The Top 40 defines periods of our lives. We remember which songs our mothers sang along with in the car and which songs caused pandemonium on middle school dance floors. The Top 40 deserves analysis because it's the soundtrack of American life.
Last month, we broke down the Billboard Top 40 songs by genre, to take a closer look at what music in May 2015 was really all about. We did that again this month, but May 2015 and June 2015 weren't that different: "See You Again" is still at no. 1 (with only a one week break for Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" remix). And only 6 new songs climbed onto the list at all. Here's what this month's Top 40 is all about:
See! This isn't that different from last month's themes. Like last month, the songs are mostly about sex, love, former lovers, and bragging, with a little dash of Paul Walker thrown in.
But what struck me looking at mostly the same songs closely again for a second month in a row was just how many of them were performed by men. So I broke the list down by the gender of the performer. Songs that had more than one performer (like David Guetta's "Hey Mama") and songs sung by mixed-gendered bands (like "Girl Crush" by Little Big Town) were labelled as mixed.
Here's what this week's gender breakdown looks like for the Billboard Top 40:
Only 25%, or 10 songs, of the Top 40 were sung by women. This number isn't dissimilar from the number of women playing at music festivals this summer, but it is pretty surprising considering the reputation "pop music" has. When we think about Top 40 artists we think, almost always first, about the women who dominate music right now — Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry. Of the 10 songs sung exclusively by women in the top 40, two of them are sung by Taylor Swift.
We broke those down by gender too to see what the categories among songs sung by women that made it to the Top 40 were:
Of the 10 songs sung exclusively by women in the Top 40, the two biggest categories are love and self-empowerment. In fact, all of the songs about self-empowerment in the Top 40 were sung by women. For the most part, though, women in the Top 40 are singing about the same themes as the men in the Top 40: love, sex money. Across gender, categories stay the same. But there just simply aren't nearly as many women in the Top 40, which means that fewer songs by women are being bought, and streamed, and played than songs by men by a pretty significant margin.
The numbers get even worse when we look at only the Top 20:
Only 15% of the Top 20 songs are sung by women. In the Top 10 songs this week, there is not a single song by a solo female performer. There are, however, two songs which include a female performer (Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" featuring Kendrick Lamar, and David Guetta's "Hey Mama" featuring Nicki Minaj). But even if those are included, that's still a measley 20% of the Top 10.)
Maybe it makes sense that all the songs about self-empowerment in the Top 40 are sung by women. They're underrepresented in the top hits, underrepresented on the stage, and no one seems to even notice because the biggest names in music are women. But the second biggest names in music, the group of people with top 40 hits but aren't quite superstars (people like Walk the Moon, OMI, and Silento) are almost all men.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.