Pop music’s growing gender gap revealed in the collaboration age

Three times as many male as female pop stars appeared on last year’s biggest hit singles, BBC research has found.

Ninety-one men or all-male groups were credited on the Official Chart Company’s top 100 most popular songs of 2018 – compared with 30 female acts.

And despite the success of singers like Dua Lipa and Ariana Grande, the gender gap has grown over the past decade.

Thirteen of the most popular 100 songs of 2018 were credited only to female acts – down from 35 in 2008.

Singer Mabel, who is currently in the top 10, said she wasn’t surprised by the gender gap, telling BBC News: “No, I think we still have a lot of work to do.”

Rita Ora and Bebe Rexha’s manager Sarah Stennett said: “The gap that exists is not acceptable. I do not believe the consumer says, ‘I want to listen to more men than women’. It’s the choice they’re given.”

But female pop stars are doing well, aren’t they?

Yes and no.

Dua Lipa, Kacey Musgraves, Cardi B and Lady Gaga took the limelight and many of the top prizes at the Grammy Awards last weekend.

On Friday, Ariana Grande became the first female artist in UK singles chart history to replace herself at number one.

And women like Dua, Anne-Marie and Jorja Smith dominate the nominations for the Brit Awards, which will be handed out on Wednesday.

There are no fewer women in the UK charts now than there were a decade ago – in 2008, 30 female acts were credited on the best-selling 100 songs of the year. In 2018, the figure was still 30.

But the number of men has risen by more than 50% as the number of collaborations has grown over that time – from 59 men in 2008 to 91 in 2018. Which means the gender gap has grown.

So what’s going on?

It’s become much more common for hit songs to be collaborations – Pop Star A “featuring” Pop Star B.

That means the total number of artists credited on songs in the end-of-year top 100 list has risen over the past decade.

You might have expected the number of men and women to have risen equally, but no. Only the number of male acts has risen.
What does that mean for the women?

In 2008, stars like Alexandra Burke, Duffy and Katy Perry were among the 35 female acts to have hit singles on their own.

Last year, that number was 13, including Dua, Ariana and Anne-Marie as well as Jess Glynne, Loren Allred and Rita Ora.

At the same time, the number of songs credited to both a female and a male act has risen from 10 to 25.

So songs by a man AND a woman have replaced many of those that were JUST credited to a single female act a decade ago.

Meanwhile, men are also collaborating more with other men – hence the steep rise in the overall number of male acts appearing on the top 100 singles.

But women are largely not collaborating with other women – or if they are, those songs aren’t as popular. None of the top 100 songs of 2018 were collaborations just between female-only acts. But there’s no change there – that was the same in 2008.

Why is this happening?

There’s always been a gender imbalance in pop music – just think about the genders of the biggest stars of the past 60 years.

Part of the reason collaborations are now more common is because it’s a good way for one act to get exposure with the fans of another – especially in the streaming age, when it’s harder to break through. Often the other artist will be from a different genre.

And these days, the charts are dominated by dance and rap – which are both overwhelmingly male – at the expense of traditional pop, singer-songwriters and girl groups.

Dance music often has female vocalists, but the DJs/producers/hitmakers who they appear with – people like Calvin Harris, Marshmello, David Guetta, Zedd, Jax Jones – are almost always men.

In rap, Cardi B may have broken the glass ceiling but she is still far outnumbered by the likes of Drake, Post Malone, Macklemore, Kendrick Lamar and French Montana.


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