What characterises feminist artists in the music industry based on factors like popularity, diversity, history and geographics?
Dataexploration by Tim Ebert and Sebastian Wloch Jan 2020
For many years feminists fought and are still fighting for equality and women rights. Music is one of the most universal ways to communicate ideas and express oneself, with the potential to reach a broad audience. Of course, the industry itself has it shortcomings when it comes to gender equality, diversity und inclusion. Even so, more and more remarkable feminist artists are strifing and have a positive impact inside this space. With datasets from Wikipedia, the world’s biggest free encyclopedia and Spotify, one of the biggest music streaming platforms in the world as primary sources, the following data visualisation takes a closer look on those artists.
Through carefully analysing and polishing these large datasets we can begin to explore questions like: What characterises a feminist artists? Which role do parameters like popularity, location, music genre or gender play? Where are the differences and similarities? Is there a focus on a specific genre or how do they compare to the general music industry?
Please note that the following graphics won’t equate to a universal and definitive conclusion on this research matter. Some of the datasets we use are inherently biased. Still the datasets are coherent enough to warrant further inspection. The visualisation of patterns and connections inside those datasets, with the goal of facilitating discourse and exploration was paramount.
Our full list of datasets and additional sources can be found here
To take a look at gender distribution between feminist artists and the rest of the music industry we started by comparing our data from Wikipedia.com with results from the “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?”-Study held by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative in 2019. The study analysed the “Top 100 End-Year Billboard Charts 2012-2018” and gives insights into the gender distribution in popular music. The comparison made abundantly clear that there is a big divide in term of gender distribution between our two data sets. The Wikipedia-List of feminist artists is almost 100% comprised of female or mixed-gender artists, with some rare male exceptions like Lemmy or John Legend.
Meanwhile the study revealed a very different picture with almost 80% of artists in the Top 100 between 2012-2018 being male.
While Spotify sadly doesn’t provide clear data on the exact gender distribution of artists inside the streaming service, they offer a lot of informations about their streams.
Taking a closer look at those daily updated streaming numbers (reference date: 23.01.2020) reveals further prove of an less than equal playing field. According to the statistics the service has 43,6% female or mixed-gender listeners but only 22,4% of streamed music by female artists. This rather disappointing result can be easily attributed to a specific cause or to a general bias on Spotify’s behalf. Listeners using Spotify’s editorial Playlist actually stream 24,8%, 2,4% higher than the average, while people that listen to their own playlists are even below-average with 20,7% of streamed female artists.
Listening to Spotify’s algorithmically personalised Discover Weekly playlists, leads to the worst results, streaming only 16,9% from female artists.
Our data shows a steady increases of feminist artists over the decades. While the dataset is inherently focused on north america, starting in the 50s with hotspots on the west and east coast of the USA, a more diverse distribution all over the world can still be observed during the 70 years till 2020.
One of the most famous feminist artist of the 60s, Leslie Gore inspires thousands of women with her song “You don’t owe me”, in an recent interview with The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, she said “As I got older, feminism became more a part of my life and more a part of our whole awareness, and I could see why people would use it as a feminist anthem.”
In the early 70s a growing number of people started to talk about and act on gender-inequality in the music industry. The 70s were also a decade of firsts: The first women's music festival was held in 1973 at Sacramento State University, followed one year later by the first National Women's Music Festival in Illinois while the first female music record label “Olivia Records” was created in 1973.
In 1981, the TV-Channel MTV starts airing Music Videos. What follows are artists like X-Ray Spex, Patti Smith, Joan Jett or Donna Summer that use Music Videos that further bolded their progressive song lyrics with meaningful visuals.
The early 90s mark the beginning of third-wave feminism. It’s influence can clearly be seen in the music industry. Pioneers like Fiona Apple, Jewel, Alanis Morissette and No Doubt sang about feminist values, inspiring a new generation of young women.
While stars like Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift gain huge followings and make a mark on pop culture, the feminist Punk-Rock-Band Pussy Riot gains mainstream media attention for their artistic and political activism, protesting against the russian regime and subsequently getting arrested in 2012.
More and more feminist artists from all over the world make an impact on the music industry with the rise of superstars like Adele, Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande, the later two reaching Place Two and Three of the most streamed artists on Spotify in 2019.
