Awareness, Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Robin S on 07/17/2009

The Music Industry and It’s Best Friend, Sexism

Despite my passion for music, I doubt I could ever succeed in the music business. My reasons for this are very simple: I am overweight, I don’t wear makeup and I don’t keep up with current trends, and I wouldn’t change these things if I was told that I needed to in order to be marketable.

market me!

market me!

Sexism in the music industry can be seen in a lot of ways—lyrics that objectify women, women being seen as sluts if they sing about being promiscuous while men are seen as “just doing what guys do”, female musicians being held to higher standards of male musicians, etc. Amanda Palmer, for instance, is an artist who has faced the beast we call sexism with Roadrunner Records, the label she was signed to. When the video for her “Leeds United” video was being made, Roadrunner told her that they thought she looked too fat in the video and that they wanted to cut out shots of her belly so that the video would be more likeable. As she said on her blog, Amanda thought that she looked hot in the video, so she wouldn’t budge and change the video just because her record company thought that she couldn’t look “hot” if she looked a smidgen chubby.

the fab Amanda Palmer

the fab Amanda Palmer

The sexism in the music industry can also be seen in who is popular and who isn’t. Amanda Palmer has a lot less fans than, say, Katy Perry. While Miss Palmer has 18,993 fans on Facebook at the time of writing this article, Katy Perry easily trumps her with the 1,960,536 fans that she has. Amanda Palmer comfortably sings feminist-sounding lyrics that denounce such things as feeling like you need to have a significant other in order to be happy (in the song “Ampersand” she proudly proclaims, “I’m not gonna live my life on one side of an ampersand), Katy Perry sings things that are definitely far-off from being feminist, including her conclusion that women aren’t good if they’re attracted to other women (this is pretty obvious in “I Kissed a Girl” when she sings that “it’s not what good girls do”).

Katy Perry

Katy Perry

Now, I will admit that I do enjoy Katy Perry’s music sometimes. However, that doesn’t change how depressing it is that the music industry will do all they can to promote a musician who has lyrics that are demeaning to women, while a musician who has feminist lyrics is often given the shaft (Amanda Palmer’s record label has done more to be unsupportive of her than just what happened with the “Leeds United” video—for one example, they did very little to support her tour to promote her Who Killed Amanda Palmer album, which you can read about in old entries on her blog).

Is it because a woman is seen as threatening if she has feminist lyrics in her songs? Is it just easier to market a song that has sexist or misogynistic lyrics than it is to promote a song that doesn’t? Judging from the kind of music that is popular nowadays, it seems that these are the opinions of most people in the music industry. Also judging by the artists in mainstream music who seem to hold feminist opinions but do not publically identify as being feminists—Lily Allen, anyone?—you could come to the conclusion that, if their record labels do have these opinions about feminism, the artists simply don’t publically identify as feminists because their record labels recommend against it.

Readers, our lesson about the music industry today can be summed up easily with three words: It. Is. Dumb. Let’s hope the future of music shines a lot brighter than this.

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  • Alexa @ at 11:46 am, July 17th, 2009

    Brilliant article. Amanda Palmer is an idol of mine (THE DRESDEN DOLLS, WOO!). I completely agree with everything you said, especially the part where women think it’s “threatening” to put feminist lyrics in their songs. Wouldn’t want those men folk to be threatened by a woman, am I right? [/sarcasm]

  • Meggie @ at 3:21 pm, July 17th, 2009

    One thing that always drives me crazy about the way we relate to music is the gender gap. Very few men will admit to liking women singers. Why does this happen??

  • Christina @ at 5:12 pm, July 17th, 2009

    I thought I kissed a girl sounded feminist at first, but after hearing more of her songs like “Hold N Cold” ew, she’s beyond untalented. I don’t think she even wrote most of her songs, but it’s amazing they are even popular cause when I bought her CD, and played it, I kept skipping her immature sounding pre-teen pop songs, and just ended up listening to I kissed a girl. But that was a long time ago, lol.
    Amanda Palmer is very much IN YOUR FACE, especially with that video concerning when she was raped. It’s very “gotta get used to” kind of music, so I think that’s why she has less fans. People judge music on the first 3 seconds of a song.

