Gender disparity in UK radio report shows minor improvements on 2020

All-female acts make up 20% of the top 50 British artists played, an increase of just 1% from the previous year

The latest edition of the Gender Disparity Data report into UK radio airplay of British artists has revealed slight improvements on last year’s findings.

Between 1 January and 1 August 2021, 44% of the top 50 British artists played on UK radio were male, down 7% on last year. Women accounted for 20% – an increase of 1% – and non-binary artists, represented exclusively by Sam Smith, 2%. Mixed-gender collaborations represented 34% of airplay, up 4% from 2020.

The slight shift was also tangible behind the scenes. Male songwriters and composers created 76.4% of these radio hits, down 3.6%. Female songwriters and composers represented 23.2%, up significantly from 19% last year. Non-binary songwriters and composers slipped from 1% in 2020 to 0.4% this year.

White artists accounted for 60% of the top 50 most-played songs on UK radio in the period. Mixed-race collaborations stood at 36%, and people of colour accounted for 4%.

The report found that while white male solo artists such as Ed Sheeran and Harry Styles proliferated in the top 50, no male artists of colour appeared alone – a factor partly attributable to the tradition of collaboration and guest verses in rap.

Commenting on the report, the Why Not Her? collective said: “The music scene has been one of the industries hit the hardest by Covid and one of the key ways an artist can make revenue is airplay royalties. We cannot stand by and continue to allow women, people of colour and members of the LGBTQIA community to be excluded from equal pay opportunities that come from airtime allocation across the radio industry.

“It is our hope that these data reports can continue to set the precipice for a lot of change to come. Change can happen when unconscious bias is stripped back.”

The Gender Disparity Data report was compiled by Linda Coogan Byrne, a music industry consultant, and Winnie Ama, an artist and data analyst.

Another side of the report focused on the top 20 songs played by British artists on UK radio stations over the period 1 August 2020-1 August 2021. The list was topped by Joel Corry and MNEK’s Head and Heart, followed by Dua Lipa (Levitating) and Sigala and James Arthur (Lasting Lover).

Joel Corry at the 2021 Brit awards.
Joel Corry at the 2021 Brit awards. Photograph: JM Enternational for Brit awards/Getty Images

The airplay of BBC, Bauer and Global stations had shifted towards mixed-gender and mixed-race collaborations rather than solo women or POC artists – reflecting release trends at major labels, which account for 96% of the top 50 songs.

BBC Radio 1 showed a sharp shift from favouring British male solo artists towards mixed-gender collaborations. Men made up 45% of this year’s airplay, compared with 85% in the previous 12 months. Collaborations were up from 5% to 45%. Solo female artists remained stuck at 10%.

British female artists were also disadvantaged by collaborations at BBC Radio 2: men held fast at 55%, women dropped from 40% to 25%, and mixed gender collaborations rose from 5% to 20%.

BBC Radio 6 Music showed the greatest improvement of any BBC station, with men dropping from 60% to 45%, women rising from 10% to 40%, and collaborations halving from 30% to 15%.

A BBC spokesperson told the GuardianL “BBC radio is committed to supporting and celebrating a diverse range of music across our pop platforms, from festival slots right through to the playlist, with an estimated 40% of playlisted songs featuring female artists.”

The rock-focused stations Absolute Radio (Bauer) and Radio X (Global) featured 0% British female artists in their airplay for the period, the same as 2020. Kerrang! (Bauer), which featured 0% women in the previous 12 months, showed an improvement, now with 10%.

A Bauer spokesperson told the Guardian: “We are improving female representation across our stations, not only in terms of our playlist but with on-air talent. Our stations have introduced more female-fronted programming this year, and are continuing to work with labels and the wider music industry to ensure the future of rock and indie is entirely inclusive.”

The report highlighted Classic FM as an agent of change and the most-improved station regarding gender and racial parity in their top 20 airplay charts, with members of the Kanneh-Mason family featuring heavily in their most-played songs.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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