Where Are the Women in Alternative Rock?
Kristy Pirone | On 20, Aug 2013
On August 13, 2013, the incredibly talented Lorde became the first woman in 17 years to top Billboard’s Alternative Songs Chart as a solo artist. And before you ask, that was not a typo: the earth has circled the sun 17 times since the last time a female solo artist has held the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Alt Chart, specifically Tracy Bonham with her song “Mother Mother” in 1996. To put that into perspective, Lorde herself is only 16 years old, making her the first female solo act to top the chart in her lifetime. In fact, only 10 songs by female solo artists have achieved top honors over the course of the chart’s 25 year history.
I love alternative music a lot (possibly too much, if you ask my friends or look at my Tumblr). At this point practically all I talk about is the latest Panic! at the Disco single and my newfound love for You Me At Six (who, yes, I discovered about 600 years late). But when I read the news about Lorde I have to admit, I was surprised. Not because of the success of Lorde’s single, “Royals” is a superbly catchy track that deserves all the love it has been getting, but because of how long it had been since a female solo artist topped the chart. It made me wonder: Has the alternative genre become too male dominated?
In the world of alternative music, the charts aren’t really everything. The Next Big Thing is often more likely to be coasting under the radar of sites like Billboard and generating their own buzz, and the genre can be difficult to define between post-punk purists and indie darlings. Women from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O. to Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams have made names for themselves in today’s industry, as have many others over the years, but taking a closer look at the genre you find that a majority of current popular alternative musicians are male.
I say current because in the 90s there were arguably more prominent female alternative musicians, with Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill released in 1995, the female-fronted band Garbage’s self-titled album release in the same year, and the underground feminist punk rock movement Riot Grrl in full swing during the decade with bands like Bikini Kill (who influenced rock greats like Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain). But even then, men were the majority in the genre, and female voices remain only a small portion of such a wide ranging genre even 20 years after its advent. Take music festival lineups for example: All 13 of the top acts at Lollapalooza were fronted by men (and 12 were all-male outfits), Bjork was the only women of the 10 headliners at Bonnaroo, and look at this info-graphic of the gender breakdown of Coachella acts since 1999:
Only 15% of the acts at this overwhelmingly popular music festival have been female-fronted over the past 14 years. While Coachella is known as a bit more mainstream than its peers, it has featured a large number of popular alternative bands, and the disparity illustrated here is present in the alternative genre that we know and love.
On the surface it can seem as if female voices are everywhere in the music industry, but the more I dig into the specifics of the alternative genre, the more evidence I find that points to an unequal balance between genders, and I have no idea why. While I love the content coming from the genre wholeheartedly the way that it is, I really hope that more of the female acts out there gain the recognition that they deserve. At the end of the day, with more and more featured female artists on popular tracks, artists like Lorde emerging from out of nowhere, and female-fronted bands like Metric finally getting the popular attention they deserve, I’m optimistic that it won’t take another 17 years for a woman to claim the number one spot on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart.
Written by Kristy Pirone
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