The Billboard Top 40 has been overwhelmingly male-dominated all summer long, and this week is no exception: only 22.5% of songs on the chart had a female performer even listed on the credits, and of those, only 15% (6 songs) were recorded by only female artists. It's a staggeringly visible divide, but it's nothing compared to the gender problems behind music's glossy cover.
For the past few months, I've broken down the Top 40 songs into themes to see what kind of topics are are in the pop music zeitgeist. Consistently, songs about love are the most common theme for a Top 40 hit, and this week's chart has a whopping 20 songs about love—50%.
Feeling confident that Top 40 songs were mostly about love, and a little bored by the theme breakdown, I took the analysis of these songs one step further, behind the faces of the songs—and to the people who create them.
To be completely clear, the fact that only 22.5% of songs this week had even a single female performer and only 15% of songs were performed by women alone is incredibly disheartening, but it is consistent. Every single analysis I've done of performers since early this year has shown this kind of divide (some weeks more stark than others). In the first half of 2015, only 29% of Top 40 songs were performed by only women. As a reminder: Women make up 50% of society!
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For September's analysis, I took that data collection one step further. We often hear about the gender disparity of women in Hollywood, and how few women have lead roles. But the more drastic numbers are almost always behind the scenes. It's the managers, the executives and the visionaries who are almost always an exclusive boys club in any creative industry. And the same holds true for music.
To start, I looked at the credited writers for the Top 40:
Of the 165 credited writers on the songs that make up the Top 40, only 17 of them were women—that's almost 11%. As evidenced by the fact that there are 165 credited writers on just 40 songs, most popular songs have more than a single writer. Part of the struggle of being a songwriter is that anyone who contributes a single lyric to a song gets a songwriting credit. They might not get a huge chunk of the songwriter profit, but they get their name on the license. Thus, a song like "Uptown Funk" has 11 credited writers—and not a single one of them a woman. Meek Mill's "All Eyes on You" has 15 credited writers, and only one credited (Nicki Minaj) is female.
On songs with more than one writer (there are 35), only two songs have more than one female writer: Jidenna's "Classic Man," which is credited with 15 total writers, and Hailee Steinfeld's "Love Myself."
On top of that, songs performed by men—and this week is stacked with them—are far less likely to have a female writer on board. Every song this week with a female performer also has a female writer. Only 5 of the 31 songs performed by men have a female writer on board.
The picture gets even bleaker when we look at producers in the Top 40. Producers are, arguably, the second most important person on a song after the performer. A producer controls what a song sounds like. They often select songs for musicians and guide the song from conception to finished product. To make another movie analogy, the producer is basically the director of the song, and often has final say over exactly how it sounds.
In this week's Top 40, every single producer is a man.
There are 40 songs in the Top 40. This week's group hosted 83 producing credits (with some repeated people)—and they were all men. The meager number of songs including a female performer seems robust when compared to the number of songs that had a female producer. (Zero! When women are, again, 50% of the population.)
The bottom line? The people who control what pop songs sound like—the songs playing on American radio stations, for the majority of Americans—the people who decide which songs get made, which ones don't, the people who have the power and pull to create a Top 40 hit—don't reflect the people who are listening to music and buying albums. And that's a problem.
Only 17% of songs in this week’s Top 40 chart are performed by women
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Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.