Data doesn’t lie. Is the music industry an shining example of gender equality that we should seek to emulate, or are the scales tipped in favor of men? We ran the numbers to find out. Here’s the truth behind gender diversity in today’s music scene.
It’s tempting to assume gender inequality stops where artistic expression starts. With the wealth of both female and male pop stars in the industry today it can appear as though the playing field is leveling.
For every Bruno Mars there is a Taylor Swift – for every Ed Sheeran there is an Adele. And with gender fluidity finally earning a level of acceptance in mainstream society, the hope is that work by non-binary artists like La Roux andSam Smith will pave the way for the growth of a truly equal mainstream music scene.
Although we may be tempted to assume from these examples that the music industry is a place of equality, the numbers tell a different tale. Males still dominate the Billboard charts, and the margin is not small.
The following figures have been collected from the chart performance of every Hot 100 top 10 song since 2010. The graphics compares the success of singles across the categories male, female, both, and non-binary. These are the number of weeks spent in the top 10 and at number one by artist gender.
Gender Diversity By Primary Artist Only
430 chart weeks have passed between the start of 2010 and the thirteenth week of 2018. There are 10 positions in the Billboard Top 10 every week, thus giving us 4300 “chart weeks” across this period.
In the chart above, we examine songs with only the gender of the primary artist taken into account. Males dominate by a huge margin – more than doubling the weeks that female lead artists spend in the Hot 100 Top 10.
Since 2010, the top 5 tracks that have spent the longest inside the Hot 100 Top 10 all feature a male artist as the lead. It isn’t until we navigate down to sixth place that a female lead artist appears, with Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” coming in at 25 weeks. Meghan Trainor is only female to feature in the 10 longest charting tracks (Hot 100 Top 10) this decade.
After Meghan Trainor, the next women came in at 12th – Taylor Swift and Rihanna. Taylor Swift and Rihanna both racked up 24 weeks in the Hot 100 Top 10, with “Shake It Off” and “Stay”, respectively. Lorde was the next woman on the list, coming in at 17th with 23 weeks for “Royals”.
As far as non-binary artists go, Sam Smith is carrying the standard with 52 of the 56 non-binary weeks. La Roux and Miley Cyrus are responsible for the other 4.
Surprisingly duets, or sharing a microphone with the opposite gender as a lead artist, are rare. Kendrick Lamar and SZA did so on “All The Stars” from the Black Panther Soundtrack, and The Black Eyed Peas took off commercially when Fergie began performing alongside her male rapping counterparts. There are 84 chart weeks with collaborating different-gendered artists in the Top 10, including “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum (15 weeks), “Bedrock” by Young Money (13 weeks), 5 tracks from The Black Eyed Peas (38 weeks) producing the bulk of the chart performance.
Gender Disparity in Weeks At Number 1 (By Primary Artist Gender)
When considering only number 1 songs, the inequality gap is lessened marginally – although males still account for well over half the chart weeks at number 1 on the Hot 100 since 2010. There have been 92 individual songs that hit number 1 on the Hot 100 in the 430 weeks since the beginning of 2010, an average of 4.67 weeks atop the chart per-track.
Here are some highlights from the data:
- 53 Male-helmed singles have hit number 1 since 2010, a total of 4.94 weeks per song
- 38 Female tracks have hit number 1 since 2010, 4.24 weeks per song
- Only 1 song performed by both males and females as the lead artist hit number 1, “Imma Be” by The Black Eyed Peas
- No non-binary artists have released a number 1 single this decade
Gender Diversity of Guest and Primary Artists
Even when the gender of the guest artists is added to the analysis, males remain well ahead of females and non-binary artists. Male-only songs have been so dominant in the Hot 100 Top 10 that they actually out-chart female-only and female + male songs combined.
Why are male-only tracks so dominant? Here is a closer look at just how many tracks from each gender have made it into the Top 10 since 2010:
More than half of the songs that have reached the Top 10 since 2010 are male-only. Not only that, but male-only tracks have the highest average chart-stay in the Top 10, just beating out female + male songs.
The male/male, or male-only combination sits atop this list, thanks in part to Luke Fonsi and Daddy Yankee (“Despacito”, 16 weeks), Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars (“Uptown Funk”, 14 weeks) and Ed Sheeran (“Shape of You”, 12 weeks). The first female-only song in the list of tracks that have spent the longest at number 1 is “Hello” by Adele, equal 7th at 10 weeks.
