Rolling Stone is a publication that deserves the utmost respect. The magazine has been the source of the most iconic celebrity photographs in pop culture history. They've scored interviews with some of the biggest names in music history. They have always been at the center of popular culture.
However, they recently published an article which misrepresented a recent study from music researchers. The study was conducted by Michael Mauskapf of Columbia Business School, Sharon Koppman of UC Irvine , Brian Uzzi of Northwestern, and Noah Askin of INSEAD. In the article, writer Samantha Hissong portrays the study as proving female artists are more creative than male artists.
The only problem is, that isn't what the study states at all. In fact, it states the opposite. Their findings clearly state "there is no mean difference in song novelty for male versus female artists." The study does find, however, that certain factors "create systematic inequalities in creative output." Those factors are listed as "artist tenure, success, category membership, organizational affiliation, and network size and composition."
Music is a work of art. Albums are like paintings hanging in a museum. Nobody can factually state which piece of art is more creative, or novel, than another. The creativity and novelty of art will always be in the eye of the beholder. What one finds creative, another person will not. There's no way an educational study can determine such things. It's one thing to question whether one gender is at a higher advantage than another. However, determining the creative quality of the work is factually impossible.
Therefore, that particular portion of the study, and Rolling Stone's inaccurate take on it, is equally laughable.
I also find it confusing how one can determine that the creative material coming from any current pop act, male or female, is always the source of the artist themselves. Several women have male producers, male choreographers, male fashion designers, and male video directors. So even if one does feel female artists release more creative work than male artists, is it solely a case of their creativity? Or does their savvy choice in collaborators play a role as well?
I'm in no way trying to undermine the talent of female artists. There are several women who write and produce music while sitting at the top of the charts. However, the machinery of pop music can't be denied. This is also something that artists like Justin Timberlake and Justin Beiber are guilty of as well. It doesn't just apply to female artists. However, there are so few male pop stars around these days.
From my own observations, women are the ones who are dominating popular music. In 2018, Ed Sheeran won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance. He beat out Lady Gaga, Kesha, Pink, and Kelly Clarkson. A ton of people were outraged that Sheeran, a man, won the award over the other, all female, nominees. They tried to paint it as some form of sexism. I find it more telling that he was the only male artist nominated in that category.
Don't get me wrong, women have not always dominated pop music. In the early eighties, Madonna was breaking down barriers for female artists. She came up during a time when male rock acts were dominating the MTV and radio airwaves. It was unheard of for a female artist to be that strong and have such controversial material. She dealt with a lot of sexism, from men and women alike, who had a hard time adjusting to the change in pop culture.
But the times have changed. The year is 2020, not 1982. Madonna has paved the way for several generations of female artists. As a result, the pop world is stuck in a place where corporate heads are afraid of anything new. Troye Sivan's "Bloom" album could've been his big breakthrough and raised his profile as a star. Instead, acts like Billie Eilish and Lizzo became huge stars. They were added to the already lengthy list of female pop stars ruling the music scene. These female pop acts have large gay followings.
Yet, when an actual gay man gets into the music business, he's either ignored or criminally underrated. Troye Sivan, Simon Curtis, and Mika are all examples of gay artists who have openly put their sexuality in their work. All of them have a large fanbase. However, they don't get the same amount of mainstream recognition female pop acts have.
Many will point to Lil Nas X having the longest running number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. While that is impressive, the song came out before Lil Nas X did. There's also the important fact that the song has nothing to do with his sexuality. To top this all off, the video he released after "Old Town Road" featured him chasing after a girl.
When a woman openly explores her sexuality in her work today, she's dubbed an empowering artist. She gets number one hits, she's adored by the media, and she wins a ton of Grammys. When a gay man does it, he's ignored and not promoted the way he should be. In that case, you could say certain male artists are at a disadvantage.
The very thing Madonna was once shamed for, is now a selling point for other female artists. Yet, there's an unfair double standard when men are not allowed to do the same thing. When Robin Thicke released his song "Blurred Lines," many called the song "rapey." Yet, when Jessie J released her song "Bang Bang," it was called empowering. It was dubbed empowering even though it contained the same supposedly problematic lyric, "I know you want it."
That isn't to say that women don't still have to deal with unfair double standards of their own. When Jennifer Lopez and Shakira performed at the Super Bowl last month, they got rave reviews. However, there were many who were uncomfortable with their revealing costumes and racy dance moves. The FCC received over 1,000 complaints about the performance. Yet, those same people didn't seem to mind Adam Levine performing shirtless at last year's half time show.
However, that's to be expected when you do a show that reaches the most conservative households in America. For some groups of people, certain things will always be an issue. I'm not excusing the treatment both singers received. However, if they did that same performance on the Billboard Awards or the American Music Awards, I doubt the FCC would receive the same number of complaints.
At the end of the day, both male and female artists have their own disadvantages. By the same token, both male and female artists have their own advantages as well. The very nature of questioning which group has it more difficult will lead you to a grey area. It's not as black and white as it was thirty years ago. Times have changed and they will keep changing. Here's hoping the future will see a world where no gender is dominating the other in pop music. Hopefully that future will see more equal treatment of men and women so everyone will feel represented.