By Saoirse Hickey and Arabella Ahearn
Even in 2021, female artists suffer from sexism within the music industry. Artists like Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, who are household names all around the globe have had well-known struggles with misogyny within the music industry, but every female artist within the industry experiences systemic prejudice against successful females.
R&B artist SZA has recently boosted in popularity after her hit single Good Days was released earlier this year. SZA is a black, female artist who has faced discrimination within the industry for both her race and her gender. Around 2015 she lost a lot of weight which led to both positive and negative media attention. Her weight loss was considered a far more interesting story than her music and its meaning. SZA has always remained positive, embracing her own body and her own mind and letting that show through her music. Her debut album CTRL was released in 2017 and was critically acclaimed. Songs in the album tackled important issues relating to femininity and feminism and featured many well known male artists such as Kendrick Lamar. After the album’s release when SZA was asked what needs to change for women in the industry, she had this to say:
“I think we should let women be multifaceted. We should let women be bosses without being arrogant or being bitches. They should be able to ask for what they want, they should be able to be reinforced and supported without being the “damsel.” You should just be able to have no limits. It shouldn’t matter. I feel like it’s inevitable that we’re going to breakthrough. It’s just sheer willpower.”
Willow Smith has been in the media since she was born. Daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow has been in the spotlight her whole life. Despite having only recently turned 20, Willow has been in countless tv shows and movies and has released 7 albums. This constant attention gained her unwanted sexual and derogatory comments from a young age, as well as comments disregarding her own individual talent and putting her entire career down to nepotism. She has spoken up about the discrimination against women in the music industry after her father Will Smith made a comment about how he “was so happy that [Willow] wasn't curvy, because guys look at curvy girls” and that “dudes look at the mind of a skinny girl before they look at their body.” With comments on her appearance from a young age, Willow said that she does suffer from body image issues brought on by the industry and the constant eyes on her. Despite the negative attention she has faced throughout her life and career, Willow is open with her femininity and her sexuality having come out in early 2019. She is also an avid feminist, having released a song in 2017 titled romance, which has lyrics like 'I'm imagining a different history / Where man and women stay equal / In the eyes of society / Where we don't condemn different people / For exercising their freedom / We're sexist, I cried in an act of divine love'.
Since her career began in 2006 with her first single “Tim McGraw,” Taylor Swift has continued to produce chart-topping and award-winning albums as well as selling out stadiums across multiple world tours. However, her musical success has often been overshadowed by the industry's constant focus on her relationships, feuds and appearance.
With the release of her first single at the age of 16 Swift established herself as a promising country artist, as she spent eight months on the billboard country singles chart. Swift then went on to release her self titled first album and tour the united states opening for major country artists such as Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. With the release of her second album, fearless, featuring hits such as love story and You Belong With Me, Swift headlined venues across North America and dominated the industry awards, landing herself a VMA award for best female video. It was during her acceptance speech for this award that rapper Kanye West stormed the stage, interrupting Swift saying “I'm really happy for you Taylor, and I’ll let you finish, but Beyonce (who was also nominated for the award) had one of the best videos of all time”.
Swift began to move away from her country roots with the release of her albums “Red” and “1989”, with 1989 selling 1.287 million copies within its first week of being released, however, the album’s success was overshadowed by the media's misogyny and hyper fixation on her appearance and relationships. Swift spoke about being a proud feminist and the importance of female empowerment, while “rebranding” and creating a friendship circle of other female influencers such as Lorde, Karlie Kloss and Lena Dunham. However, after years of media criticism for her links to multiple male celebrities, Swift was now being criticised for using female empowerment as an “image maintenance strategy”. It soon became a trend to hate swift with popular websites, gossip magazines, social media pages and even tv programs such as SNL opening fire on Swift, with SNL writing a sketch about the feeling of vertigo that came from realizing you enjoyed a Taylor Swift song.
In 2016, Kanye West released his song “Famous” which featured derogatory lyrics about women, including lyrics directly targeting Swift, she released a statement claiming she never gave West permission to use her name in the song and warned him about the problematic and misogynistic lyrics. However, Kim Kardashian came to her husband's defence stating that Swift knew about the song and was just trying to protect her brand by denying it, the media was divided, but West received a large amount of support while Swift was further criticised. With the media leading the war on Swift, being a fan of her and her music became seen as something to be embarrassed about and Swift went “into hiding” making no public appearances or releasing music until her 2017 release of the single “Look What You Made Me Do”. Swift's album “Reputation” and its leading single “Look What You Made me do” hit back at media criticism, referenced her famous feuds, and began using the imagery of a snake (referencing the media calling her a snake).
Swift then went on to release another album titled “Lover”, which was nominated for countless awards, including 3 Grammys, as well as winning over a new fan base. It included catchy hits such as “The Man”, which dealt with issues of misogyny and featured lyrics such as; “they’d say I hustled, put in the work, they wouldn't shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve”, as well as her documentary “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince”, which detailed the trials and tribulations of her career and personal life.
Recently music manager Scooter Braun's company acquired Big Machine Label Group (the record label Taylor released her first 6 albums under) leaving all of Swift’s (released) music owned and controlled by his label. Swift released a statement informing fans and media that Braun was “the definition of toxic masculinity” and revealed that after she was denied the opportunity, her music was sold to Braun without her knowledge or consent. Swift announced in 2019 that she would be re-recording and releasing every one of her six albums under her new record label. Through covid-19 lockdown, Swift rebranded and moved away from radio pop albums and surprised fans with the release of indie-folk albums “Folklore” and “Evermore” and has been praised by media and fans alike.
Acknowledging the success of female artists is key to creating a free and equal society in every sense of the term. Women should not be reduced to solely their femininity, their looks or their relationships with others. Female artists should be recognised for their creativity, for their talents and for their abilities. They should be Celebrated.