In our series “By The Numbers,” Mollie takes a look at trends in the music industry to get a sense of how we’re doing. While looking at statistics can sometimes seem too simplified, it’s a great way to see, in layman’s terms, how things are changing. Up first, we take a look at how W/T/F people placed on all our favorite publications’ end-of-the-year lists.
Though women make their voices heard every year, in 2017 those voices were louder than ever. The year began with more than 5 million women across the globe marching to protest oppositional forces, and now ends on the heels of the #MeToo movement. In between those two landmark events, we saw countless examples of women’s voices being amplified–the Day Without a Woman strike took place in more than 400 cities worldwide; Wonder Woman set record numbers for a female-directed film; Lena Waithe became the first African American female to win an Emmy award for writing; and BBC announced Jodie Whittaker would become the first ever female Doctor Who.
Many of these events are attributable to the current political climate and blatant forces of oppression permeating throughout the United States and beyond, but this trend is a stunning representation of the fact that women – and especially women of color – have stories to tell that the world wants — and needs — to hear.
In music, we saw this trend just as clearly. Throughout 2017, albums by women or female-fronted bands received significant media attention and critical praise. Relative newcomers like Kehlani, SZA, and Jay Som debuted or followed up debuts with albums that established them as forces to be reckoned with, while major acts like Lorde, Björk, and Paramore found themselves at the center of acclaim yet again.
In fact, when you look at the numbers of women included in year-end “Best Albums of 2017” lists, you could make the case that this is the best year in music for women yet. Pitchfork’s list this year included 26 female artists or fronted acts — a 53% increase over 2016. Looking at a line chart over the past 5 years is even more impactful:
Pitchfork’s list is not an isolated case. When examining the Best Of lists of 9 major publications (Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, Paste, Rolling Stone, Stereogum, NPR, Complex, NME, and Spin) 5 of the 9 include more women-inclusive artists this year than in any of the past five. Taking a sum of all women included in these 9 publications over the past five years is also compelling:
Together, these publications have 450 slots available, and this year 190 of those were given to women–a significant increase over previous years. 190 of 450 is still not half, sure, but 42% is considerably better than 31.5%, which is what the percentage of female inclusiveness was just five short years ago.
The perceived value of music by women seems to be increasing as well. In both 2015 and 2016, albums by female musicians made up, on average, 3 out of the top 10 of the aforementioned publication’s lists for best albums of the year. This past year, that rose to 4.3 out of 10. In terms of the number of publications that rank an album by a female musician in the #1 spot, 2016 has 2017 beat, entirely due because of Solange’s A Seat at the Table (3 #1s) and Beyonce’s Lemonade (4 #1s). Compare this to five years ago in 2013, when not a single #1 spot amongst the 9 included publications was awarded to a woman, and the difference is staggering.
It will be interesting to see if this trend of increased female inclusion continues next year. If it does, we only need to see an 18% increase in the number of women present in year-end lists to reach a 50/50 split. Of course, it is possible that, like from 2015 to 2016, the number may sink again next year, but I have hope that it will continue to skew upwards as more female songwriters continue to surface and publications become more aware of implicit biases towards content by men. If the numbers are anything to go by, we can only expect more women to put their voices out there. Let’s make sure to listen.