  • Robin S. @ at 5:31 pm, July 17th, 2009

    @Alexa: Thanks! She’s an idol of mine too. :)

    @Meggie: This drives me crazy, too. It’s something about what is expected of women, I think. The kind of music you like is usually an extension of the kind of opinions you hold. But this is a topic that definitely should be addressed–maybe you should write a post! :D

    @Christina: Same here–at first I thought that “I Kissed a Girl” was cool because I thought it was encouraging experimentation instead of presenting the idea that it’s gross and inappropriate to be curious, but then I listened to the lyrics more closely.
    As for the video, you’re talking about “Oasis,” right? I thought that had less to do with the fact that she was raped and more to do with the fact that, well, it was funny. You’re never going to hear a pop song about someone getting date raped and then getting an abortion anywhere, so it’s a fun song to do. I thought it was great satire. But I can understand her being less popular because of the kind of music she performs… even so, I still feel that she could be (and WOULD be) more popular than she is if the music industry wasn’t so afraid of strong women.

  • Siah @ at 5:44 pm, July 17th, 2009

    Okay i agree with half of what you said. However the katy perry comment about her lyrics and what they mean is completely an assumption. Music is art, and lyrics aren’t always meant to be taken so literally, it’s the meaning behind phrases such as “thats not what good girls do” that are supposed to be looked at in an objective way. You can take that phrase however you like, but the term “good girls” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. That doesn’t necessarily mean shes not a feminist or against anything at all.

  • Robin S. @ at 6:24 pm, July 17th, 2009

    @Siah: While I agree that lyrics aren’t always meant to be taken literally, “I Kissed a Girl” is a pretty literal song. The song is about kissing a girl and she says that “it’s not what good girls do.” What else would the lyrics mean?

    I know that the term “good girls” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What I was saying is that Katy Perry was defining someone who experiments with their sexual orientation as someone who is not a “good girl,” and that’s what I was criticizing.

    I’m not saying she’s not a feminist. I’m also not criticizing Katy Perry herself. Either thing would just be ridiculous, because I don’t know enough about her to come to either conclusion, and it’s a pointless attack to make on someone anyway. I’m just saying that she does have some very non-feminist lyrics, and it’s troubling that those kind of lyrics are accepted so easily.

  • Kirstin @ at 12:40 am, July 18th, 2009

    I don’t think it’s so much that feminism scares people, as it is that stereotypes sell. As illustrated by Amanda Palmer and her record company’s issue with her figure, women often serve as eye candy. Stick some scantily-clad nymphet on an album cover, and it’s likely to warrant A LOT of attention. Generally, getting your target audience to even look at a piece of merchandise will increase the chances of selling it. (Duh, right?) I hate to use the cliche, but sex sells. Unfortunately. Mainstream media panders to stereotypes (beautiful, passive sex goddesses) because that’s how they rake in the money.
    It’s rather similar to the way people in general deal with the idea of feminism. Women who assert themselves and deviate from the norm are usually met with resistance and apprehension. I imagine the same applies to the music industry, especially because you’re making a living off it. Companies need a large demographic to guarantee the biggest sales. Music or videos that target a feminist audience shrinks your “aged 15-45 male” demographic down to “angry lesbians.” [/sarcasm] It’s a disgusting “money” thing. When women deviate from the norm and sing about independence or experiences as a real, flawed woman, lots of people tend to get their knickers in a bunch. Because refusing to get naked for some album cover is just plain freaky. [/more sarcasm]
    The way the media presents feminism and its tenets also affects society’s reaction to it. Considering that we’re still often labeled as man-hating, bra-burning, unshaven, drunken lesbians, there’s probably some skewered understanding of our cause(s). We threaten the status quo, and that scares people. Women in music, whose voices reach farther than your average protester’s, have double the impact–so it’s their voices that companies scrutinize. You know, just in case they start spreading the idea around that women have, like, personalities and depth. ‘Cause that’s just crazy. [/even more sarcasm!]
    In case you couldn’t tell, the issue bugs me. I apologize for the rant.