Again, female-only and male + female tracks fall well behind in the duration of chart-stays. Also of note: there hasn’t been a single non-binary artist at number 1 on the Hot 100 since 2010.
Genre-Wide Gender Diversity
The representation of males vs females in major genres is striking. Pop is the most diverse genre in the dataset, with 5 separate categories filled, and the most evenly distributed mix of genders. Pop is also the only genre where women are charting above their counterparts. 111 pop songs that have charted in the Top 10 since 2010 are female-only, compared with 85 male-only, 45 male + female, 8 non-binary only, and 1 male + non-binary (Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never” which featured Jaden Smith, who is gender neutral).
Elsewhere, males dominate. Surprisingly, R&B features one of the most significant gaps between males and females. 53 Top 10 R&B songs are male-only, compared with just 9 female-only, and 12 male + female. Bruno Mars (9), The Weeknd (7) and Jason DeRulo (6) contribute heavily, while Rihanna has 7 of the 9 tracks by female R&B artists.
Hip-Hop, which has been incredibly dominant on the charts this decade, is slightly less diverse than R&B. Female-only rap makes up just 5.98% of all rap songs in the Top 10 since 2010. Nicki Minaj (3) Iggy Azalea (2) and Cardi B (1) provide the female-only contingent.
Rock is the least diverse of the major genres. 13 male-only songs have reached the Top 10, and just a single female-only song (Ellie King’s Ex’s and Oh’s) and a single male + female song (Paramore’s “Ain’t It Fun”).
Gender Diversity in 2018
Males have continued to dominate the charts in 2018. 77 of the 150 chart weeks in the Top 10 thus far are male-only, with just 14 female-only weeks. 1 of those female-only weeks comes via Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, a song from 1994.
33 males or male-only groups (Migos, Florida Georgia Line) have hit the Top 10 on the Hot 100 in 2018, compared with just 12 females. Sam Smith is the only non-binary artist represented. Gender equality on the Hot 100 seems just as far away in 2018 as it has all decade.
Drake’s 2018 Dominance
With no full-length project since March 2017’s More Life, Drake has still managed to insert himself on top of the charts. With his breakout single “God’s Plan” spending 11 consecutive weeks at the top of the Hot 100, Drake (along with his production team) is solely responsible for 73.33% of the weeks at number 1 so far in 2018.
When “God’s Plan” is added to “Diplomatic Immunity”, along with his feature on “Look Alive” by Blockboy JB and his feature on Migos’ “Walk It, Talk It”, 13.33% of the weeks in the Top 10 in 2018 can be attributed to Drake, putting miles ahead of anyone else in the chart.
Women in Music: The ‘Why’ Behind Gender Disparity
It’s possible the emergence of hip-hop as the dominant genre in North America (hip-hop out-charted pop by 227 weeks in 2017) has contributed to the wealth of male-only tracks in the Hot 100 Top 10. While both Cardi B and Nicki Minaj have ascended to the very top of the mainstream rap game, they represent a tiny portion of the huge success that rap has found on the charts since 2010. Whilst females are well represented in pop music, they tend to see a much wider gap in other major genres like hip hop.
The United States ran a census in 2010, and females reportedly made up 50.8% of the population, with males at 49.2% (sex, not gender). There should be no bias based on one specific gender holding a large majority in population density.
Are female artists considered more difficult or expensive to collaborate with in the industry? In 2017, Rick Ross lit a firestorm when he told The Breakfast Club that he’d never sign a female rapper to his label MMG because he’d “end up fucking”, on account of how much money he’d spend on her promotion. Pitchfork then ran the numbers on female artists signed to rap labels, and the results showed a major bias in the industry.
Whilst the world of creative and artistic expression should be free of constraints like money, success, and budgets, the Billboard Hot 100 caters to all three of those. It may be logical to draw the conclusion that male artists may simply provide more net-profit for labels, especially at the middle and lower end of the success scale. Taylor Swift and Adele will always rake in huge amounts of money and acclaim, but it’s the middle ground, artists like G-Eazy, Post Malone, Kodak Black, Maroon 5, Frank Ocean, and Anderson .Paak where the disparity in gender distribution is significant. There are so few female counterparts in the charts alongside these mid-tier artists.