treat female artists.
Many would argue that the music industry is not sexist. Taylor Swift’s 1989 was the best selling album of last year, and Beyoncé’s self-titled album was one of the best selling album of 2013 and received a nomination for album of the year.
But how involved were these singers in creating their albums? Looking at songwriting credits for these albums, the first thing one notices is how many people had a hand in writing tracks on Beyoncé. In addition to Beyoncé herself, twenty-five people had songwriting credits on the album. With this many songwriters, one has to wonder how much songwriting Beyoncé actually did. Frank Ocean expressed his concern about current songwriting trends, tweeting, “it’s a bad trend that artists try to muscle for credits on songs they had no part in writing. writers just say no UNLESS it’s Beyoncé. lol” Beyoncé also had collaborators in production on every one of the album’s fourteen songs. 1989 tells a similar story; Taylor Swift only wrote one of the songs by herself and instead collaborated with other artists in production on every song on the album.
When we look closer at the liner notes of Beyoncé and 1989 a strange pattern emerges. Of the twenty-five songwriters on Beyoncé, only two were women, and of the nineteen producers on the album, none were women. Similarly, only one out of the six writers on Swift’s album was a female. This seems to be a trend in popular music: look at the songwriting and production credits on most female pop albums and you will most likely see the same group of men over and over. In fact, Ryan Tedder, the lead-singer of OneRepublic has songwriting credits on both Beyoncé and 1989. Beyoncé and Taylor are women singing men’s songs.
Beyoncé is an incredible singer, but that’s not why she is famous. She is flamboyant, attractive, tends to wear minimal amounts of clothing, is married to a famous rapper, and makes massive amounts of money. Her image has been carefully crafted by her record label to gain her more attention and sell more records. In her concerts, music videos and television appearances, Beyoncé sells her sexuality as much as she sells her music, and we buy it. We have turned Beyoncé into a sort of goddess, worshiping her on social media and dubbing her “Queen-B.” Beyoncé is a celebrity who just so happens to be a singer, too.
We see the same techniques used again and again in the popular music industry; the charts are filled with entertainers who focus more on cultivating their image than their music. Iggy Azalea, Nikki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Lana Del Rey are just some examples of entertainers who heavily rely on their sexuality to sell music and concert tickets; when we support these entertainers, we must realize that we are supporting music made mostly by men, not women.
If we want to promote women in music, let’s listen to music made by women, and, like Björk suggests, give women credit for the music that they create. Let’s listen to artists instead of sex-symbols. Seek out women who write their own songs and support them because they make good music, not because they fit our culture’s definition of sexy. While a problem does exist in the music industry, the problem also exists with us. We are the ones buying into what record companies are trying to sell, and it is up to us to choose music that glorifies women as God’s creation who are co-creators, made in his image.
Recommended listening: Purity Ring, First Aid Kit, Haim, Lily & Madeleine, My Brightest Diamond, Sleater-Kinney, St. Vincent, Lucius, Tune-Yards and Björk.