  • Jo @ at 6:11 am, July 18th, 2009

    A world of right. I’m sick of hearing music about how we’re all desperate to get back with men etc.
    Amanda’s lyrics are always amazing because she speaks such honesty which you don’t even dare to say. As a result, even her oddest songs have some lines which you find yourself relating to. Roadrunner are disgusting for what they did, considering Amanda is completely stunning. All hail Amanda Palmer!

  • Robin S. @ at 1:08 pm, July 18th, 2009

    @Kirstin: What you said near the end of that (“We threaten the status quo, and that scares people”) is basically what I was saying, though everything else you’re saying is true, too. It says a lot about our culture that “beautiful, passive sex goddesses” are the artists that seem most marketable to a lot of the music industry. Anybody can say that they believe in women’s rights, but when it comes to music, most people wouldn’t even care about any biases they see–or, they may not even notice any.
    Ranting is TOTALLY fine with me. I agree with you 100%.

    @Jo: Yes! Not only is music like that annoying, but it’s so hard to relate to as an empowered woman.
    And I think Amanda Palmer’s completely stunning, too. C:

  • Jess @ at 8:17 am, July 20th, 2009

    I really don’t think the music industry is the place to go looking for any kind of role model or inspiration any more. It’s a business now, even more so than it ever was. It’s not remotely about personality, talent, hell, even looks. It’s just straight up pump out the generic songs and get the cash. No time for decent videos, photo shoots, promos, album production any more.

    Also facebook “fans” aren’t really an indication of how popular an artist is, people could just like one song and still “fan” the artist.

  • K @ at 8:02 pm, July 27th, 2009

    I live in smalltown America and I’ve never even heard of her!

    A little off topic, but people looking for strong female musicians should check out Storm Large.

  • jezz @ at 5:01 pm, August 10th, 2009

    Amanda Palmer an empowered woman? Are you kidding me? Ugly naked twitter photos covered in swear words and disgusting pictures of herself dead stuffed into toilets and shopping carts? Amanda Palmer is a crap musician who tries to be shocking. Her message seems to be that woman are disposable objects. Amanda Palmer has nothing worthwhile to say, she’s gross and embarrassing.

  • Sybil @ at 3:04 am, September 7th, 2009

    I agree. Amanda Palmer is a media whore. She is fucking embarrassing and writes crappy songs. Her lyrics are juvenile and her traveling freak show of stripping off her clothes, humping people onstage, advertising her latest bed mate and felacio in public makes us all look bad. Amanda Palmer is the worst thing that’s happened to feminism in the last decade. Amanda Palmer’s record company did not give a hoot that she is built like a truck-driver on steroids, they just think she sucks, and they’re right, she does suck!

  • Ann @ at 4:01 pm, October 9th, 2009

    Amanda Palmer is involved in Scientology and the biggest Scientologists on the planet. She’s full of shit.

  • Kate @ at 4:29 pm, October 21st, 2009

    Another e.g. is Lady Gaga – always banging on about how she’s such a strong woman, hates sexist attitudes towards women in the music industry etc. etc. and then when asked if she’s a feminist: “No, I’m not a feminist. I worship men.”
    :| :| :| :|

  • Bring Me the Head of A.O.R.: Boh Runga, Right Here « Velvet Coalmine @ at 5:01 pm, October 25th, 2009

    [...] the agency, credibility, and even the necessary presence of women in music is still a depressingly difficult one. It’s hardly helped by this sort of pseudo-empowered postpostpost-feminist slop that [...]

  • dare2believe @ at 1:58 pm, November 8th, 2009

    yeah, bt what’s the problem with lilly allen? SHe hasn’t said she isn’t a feminist.

