A couple of weeks back Rolling Stone magazine published their list of the ‘100 Greatest Songs of the 21st Century’ and while these lists may seem arbitrary to some, I always find them a useful gauge of the state of the music industry as a whole. This blog aims to promote better representation for women in music so I thought I would analyse the list and see what conclusions could be drawn.
1.Beyoncé Reigns Over Everyone
Sitting on top of the chart is ‘Crazy in Love’ by Beyoncé, featuring Jay Z. It’s great to see a woman actually winning one of these polls and you can’t really argue with the genius of this pop song, even if the lyrics are far from the feminist ideal. Whether you are a fan or not one thing is clear – the cultural juggernaut that is Beyoncé Knowles is something to be reckoned with. Her critical appraisal is actually improving with time as poptimism takes its grip on cultural journalism. Beyoncé appears twice more on the chart with ‘Single Ladies’ and ‘Formation’, showing her dominance.
2.Representation is Improving, But There’s Still a Way to Go
Women artists and vocalists make up 37% of the chart, including the top two spots with MIA coming in second after Beyoncé. Here is the full list of women included in reverse order, with their placing in brackets.
Alvvays – Marry Me, Archie (98)
Kylie – Can’t Get You Out of My Head (95)
Amerie – 1 Thing (90)
Mariah Carey – We Belong Together (87)
Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX – I Love It (86)
Gwen Stefani – Hollaback Girl (81)
Miranda Lambert – The House That Built Me (75)
The New Pornographers – Letter from an Occupant (74)
Carly Rae Jepson – Call Me Maybe (71)
Nicki Minaj – Beez in the Trap (66)
Rihanna & Calvin Harris – We Found Love (65)
Katy Perry – Teenage Dream (62)
Madonna – Hung Up (61)
Haim – The Wire (60)
Cardi B – Bodak Yellow (59)
Azaelia Banks – 212 (55)
Rilo Kiley – Portions for Foxes (54)
Grimes – Oblivion (53)
Sia – Chandelier (52)
Beyoncé – Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) (51)
Solange – Cranes in the Sky (43)
Beyoncé – Formation (38)
Lana Del Rey – Blue Jeans (35)
Taylor Swift – All Too Well (29)
Rihanna feat Jay Z – Umbrella (28)
Lady Gaga – Bad Romance (21)
Amy Winehouse – Rehab (20)
Robyn – Dancing on my Own (19)
Missy Elliott – Work It (17)
Britney Spears – Toxic (14)
Missy Elliott – Get UR Freak On (12)
Kelly Clarkson – Since U Been Gone (11)
Lorde – Royals (9)
Adele – Rolling in the Deep (8)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Maps (6)
M.I.A. – Paper Planes (2)
Beyoncé feat. Jay Z – Crazy in Love (1)
Although women are still slightly in the minority it is actually an improvement on their usual representation in lists by Rolling Stone magazine. For example in their ‘Greatest Songs of All Time’ list women only made up seven of the top one hundred. It would be brilliant to once see women gain equality or even command a majority in these lists but until then we can at least call this progress.
3.Women In Pop Are Over Represented
Magazines such as Rolling Stone used to promote quality music from a range of artists, including independent musicians. Now in a world driven by clicks that just isn’t the case. The majority of women on this list are making manufactured pop music for mass consumption with huge promotion budgets. My cynical nature thinks many pop stars have been included on this list so their legions of fans read and share this post, rather than because of their musical quality.
Sure some of these pop songs are brilliant like Bad Romance, Toxic and Can’t Get You Out Of My Head but there’s some real throwaway crap on here too. I mean Hollaback Girl was an embarrassment at the time and has aged horribly. 1 Thing by Amerie is a one hit wonder long forgotten by most. The songs selected by Lana Del Rey and Sia are almost unlistenable. Katy Perry is so average and doesn’t deserve her place, neither does Mariah as she was well past her best by ‘We Belong Together’. By filling the list with overproduced pop music Rolling Stone are excluding other worthy genres and talented women.
