Female Artists Ruling the Charts: A Movement or Just a Moment?
It’s an unprecedented week six of women ruling the top 5, as one exec says when this happens en masse... “there’s something going on culturally.”
Taylor, Iggy, Katy, Nicki, Charli, Jessie, Ariana -- there’s no question that women are dominating the singles chart and leading the conversations when it comes to pop music.
For the first time in the 56-year history of the Billboard Hot 100, solo female artists have occupied the top five positions on the chart for six consecutive weeks. Including featured guest spots, there are actually eight women in the top five: Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” leads the charge, followed by Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow” (featuring Rita Ora), Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High)” and “Bang Bang” by Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj.
The feat breaks a 15-year record when Britney Spears, Whitney Houston and Sarah McLachlan were among the women holding down the top five slots for four weeks in early 1999 -- a hot streak that didn’t cool entirely until 50 Cent headed up an all-male top five on April 26, 2003. (While mixed-gender top fives are the norm, all-male is far more common than all-female. The most recent was on the chart dated June 29, 2013, led by Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”) The three top-selling albums of the year -- the Frozen soundtrack, featuring Idina Menzel’s ubiquitous “Let It Go”; Beyoncé’s self-titled LP; and Lorde’s Pure Heroine -- are all by or led by women as well.
But is it a movement or just a moment? Opinions are mixed.
“When this happens en masse, it’s not just a song or two. There’s something going on culturally,” says Evan Lamberg, Universal Music Publishing Group president of North America, who believes artists like Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Adele and Katy Perry primed the pop pump for the current round. (Indeed, the last time women held the top five songs was in March 2012, led by Adele and Perry.) Noting the uptempo, assertive nature of the present crop, Lamberg says the trend “reflects today’s culture of women being more outwardly confident and more self-empowering.”
And there are plenty of other pop females leaning in -- Charli XCX, Jhene Aiko, Kiesza, Sia and Mary Lambert among them -- while pop-oriented solo males take a back seat, with acts like Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake between album cycles (Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran are among the few exceptions).
The sound is having enough of an impact that in July Sirius XM launched Venus, a station dedicated to rhythmic pop from the 2000s through today. “We looked at what we were doing internally and externally, and with a lot of outside rhythmic stations moving female, we felt it would be a great hole to fill,” says Sirius XM vp pop Kid Kelly. Not surprisingly, given the station’s name, Venus is female-centric -- think Beyoncé, Spears, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Pink and Rihanna, as well as today’s chart-toppers -- but men are not excluded.
S-Curve Records president and avid chart watcher Steve Greenberg thinks the female wave is more cyclical than seminal. “We’re in a very rhythmic moment in pop music,” he says, “and that’s a kind of music that’s traditionally associated with female singers.”
Still, some observers warn against reading too deeply into the current wave. “It’s ladies who are leading the way at the moment,” says Island Records president David Massey. “They are the ones making the right moves, but it’s possible to overreact to a cluster of success. You’re going to see a balancing of that in the next few months.”
Even if it is just a moment for the gals, it’s a major one. For the first time since 2009 -- and only the second time in the past decade -- solo women outrank solo men for the percentage of songs in the top 10 for the year. And even Lamberg, who says, “I’ve never seen a gravitational pull like this,” believes a gender balance will inevitably return, though he expects solo women to remain a strong presence on the pop charts.
Indeed, he says, “On the other side, we’re hearing labels say, ‘Can you find me the next Sam Smith?’ ”
Additional reporting by Gary Trust.
This article first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of Billboard.