  • BiichO @ at 10:42 am, November 24th, 2009

    hOlaaa
    soy de chile
    y soy un fan
    de katy me en-
    cantaa su musica
    y ella es muy hermosa
    perfecta digamos jakaja
    CHAU CUIDENSE
    NO ENTIENDO NAA DE LO
    QUE DICE ARRIBA AJAJA TODO
    EN INGLES AJDJD
    BYEEE

  • Courtney @ at 8:13 am, March 14th, 2010

    I love Katy perry She is so cool

  • Courtney @ at 8:14 am, March 14th, 2010

    She is so cool and you can sing really good at singing you are not that scared to do it

  • Roxy @ at 3:15 pm, March 17th, 2010

    Hm, I just wanna make a comment on Katy Perry and the assumptions/misunderstandings about her.
    Katy does write the majority of her songs, although I Kissed A Girl is a collaboration between her and a few other songwriters, so I wouldn’t give her all the credit for lines like “it’s not what good girls do.”
    But, you see, Katy was raised in a strict, extremely Christian household. When she turned 17, she moved to LA and discovered the world around her, so when she sings about sexual experimentation not being what ‘good girls’ do, it’s probably sarcastic and some sort of critic to the religious visions she was taught.

    Also, I wouldn’t say Katy’s songs are anti-feminist at all. Taking “If you can afford me” for instance, she sings:

    “If you want me,
    I’m not a piece of ass,
    a one night stand,
    a storage ship
    I think you better walk by, tonight
    If you want me,
    then stop begging
    I don’t put out for charity
    If you want me there’s no discount price tonight
    But I don’t need your dollar bills
    I just want something real
    Cuz, nothing’s free, except a lovin’ me”

    I guess that says something, right?

    Katy is as famous as she is because she’s daring. She was one of the few women at 2008′s Warped Tour. She performed on that stage amongst all those all-boy bands, and still she managed to be as successful as she is today.
    And as she has stated once (I can’t find the link to the video right now, sorry), she likes to impress people, and not only with her pinup style (which is HER choice, not her label’s, FYI), but with her tongue-in-cheek statements and lyrics. She’s said (on that same video) “I like to hear boys say ‘oh, she can do that too’.” – or something along those lines, which proves that she isn’t anti-feminism, and that she’s not just another pop tart that sings meaningless songs and uses her body as a credit card. She’s very intelligent and opinionated, actually.

    Alright, I just wanted to make this clear. I am a fan of Katy Perry (well, duh) and of this blog too, and this is my first comment here.

  • A @ at 10:46 am, August 6th, 2010

    An excellent feminist artist is Nellie McKay. One song in particular, “Mother of Pearl”, is a lovely and sarcastic tribute to feminism. It rocks!

  • Emo @ at 7:50 pm, August 25th, 2010

    Why is Amanda Palmer on this list? Amanda Palmer is a useless wanna be no one listens to. Her songs are dreadful, she was dropped from her record contract and now she does cover songs. Amanda Palmer mocks the disabled, strips in public and makes racist remarks. Amanda Palmer isn’t interesting, just a desperate joke.

  • unapersona @ at 4:51 am, November 3rd, 2010

    About the “BiichO” commenter.

    I’m a Spanish speaker and can tell you what he said. Basically, he says that he doesn’t understand a word of what you have said about Katy Perry but that he loves her music and that he finds her not only beautiful but perfect.

    All of this written taking as much space as he could. What a stupid jerk.

  • unapersona @ at 4:52 am, November 3rd, 2010

    And using capital letters too.

  • Marisol @ at 1:08 pm, December 12th, 2010

    Katy Perry isn’t a bad feminist musician, but her most sexist songs DO sell the best, so technically the point and title of your article was proven.

  • Alexis @ at 5:59 pm, July 5th, 2011

    I just watched the “Leeds United” video, the record company is crazy if they wanted to shave off some belly on her. She looked amazing! The music industry has a long way to go and Amanda Palmer is just the beginning. Keep Rocking Amanda!

  • Toni Lovergood @ at 8:42 am, June 4th, 2012

    Absolutely written written content , regards for information .

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