Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Music, Gender, and Stereotypes

As I was listening to some of the new/new-to-me music I received for Christmas and my birthday this year, I realized that most was by female artists:
  • Adele, 25: "Hello" is probably the best known song off this album, but certainly not the best. I like the song, but there's something strange about her timbre on the chorus. The second single off the album, "When We Were Young," is also a ballad, but the album has some great uptempo tracks (such as "Send My Love") as well as better ballads (more interesting arrangements with a good beat - "I Miss You" is a great example of this).
  • Sara Bareilles, What's Inside: Songs from Waitress: The 2007 film, Waitress, has been turned into a musical (now on Broadway!) with music & lyrics by Sara Bareilles. This album features music from the show, but performed by Sara and her band, as more of a studio album than original soundtrack. Not as pensive as some of her past albums, but super-cute with interesting harmonies (Sara's a cappella arranging experience showing).
  • Florence + The Machine, Ceremonials and Lungs: Love me some Florence + The Machine, who by the way are Florence Welch and Isabella "Machine" Summers, plus the backing band. It's hard to pick favorites from these albums - all the tracks are really good.
  • Ellie Goulding, Delirium: Most of you have probably heard "Love Me Like You Do," the incessantly catchy track that has much more interesting verses than chorus, but the album is excellently produced, and features many solid (and uptempo) tracks. One of my favorites is "Army."
  • Elle King, Love Stuff: "Ex's & Oh's" is probably best known off the album, but the rest of the tracks are equally good. She blends a lot of interesting styles (blues, soul, country, rock) - "Last Damn Night" (one of my favorites), which has a very Led Zeppelin vibe to it, is followed by "Kocaine Karolina," a country/bluegrass number on which Elle plays banjo.
The remaining music I received was mostly choral: Mozart's arrangement of Handel's Messiah, and music by Tarik O'Regan.

Still hoping to get the new Sia album (hint hint).

It occurred to me that this is the most albums by women I've received at one time. Even still, the music on my iPod currently favors male artists (over twice as many male artists, in fact).

Why might this be the case? It's possible there are simply a lot more male artists. But a recent study highlighted another possibility: men may be perceived as more creative, at least in certain domains. The study found that, even when using the same stimulus materials (e.g., architectural designs), the materials were viewed as more creative if the designer was a man.

Part of the issue may simply be a lack of representation of creative women in these and other domains, such as in arts education. But a recent victory for female composers may signal a change in that regard. Britain's A-level music syllabus previously included only male composers. This prompted a student, Jessy McCabe, to petition that female composers be added. Though her petition was ultimately successful, the initial response from the board was: "female composers were not prominent in the western classical tradition (or others for that matter)." The revised list now includes a handful of female composers, including Clara Schumann.

Small victories. Obviously, more work is needed.

Musically yours,

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