Women and the #Hottest100 – it’s not just music

I started tweeting a lot about the Hottest 100 both last night and this afternoon, and it finally got to the point where I knew I should move my comments onto a platform that allows for more space (by the way, I am against Twitter increasing its current character limit. 140 is great). If you’re sick of reading thinkpieces about the Hottest 100, I’ll be okay if you leave. I have a complicated relationship with the Hottest 100 – I listen most years, but I think this is the first time I’ve voted since 2012 – and this year I found myself agonising over my Top 10. I’m posting an image of it, which is something I’ve never done in the past just so we can see how I voted. You can access a full list of the Countdown here.

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I voted Meg Mac’s “Never Be” as my number 1 song of the year. In that list of votes, six of ten songs feature female vocalists. The highest ranked of these songs was “Never Be” at #11. Of the remaining four songs, three of them were in the Top 10: “Can’t Feel My Face” at #9, “The Trouble With Us” at #6 and “King Kunta” at #2. “Hallelujah” wasn’t in the Hottest 100 at all, but The Rubens’ “Hoops” was #1. These are all great songs, which is why I voted for them, but so did everyone else. The Hottest 100 has a historical problem when it comes to female vocalists in the Top 10, and the first time I became aware of this issue was after the Hottest 100 of All Time poll held in 2009, in which only 2% of the songs featured female vocalists. This isn’t a phenomenon that’s limited to music, but many of the creative arts. Before I continue, I’d just like to say that I was pretty pleased with the countdown, and exclaimed “Yes!” when I saw that the Rubens made #1 at interval (I saw a musical last night, which is pretty much the whitest thing you can do on Australia Day, but more about that tomorrow).

I’m going to take a bit of a detour and tell you a story about Taylor Swift that has nothing to do with the Hottest 100, but highlights people’s assumptions about female artists. Last year Ryan Adams ended up releasing a full cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989. Where Swift’s songs had been dismissed in some circles, Adams’ covers were praised (yes, Taylor Swift is one of the most popular artists in the world and I love her, but her music is often dismissed as junk food because she’s so popular and her songs are written for young women). In some circles, Adams gave credibility to Swift’s music. Is it simply because he’s a dude? I can’t say for certain, but I’m sure that’s part of it. Yes, there were criticisms of Adams’ covers as well, but Todd VanDerWerff wrote a great piece about it over at Vox. (Side note: None of Adams’ covers made the Hottest 100 in 2015.)

For some reason (it’s privilege), a work of art is given more authority or legitimacy if it’s written by a man. This isn’t a phenomenon that’s limited to music, and female authors have been using male pseudonyms for decades, possibly even centuries. I have a couple of examples, and my first is George Eliot. The author of Middlemarch, Mary Ann Evans adopted the name George Eliot because she knew her work would be taken more seriously if it appeared to have been written by a man. Over 100 years later, Joanne Rowling was advised by her publishers to use initials instead of her full name because young boys wouldn’t want to read books written by a woman. She didn’t have a middle name, so she adopted her grandmother’s name Kathleen and became JK Rowling. We all know how that worked out for her. Men are seen to have more authority, therefore women become men.

After the Hottest 100 of All Time in 2009, some pretty awesome ladies created the Hummingbird 100 Hottest Female Songs of All Time to address the lack of ladies in the countdown. This was lovely, but it’s not a solution. We don’t want a separate list, we want higher representation in the main list. Female soloists have made it to #2, but only four winners have featured female vocalists since the countdown began in 1988. I don’t know how to fix this because quota is a dirty word. It’s something we’ll just have to keep working at. I tend to vote for songs by women because my musical wheelhouse is female singer-songwriters. Apart from the ladies and Kendrick, I voted for some white dudes who made good music last year. “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Trouble With Us” were the two songs I danced to the most this year. This isn’t a problem that’s going to be fixed next year. I’m not telling you how to vote, but asking you to think about how you vote. It doesn’t matter, there are 365 days until the next Hottest 100 (it’s a leap year!), and I’m looking forward to it.

Other thoughts:

  • Courtney Barnett and Tame Impala each had the highest number of entries in the countdown at four each. Barnett didn’t have an entry above #43, and Tame Impala had two songs in the Top 10. My main problem with this is that I find Tame Impala pretty dull.
  • My highlight of the countdown was when Veronica and Lewis called Asta after playing her song “Dynamite,” featuring Allday at #47. She was on a pub call with her friends from work and was excited that her song made it into the Top 50. It was an expression of pure joy.
  • I’m super excited for The Rubens to feature on Like A Version this week.
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