Last week was Country Music’s biggest event of the year, the Country Music Association Awards aired. This year’s award show got a lot of attention because of a collaboration between Country artist Miranda Lambert and Pop artists Meghan Trainor and Ariana Grande to perform to two Pop songs, “All About That Bass,” and “Bang Bang,”. This unusual combination of artists attracted a lot of media attention to the state of women in Country music vs Pop music. Because of this strong display of female success in Pop, the media seemed to form a consensus that Pop music has made more strides toward gender equality than country music. I disagree. While many pop musicians are quick to label themselves as feminists, females really aren’t any better off in the pop genre. In pop music, women tend to sexualize themselves and are held to a double standard. In Country, gender is not the issue, the problem is the nature of the genre.
Women tend to be sexualized more in Pop than in Country. Look for example at Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. Miley started her career with Disney before becoming a solo artist. At that time, she was an innocent teen, with a younger audience and she was successful. When she grew up and left Disney, Miley struggled to find her own identity in Pop Music. She released her album Breakout in 2008 which again was fairly innocent. You’ve probably never heard of it though because it didn’t do well. Miley didn’t start doing well until she sexed it up in her most recent albums Can’t Be Tamed and Bangerz. This exemplifies how success usually works for women in Pop—most aren’t successful unless they exploit their bodies. On the other hand you have Taylor Swift. Taylor has had many, many successful albums without sexualizing herself. Sexualizing is just not common in country music, so artist become successful without it. Rather than sexualizing herself, Taylor connects with her audience through her feelings and experiences. Taylor and Miley contrast well to make this point. Both are around the same age and have faced similar pressures of growing up in the spotlight, however, they have been successful in very different ways because of the nature of their genres.
This issue of women sexualizing themselves is related to the bigger issue of double standards. Women in Pop face more double standards than women in Country. As we can see in the Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus example, women in Pop are expected to “put on a show” while women in country and male musicians are expected to perform. There is a huge difference between the performing and putting on a show. Performers have a talent that they are sharing, but someone putting on a show is just trying to entertain a crowd in whatever way possible. This expectation sets the stage for gender inequality in Pop. Additionally, there is a double standard on what is acceptable for male versus female pop artists to talk about in their songs. When Beyoncé released her album Beyoncé she got a lot of flak. Her album was even banned from Target and her music videos were removed from YouTube. Her album did have many sexual references, but it was no more inappropriate Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, or Kanye West’s Bound 2. Thicke and West’s albums did get some scrutiny, but neither was banned from stores or YouTube even though they were very sexual songs. In Country, this double standard does not arise, because explicit sexual lyrics aren’t common in the genre, so there aren’t nearly as many double standards for women.
Pop has more successful female artists than country, but it is not because the genre is any closer to gender equality than Country. There are fewer women in Country because of the themes of country music. Country music is usually about memories of women, beer, pickup trucks, relationships, revenge, patriotism and other similar things. While women can have a lot to say about relationships and revenge, most women just don’t have much to say about beer and pickup trucks. Since it is harder for women to find a niche in Country music, there are fewer female Country musicians. In contrast, Pop music can have a wide range of topics. Its popular themes, desire, aspiration, nostalgia, pain, rebellion, jadedness, etc. are more gender-neutral, so pop music is able to attract more females. Since there are more females to choose from in the Pop genre, there will clearly be more successful females.
It is commendable that women from different genres are collaborating to make powerful performances, but this does not indicate that any one genre is closer to gender equality than another. After the CMA performance by Miranda Lambert, and pop artists Arianna Grande, and Megan Trainor, many media sources assumed that this meant that Pop was more gender equal than country, however this is not true. Unlike Country singers, female Pop artists sexualize themselves and face other double standards. The reason there aren’t more successful female Country artists is because of the themes of country music, not gender inequality.
Wilson, Audrey. The Dream of Country-Music Gender Equality Made Visible for One Night – Yahoo News. 6 November 2014. Electronic. 13 November 2014.