Every holiday season, Spotify drops personal year-end playlists, and reveals the most streamed artists and songs of the year — which this year included no women, as individuals or performing in groups.
Seriously. No women. That says something disturbing about gender inequality in the music industry.
Ed Sheeran, Drake, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, and The Chainsmokers took the top spots for most streamed artists. The most streamed groups were Coldplay (thanks to their collaboration with The Chainsmokers), Imagine Dragons, Maroon 5, Linkin Park (most likely due to the death of frontman Chester Bennington), and Migos.
Why are the top streaming honors — on Spotify at least — going exclusively to men?
At first glance, this data comes off as a bit of a shock, especially when our chosen president, Cardi B, is still dominating the Billboard charts, making schmoney, and living her best life.
But upon closer examination, at time of publication, only 24 percent of the top 50 songs on the Hot 100 charts belong to women, if we’re not counting guest spots on other tracks. If we are, then that number only jumps to 30 percent.
Rihanna’s consistently remained on the list of Spotify’s top artists for the past few years, often appearing solo amongst a sea of men like in 2013, and this year is no exception. Of the top streamed women this year, Rihanna takes the throne for the third year in a row (last year’s reign can most likely be attributed to the fact that Beyoncé’s Lemonade still remains a Tidal exclusive).
She’s followed by Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, and Sia — an interesting list considering Swift and Sia are the only two of the five who did not release an album this year. It is worth noting that Sia’s release was a holiday album and Swift’s music didn’t make its return to Spotify until June, with reputation being added much later after its initial release date.
There are many possible reasons for the gender imbalance in 2017: the timing of releases, exclusive streaming contracts, or the demographics of those listening via Spotify.
There’s a larger problem, too: the lack of infrastructure in place to support women.
There’s an obvious imbalance of power in the industry and it’s one Swift painted an incredibly clear picture of when she accepted a Grammy award for Album of the Year in 2016 with standing behind her.
Women’s Audio Mission, a nonprofit based in San Fransisco that offers opportunities for women to learn the ins and outs of the industry, estimates that less than 5 percent of the people in the music industry are women. This number includes roles as techs and studio engineers. In 2016, according Vulture, only 22.3 percent of the Top 40 songs were sung by women, and only 10.8 percent of credited songwriters were women.
But while women, Swift included, have been speaking out about the imbalance for awhile, the men on Spotify’s top five lists all benefit from heavy radio play as well — something women unfortunately do not get the same luxury of having.
That is also informed by record label support for artists and more. All of this directly contributes to the representation of very few women — or a straight-up omission of women — in festival lineups, a problem that has been around for awhile. Despite the increased conversations about it, it doesn’t seem to be getting much better.
Basically, this Spotify data is symptomatic a problem that hits every area of the industry. It’s all connected. In the UK, a campaign called ReBalance is providing low-barrier opportunities for women engineers and artists to access studio time, festivals, and travel/accommodations.
More programs like this would be groundbreaking. Hiring more women would improve the breadth of music we enjoy, and result in better Spotify top five lists for years to come.