For decades, music critics, music snobs and friends at a dinner table have debated what constitutes ‘real’ music. However, since before the days of Elvis and the Beatles, female dominated fan bases have been stereotyped and used as a basis to delegitimize an artist or band. No matter how successful, musicians can still be marked by the prominent gender of their fan base, leading people to discredit their talent and creative work. While this may not be unbearable for recent boy bands like One Direction, for other musicians on the rise it can mean being dismissed by critics and losing major press opportunities.
In a Billboard interview, members of alternative band Hippo Campus commented on the way in which this dilemma has affected them: “It’s like there’s a law where it’s like, ‘We’re not allowed to like a band whose fan base is like 90 percent female’ or something like that.”
It raises the question, why would the merit of any artist, from Hippo Campus to Taylor Swift be attacked on the basis of the gender of their fanbase?
When asked this question in regards to one of her favorite artists, Junior Alexandra Whitaker had a few ideas as to how sexism may play a part in an artist’s career.
“Honestly, it’s kind of a shame that talented artists like Billie Eilish aren’t more recognized as simply talented artists. It’s not like she doesn’t have the talent — I mean from the range of octaves in her voice to her and her brother’s songwriting abilities, she is insanely gifted, especially considering she started her career at fourteen. I think the reason why she is considered a girly artist isn’t exactly because her fan base is mainly girls, but because guys are scared to admit they listen to “girly music.” I don’t feel that girls are ridiculed for their music as much as guys are socially made fun of for liking music that has a lead female vocalist.”
Dr. Rosemary Lucy Hill, a scholar in the history of music, delved more into this topic. She began to study how the Metal and Hard Rock genre is affected by different genders for both female artists and fans. By looking through the history of Metal and Hard Rock, and interviewing female musicians in these genres, she began to notice a pattern of bands with female lead singers having to prove their talent is genuine more often. Oddly enough, she has seen this pattern with female fans as well.
In a commentary on Hill’s Gender, Metal and the Media: Women Fans and the Gendered Experience of Music, Sam Grant writes that, “[The] investigation into sexism in metal finds that it takes many forms, such as the treatment of women fans at hard rock and metal gigs; misogynistic imagery in artwork and lyrics; women having to prove their fandom in order to be accepted by male fans and prejudice experienced by female metal musicians.” Hill finds that not only do female fans cause others to delegitimize a band, but female fans themselves feel they must continually prove themselves as true fans.
Sophomore Bailey Gibson elaborated on the ways in which she’s experienced this first hand. “It’s like a specific kind of person can only like a specific kind of music,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Oh I can’t like Taylor Swift and Joy Division or the Cure’, I can’t like things that guys would like.” However, like Whitaker, Gibson believes it doesn’t just come down to the fanbase. “Girls hate Taylor Swift just as much as guys do,” she says. “It’s so illegitimate. I try to question people, like, ‘why do you look down on me for liking her, or what is your deal with disliking her?’ And they can never actually give me a real reason.” When it comes to Taylor Swift, we’ve all heard someone make statements as to how they dislike Swift’s dating choices or her emotional songs. However, none of these reasons pertain to her skills as an artist, and create a straw-man persona used for tearing her down.
The way people may look down on someone for liking a female artist, with no real premise for disliking them draws Whitaker’s and Gibson’s frustration. Ultimately, music is a matter of personal taste. Jake Luppen, lead singer of Hippo Campus, told Billboard: “I think what people often fail to see too is that a young woman’s relationship to her music is one of the most beautiful things. It’s so intense, it’s so personal. Very vulnerable.” Fans in the midst of a female dominated fan bases, or female musicians should not be ashamed of their self-expression through music.
There can be many legitimate arguments for what makes a musician good or bad. We should value women’s opinions and feelings enough to not make a largely female fan base or a female lead singer a reason to dismiss an artist or band.