It certainly seems like women in pop music are doing great right now. They're performing at sold-out stadium shows. They're selling three million albums in a week. Their hit songs fill radio airwaves. When 2015 began, the number one song in America was Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." The number one song as this year ends is Adele's "Hello." While the women of Hollywood have been vocal about being underrepresented and getting paid less than their colleagues, women in music seem to be fine. But they're not.
Sure, some of the biggest names in popular music are women. If I asked you to list six female performers, you could probably do it without really even trying: Beyoncé, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, Adele, Katy Perry. If I asked you to list the five most famous performers in popular music, you'd probably end up with at least 3 women.
Highly visible, very vocal, strong, independent female artists are powerhouses of pop music in this decade. But they are, by far, in the minority of 2015's popular artists.
With the last Billboard chart of the year publishing this week (dated December, 26, 2015) we looked back at a year of Top 40 music and broke down exactly how women have been represented.
This year, only 25% of the 178 songs in the Top 40 were sung by women.
25.8%, to be exact. Even if we include the songs that featured at least one woman (20 of them, or 11.23%) songs with a female perfomer only made up 37% of the tracks being played around the country.
I have looked at data for women in the Top 40 for this entire year. Even though the monthly data for the first half of the year indicated and predicted this kind of gender disparity in the Top 40, I still expected—wanted—the end-of-the-year results to be better.
Adele, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj are on magazine covers and gossip sites. They're in the spotlight, and the perception is that there are plenty of women in pop music. But it's a lie. They're ubiquitous, and it makes us believe that 25% of the top performers is a lot of women in the Top 40. But women make up 50% of the United States population. So why do they only make up a quarter of the music that Americans hear the most?
For comparison: Consider the fact that 46% of the songs in the Top 40 this year were performed by non-white artists. That's a pretty diverse mix. The Top 40 fails to represent women in a just and fair way.
But performers aren't the only people who make the Top 40 songs. Songwriters create the hooks that get wedged into brains for weeks on end. When you catch yourself humming "I can't feel my face when I'm with you, and I love it" in the shower, you have the songwriter to thank.
And much as women are underrepresented in Hollywood as screenwriters, there are even fewer women writing popular songs than there are singing them.
Most popular songs have more than one writer. It takes a village to raise a child, and an army to construct a perfect hook. This year the 178 Top 40 songs took 696 writers to create. Only 94 of them were women—a measly 13.5%.
While songs with only male songwriters make up 58.5% of this year's Top 40, only one song was in his year's Top 40 this year that did not feature a single male songwriter: Little Big Town's "Girl Crush."
Yes, you're reading correctly: JUST ONE song on the Top 40 this year was written completely by women.
Yes, both Adele and Taylor Swift work with male songwriters.
The story gets worse when we look at the gender disparity among Top 40 producers.
Of the 338 producers it took to create this year's Top 40 songs, only 3.2% of them were women. That means that only 12 out of the 178 songs that hit the Top 40 this year had even one female producer. Not a single song was made by only women.
Men had a hand in the sound and layout and construction of every single song that was a Top 40 hit in 2015—but women only helped build 6.7% of songs. That's a disparity that cannot and should not be shrugged off.
The fact that women are so poorly represented in every aspect of the Top 40 in 2015 is frustrating because the conversation around women in music doesn't ever even acknowledge the problem. It's difficult to be upset that women are underrepresented in every category of music creation when the narrative presented is that they are totally dominating the field.
But the reality is that in 2015, women may have dominated headlines but they're still underrepresented in the creation of the culture we consume. The first step to solving any problem is recognizing that there is a problem. And when women make up 50% of the population but less than a quarter of the music we consume en masse, we definitely have a problem.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.