Women fell back in race for inclusion in 2020 pop charts

Only 20% of artists in 2020 Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 were women, academic survey reports, while female producers were credited on only 2% of hit songs

The music industry continues to marginalise women, according to the latest instalment of a landmark US survey on representation in pop.

In 2020, women were outnumbered on the US Billboard charts by men at a ratio of 3.9 to 1, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s annual study of the Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart.

Women including Dua Lipa, Maren Morris, Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion made up 20.2% of the 173 artists that appeared on the chart in 2020, dropping from 22.5% in 2019 – and a high of 28.1% in 2016.

“It is International Women’s Day everywhere, except for women in music, where women’s voices remain muted,” said Dr Stacy L Smith, who led the survey. “While women of colour comprised almost half of all women artists in the nine years examined, there is more work needed to reach inclusion in this business.”

The number of women working among the 449 songwriters responsible for the most popular songs in the US in 2020 had also dropped to 12.9% from 14.4% in 2019. On last year’s year-end Hot 100 chart, 65% of songs did not feature any women songwriters – the highest level of exclusion since the survey began in 2012.

Women also remained woefully underrepresented as producers in 2020, making up just 2% of the 198 production credits on hit songs – compared with 5% a year prior, which was a high in the survey’s history.

Representation dropped further among women of colour, with only Mariah Carey – as co-producer of All I Want for Christmas Is You – credited with producing a song that made the 2020 Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart, albeit one first released in 1994.

The USC Annenberg team looked further at the issue of colour in regard to producing. Picking a representative sample of 600 songs between 2012 and 2020, of 23 individual women credited as producers just seven were women of colour, resulting in an overall ratio of one woman of colour to every 180 male producers.

Ariana Grande.
Engineering change … Ariana Grande. Photograph: Dave Meyers/PA

In 2019, the Recording Academy, the body responsible for the Grammys, launched the Women in the Mix pledge, inviting anyone in the music industry responsible for hiring producers and engineers to commit to considering “a slate of candidates that includes at least two women” as part of its taskforce to address issues of inclusion.

Of the 38 pledge-takers with a song on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart in 2020, none had worked with a woman producer (although they may have done on non-charting songs). The only artist to work with a woman engineer was Ariana Grande – who filled the role herself on her lockdown duet with Justin Bieber, Stuck With U.

The report noted some positive progress. Overall, the representation of artists of colour of all genders has increased year-on-year since 2016, representing 59% of artists behind the most popular songs in the US last year.

Every song on the charts “represents an opportunity to include women”, said Smith, noting that their relative absence from songwriting credits was difficult to understand given the collaborative nature of much contemporary pop music. (Research by Music Business Worldwide showed an average of 9.1 songwriters per track on the Top 10 streaming hits of 2018.)

Smith said: “While it may seem easier to work with prior collaborators, the process of discovering new partners and opening up the potential for innovation is the path toward greater inclusion.”

Across the 900 most popular songs on year-end charts from 2012 to 2020, Drake was the top-performing artist, with 41 hit songs. Nicki Minaj and Rihanna were the top-performing women, with 21 songs each.

The top male songwriter, Swedish producer Max Martin, had 44 songwriting credits. The top woman, Minaj, had 19. Fewer than 1% of those 900 songs had only women writers; 30.6% featured one woman writer and 57.3% had none.

Billie Eilish posing with her Grammys haul in 2020.
Billie Eilish posing with her Grammys haul in 2020. Photograph: Monica Almeida/Reuters

The Inclusion Initiative report also surveyed Grammy nominations from 2013 to 2021 in the five major categories. The representation of women had increased fairly steadily year-on year, rising to a high of 28.1% in this year’s ceremony, which takes place in Los Angeles this Sunday.

There were nearly four times as many women nominated for a Grammy in the five major categories in 2021 as there were in 2013. The rise is potentially a result of the Recording Academy instituting in 2018 a task force to address anti-women bias after then-president Neil Portnow made widely criticised remarks on how women needed to “step up” if they wanted to be recognised on the same level as their male counterparts.

Portnow announced his resignation from the position that May, departing in summer 2019. Music industry executive Deborah Dugan was appointed president of the Recording Academy in August 2019, but was placed on leave in January 2020 and fired in March, following an accusation of bullying and verbal abuse. Dugan countered the initial suspension with a 44-page legal complaint alleging sexual harassment and voting corruption within the academy, detailing “egregious conflicts of interest” and a “boys’ club” mentality. The interim Recording Academy president is Harvey Mason Jr.

Smith acknowleged that 2020 had been a “unique year for the music industry”. Despite its ability to meet the challenges of how audiences experienced music during a global pandemic, “the ongoing lack of representation for women as artists, songwriters, and producers persisted. As the industry looks forward, it must conceive of a future in which the voices and talents of women are represented and included in powerful ways.”


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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