Overall the list for women is majority pop, with some selections from R’n’B, rap, indie rock and one country song. For the men in the list the dominant genres are rap and rock with only about seven songs by men clearly defined as ‘pop’. This is a divide which shows women in other, more ‘serious’ genres are undervalued. Don’t get me wrong it is good to see women in pop being taken seriously but not at the exclusion of other talent.
4.Women in Rock Are A Dying Breed
You might have expected to see artists like The Distillers or Paramore on here since their male equivalents make the cut but women in rock are absent from this list. Indie rock is slightly better represented with Yeah Yeah Yeahs rightfully landing high and Alvvays sneaking in there too. However overall it is a depressing outing for women in the alternative music genre with significant artists like St Vincent, Florence and the Machine, Joanna Newsom, Feist, Cat Power and others all absent. If we are ever going to see more women headlining alternative music festivals then they need more support from the media.
5.Country and Americana Are Almost Entirely Overlooked
I shouldn’t really be surprised to see country and Americana overlooked by the major rock music publications but it is disappointing all the same. Only mainstream country acts Miranda Lambert, Johnny Cash and Eric Church make the cut. Others major acts such as Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton, Kacey Musgraves and Loretta Lynn are excluded and Americana acts like Lucinda Williams don’t get a sniff either. If this list was genuinely concerned with the best songwriting of the 21st Century then more should have been included. And any list that doesn’t include ‘Cover Me Up’ by Jason Isbell probably shouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone.
6.Girl Groups Are Out Of Fashion
When I was reading through the greatest songs of all time list I was happy to see how many girl groups were included, like The Ronettes, The Chantels and Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. Therefore I was a little sad to see so few girl groups or sister groups on this list – only Haim and Icona Pop. This is really a shame and in stark contrast to how many all male groups appear. First Aid Kit should have definitely been included here. Maybe the trend for quality girl groups will come back around one day, (until then check out the recent Pitchfork girl group feature).
7.Solo Songwriting is Dead
The only solo write by a woman on this list is ‘Rehab’ by Amy Winehouse, every other song was written with collaborators. It is sad to me that more traditional solo singer songwriters are not valued in the same way as the male equivalents. Lists like these should be used to elevate quality songwriting and talent. It’s sad to think that a young artist reading this list might think to write a good song they have to pay some old bloke or hip producer to work with them.
8.Jenny Lewis Finally Gets Her Due
For me Jenny Lewis is the most talented singer songwriter of her generation and she is consistently underappreciated. So to see ‘Portions for Foxes’ by her band Rilo Kiley appear on this list is a victory of sorts. There could be at least five songs by Jenny on this list (or maybe that is just my list) but if you’ve heard Portions for Foxes and you don’t think it’s a classic song then you’re wrong and I feel sorry for you.
9.Sad Songs Are Out of Style
Now obviously the list includes such classic weepies as ‘Maps’ by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and ‘The House That Built Me’ by Miranda Lambert but these brilliant sad songs are in the minority. Even the queen of ballads herself Adele actually has the most ‘upbeat’ song of hers included on the list. I’m not sure why this is but it would be a real shame to see the sad song fade from mainstream popularity.
10.Amy Winehouse Was Robbed
If there’s a music critic out there who thinks ‘Royals’ by Lorde or ‘Rolling in the Deep’ by Adele is better than ‘Rehab’ by Amy Winehouse then they should be publicly shamed right now. Amy should have won this poll or at least been in the top ten. I can still remember the exact moment when I heard ‘Rehab’. It knocked me off my feet then and it still does today. She was a true authentic talent and this song captured her unique spirit and voice. In the end shouldn’t that be the kind of song we celebrate?
In conclusion yes these lists are always contentious, subjective and easy to get cross about. If you have any thoughts on the list or want to make any suggestions as to what songs have been overlooked then let me know in the comments or on social media. I have made a little playlist of some of my favourites by women which were left out – I will happily add any suggestions!