Representation on Spotify
Being represented on Spotify means access to a global audience. Being represented on Wikipedia is in itself a sign for popularity. "Being popular" has a rather murky definition, so comparing the two metrics can serve as a first step in narrowing down a quantiviable conclusion. Our data shows, that about two thirds of all feminist artists from our wikipedia list also can be found on Spotify, thus expanding their reach substantially.
Popularity & Followers
While our data-set shows rather positive results in terms of popularity, there are additional factors that can’t be effectively displayed in this visualization but are important to note: f.e. Some artists are sympathetic to the feminist movement but are reluctant to identify as feminist in fear of compromising their artistic career and being reduced on the topic of feminism, others never state they are feminists but become a symbol for feminism by being successful women in a male dominated industry.
Quiet a few feminist artists on our list have very high 90+ ratings in popularity, showing that artists with feminist ideas and thoughtful songs can gain mass appeal and huge followings.
While popularity is measured through a combination of monthly listeners, followers and other factors, focusing on followers only, offers a more streamlined perspective and shows bigger gaps in terms of reach.
Top 25 artists by followers
Looking at the top 25 of artists with the most followers on Spotify, some feminist artists like Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé reach some of the top spots and have up to 41.3 million followers.
We counted over 250+ different entries, revealing a very diverse and artistically rich spectrum of musical genres. The most prominent genre is Pop with it’s many different variations. Other noteworthy genres include "Lilith", which is comprised of music played at the Lilith Fair, a concert tour, founded by Sara McLachlan in 1997. The financially successful tour, exclusive to female solo-artists and female-led bands was created in response of concert promoters repeatedly refusing to book two female artists in a row. Another interesting genre is Spotify’s own algorithmic genre "Escape Room", that is part of a growing list of new micro-genres to better categories and cater to listeners music tastes. As such, it can’t be pinned down to a clear direction but rather entails a wide variety of musical impressions.
When choosing instruments, feminist artists seem to have three clear favorites. “Vocals, guitars and pianos” with most opting for vocals. Beside those three rather classic choices, our findings again show a wide variety of different instruments. With outliers like the oboe or the laserharp. It’s important to note that this statistic in particular is to take with a grain of salt, considering many of our artists play more than one instrument and no reliable way for us to give each instrument a more accurate emphasis.
Additional informations about our data:
Wikipedia offers the biggest, free encyclopedia on the internet, with almost 6 million unique articles on its english speaking "wikipedia.com"-Domain alone. This made Wikipedia our first choice while looking for a list of feminist music artists that was as complete as possible. During our research we faced a few defining problems that would taint our data in different ways. One of the biggest decisions was the choice of which version of wikipedia we should use. Choosing the english version would focus mostly on american and english speaking artists while also including more famous artists from other countries. Choosing to combine lists of different wikipedia versions around the world would be difficult from a linguistic standpoint. Not being able to speak most of the languages fluently and no real way to verify the datasets, resulting in a skewed list with no tangible parameter other than “we are able to speak that language”. So we settled for the english wikipedia version utelising a list of “feminist musicians”, that missed some of the bigger and well-known feminist artists but served as a good starting point. We incorporated additional relevant Wikipedia-Lists and began to expand the list with artists from around the world, that we found during our research, in case they also had an entry on Wikipedia.
Like previously stated, Spotify is one of the biggest music-streaming services in the world, with 248 million active users per month (Q3 2019). Of course we are well aware that Spotify isn’t without its flaws and it’s possible that influential feminist artists aren’t present on Spotify simply because they don’t agree with some of its business practices. Nevertheless, after examining the sheer size and variance of its library we deemed it a good, comparable counterpart to our Wikipedia data set. While both aren’t ideal, each offering a good amount of usable data, that operate on similar parameters regarding relevance and popularity.
Refining the dataset:
Working with Wikipedia turned out to be a bigger struggle than anticipated: With its biggest strength, the option to create and edit articles by everybody also being one of the biggest problems for us. With only lose rules regarding formation of data and very lax policies in terms of curating articles, especially on the english version of wikipedia. This led to a lot of problems, while trying to clean up and structurize the datasets. Coming up with a viable solution to extract a useable list out of this mess of scrambled info-bits expanded the scope of this project immensely. In the end we managed to unscramble about 96% of the data, leaving us with 4% of data that would have to be analysed manually. With the alternative being to comb through 15875 lines of code and in light of very tight time constraints, we decided to ignore the occasional data-hiccup(f.e. missing links or redundant commata).