$OLD OUT! Defining the Decade of Women in Music

Fern Marie Hagin
Sociology/English, University of Saskatchewan
December, 2002
 

Abstract

"What's Going On"


Popular music has a conflicting repute. Celebrated as a medium that can inspire ideological and social change, its industry is also on record for being historically white, male, and American. The phrase Women in Music describes the decade of the '90s and 1996 was dubbed the International Year of The Female Recording Artist by media. This project assesses the impact of this phenomenon on social perceptions of gender in order to determine the potential for an ideological shift and subseqeunt social change.

Through an interdisciplinary approach that merges literary studies and sociology, definitions of Women in Musicbased on popularity are examined. A content analysis of the Top 5 songs by female artists from 1990 to 2000 is combined with an empirical tally of female songwriters and producers. International representation is also examined to assess the validity of the media's assertion.

The results of the content analysis indicate a predominance of traditional themes, a lesser percentage of material that challenges feminine stereotypes, and a third category that contains elements of both. Within the industry, high levels of concentration characterize power over the creative process and chart position frequencies. Male produces and songwriters control creativity to a significant extent and the number of artists who are non-American is extremely low.

Despite a marked increase in the presence of female artists, tradition and convention continue to define public perceptions of women and their position within the industry. The potential for Women in Music to affect any appreciable level of social change is therefore limited.
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