Music That Addresses Stereotypes and Bias Within the Industry
By: Amanda Epstein
Everyone listens to music, but does anyone look at the types of music out there? For every superstar, there are thousands of artists trying to make a name for themselves.
The music industry is full of stereotypes and expectations. Artists are expected to look, and act, a certain way depending on the type of music they play in order to get ahead. Do all country singers have to wear cowboy boots and a Stetson? Does every rocker have to dress in all black with leather? No. Artists need to be free to have their own individuality. They don’t want to be the next “so and so”, they want to be the first one of themselves. Some artists have taken to their lyrics to combat this industry stereotyping.
One of these songs is Amanda McCarthy’s Folk Song. I heard this song one day and it got me thinking about the music industry and how it wants everyone to fit nicely into a box. Her lyrics point out the roadblocks she comes across just for being a female in the industry. In this song she talks about not having the “right body” or “the right part” in her pants.
Musicians are always being forced into a box or a genre. What happens to the artists who can write and perform songs in multiple genres and styles? Amanda says ``You can't fit me in a box, I'm not a one girl kinda show and I refuse to be something I'm not”.
Raye Zaragoza has a similar topic in They Say. “Folk music is for the elite” she sings in this folk number. Concerts can be expensive in today’s society with their “forty dollar tickets and fifteen dollar drinks” not everyone can afford to see shows. If only the wealthy can see the shows, then who will sing for the artists?
There is a stigma around females and guitars. Bones, a UK band, released a song in 2019 titled Girls Can’t Play Guitar. Yes, girls’ hands are traditionally smaller, but that doesn’t mean they lack the skills to be a guitarist. I know many talented female guitarists. I mean, have you seen Melissa Etheridge, Lita Ford or Nita Straus play? They prove that women can play guitar fantastically. This song speaks to the notion that girls are good for certain things, like cooking and cleaning, but they can’t play guitar.
Label executives are always looking for the next big thing, or trying to copy something that is already working well. Carrie Welling mentions in her song Good To Me that she was told at one point to be “more like this, like a Taylor Swift”. Shouldn’t artists be celebrated for their own uniqueness and talent?
The Sonder Bombs sing about people showing their support for them, but not fully, in their song Title. People can come to shows, and buy merch, and still not completely support an artist because they’re female. It is as if fans don’t give the female artists the same amount of credit as male artists. “It’s not enough to buy my merch, if you can’t look me in the eyes. I don’t want a weaker handshake than what you gave all the guys”.
One artist who uses her music as a platform for many issues is Ani DiFranco. In her song Serpentine, she talks about the music industry. Just because people say they empower women, doesn’t always mean they are telling the truth. It may be a façade hiding their true intentions. In the 90’s when the record labels were “pimping girl power” and “sniping off sharp shooter singles from their Styrofoam towers”. Executives are pulling strings, but do they really care about the individuality of the artists?
Women used to get respect in country music. Look at Dolly Parton, Wynonna Judd, and Reba McEntire. The female singers today, on the other hand, are not taken as seriously. Their music isn’t played as much as the men, and so much attention is being placed on their looks. Maddie & Tae sing about this in their song Girl In A Country Song. “We used to get a little respect, now we’re lucky if we even get to climb up in your truck”. In the video for this song they have a role reversal button and turn the tables on the men.