Women Underrepresented in Popular Music, New Study Finds

A new study from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reveals the bleak reality for women in popular music. The report—compiled by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Dr. Katherine Pieper, Hannah Clark, Ariana Case & Marc Choueiti—sought to “assess the gender and race/ethnicity of artists, songwriters and producers across the 800 top songs from 2012-2019” (derived from the Hot 100 Year- End Billboard Charts). The researchers found that less than 23 percent of artists and less than 2 percent of producers were women.  

This year’s study generated the fourth annual report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which received funding from Spotify for the research. It also reviewed the Grammys’ five biggest categories—Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Album of the Year, Best New Artist, and Producer of the Year. And while the number of women nominees is trending upwards, the 9-year peak in 2021 represented only 28.1 percent of total nominees, and as recently as 2017 was a mere 6.4 percent. The Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, who produces the awards show, hired its first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer last year. 

Other trends include the divide between women solo artists (31 percent) and women in bands (7.3 percent), and between women artists in total (21.6 percent) and women songwriters (12.6 percent). Genre-wise, female artists were most prominent in pop (32 percent) while only 12.3 percent of hip-hop/rap songs performed by women. And while all-male writing teams were common (57.3 percent) less than 1 percent of songs had women-only writing credits. 

Artists of color fared better, making up 45.4 percent of performers in the 800 songs in the study. But the report determined that women of color were “invisible” as producers, with just eight of the 1,093 producing credits. 

Read “Why Are Women Underrepresented in Music? Look to the Ryan Adams Story” on the Pitch. 

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