Round-up: Women in Music

Over on our socials this week, MEDUSA looked at gender inequality in the music industry. Here’s a round-up of the three female artists we discussed, and some stats to go with it.

Venom – Little Simz (2019)

The song’s title immediately spoke to us, linking perfectly to the snakes that adorn Medusa’s head. Set over eerie strings and one of the best beat drops we’ve seen live, ‘Venom’ is an anthem that berates men who feel emasculated or intimidated by talented women.

Simz raps, ‘they will never wanna admit I’m the best here from the mere fact that I’ve got ovaries’ and ‘pussy, you sour, never giving credit where credit’s due ‘cause you don’t like pussy in power’. The track sits within the critically acclaimed album, ‘GREY Area’, a deeply personal exploration of mental health, relationships and discrimination. Simz comfortably straddles multiple genres, and is one of the most versatile artists around at the moment, combining visual art, acting and storytelling to name a few ventures.

Simz’s statement is made even more powerful by her lack of Brit Awards nomination this year. Grey Area did not meet the, seemingly outdated, criteria of sitting in the best-selling 40 albums of the year. Simz’s album, however, was one of the most-critically acclaimed records of 2019, being nominated for the Mercury Prize and winning NME’s Best British Album award. Even if Simz had chosen to work with a record label (she self-releases), women only make up 19.6% of signed artists in the UK. Women are therefore significantly disadvantaged when it comes to winning awards. Add racism and colourism into the mix and the challenge is even greater.

As Simz said when speaking to the Guardian last year, ‘there’s still a way to go and a lot of women who aren’t being heard, but the times are changing’.

Want more? Check out Little Simz’s second studio album ‘Stillness in Wonderland’ as well as her role as Shelley in the Netflix relaunch of Top Boy.

Strange Girl – Laura Marling (2020)

With her latest record, ‘Songs for Our Daughter’, addressed to an imaginary child detailing the joys and struggles of growing up as a woman, Laura Marling moves between heartbreaking honesty and dry wit. ‘Strange Girl’ is the standout track from this latest project.

Full of her usual folk charm, Marling wryly celebrates the hypocrisies and mistakes that characterise early adulthood. Quips such as ‘kept falling for narcissists who insist you call them “man”’ may expose a youthful kind of naivety, but they also more tellingly detail the toxic messages around self-worth that many women are taught. Marling further challenges the romanticisation of mediocre and manipulative relationships by declaring ‘don’t bullshit me’. One might argue that the same toxicity applies to the music industry, in which out of the top 26 major labels in the UK & US (all owned by Universal, Sony or Warner), only 4 of them are run or co-run by women. That’s a gender imbalance of 15% female leadership and 85% male leadership.

The messages that Marling conveys may be targeted towards the growing pains of young womanhood – the need to move past certain relationships and friendships – but her affirmation of ‘keep brave’ applies to women’s wider experiences within the music industry too.

Indeed, in 2019 the Music Union (UK) reported that 48% of its 31,000 members have faced sexual harassment whilst at work, with 85% of incidents going unreported. Whilst these statistics do not detail gender, it would not be surprising if women were disproportionately affected, as they often are.

Therefore, whilst Marling appears to light-heartedly explore the trials and tribulations of her twenties – being the daughter of a Baronet – topics of self-worth, employment and mental health, as she ‘roll[s] like a tidal wave’, will strike a chord further afield.

Want more? Check out Marling’s sixth studio album ‘Semper Femina’ as well as her ‘Reversal of the Muse’ podcast.

Don’t Touch My Hair – Solange (2016)

The final artist in our Women in Music series is Solange, with her track ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ (ft. Sampha). Part of the critically-acclaimed A Seat at the Table (2016), the themes that ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ addresses are even more pertinent in the context of the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Solange opens with ‘don’t touch my hair, when it’s the feelings I wear’, going on to call her hair her ‘soul’ and ‘crown’. The singer condemns white supremacy’s attempts to regulate and control black women by denying them autonomy over their natural hair. Her hair is not your play thing.

Set over a stripped back drum beat that gradually builds, Solange soulfully asserts ‘they don’t understand what it means to me’, referencing the ignorance and racism that seeks to erase the rich history of hair in the African diaspora. Indeed, white celebrities such as Kim Kardashian have been criticised for appropriating black culture by wearing what they label ‘boxer braids’, which are in reality cornrows – a style worn by black women for generations. This appropriation fails to recognise the nuances of the pre-colonial history and colonial/post-colonial fight for autonomy associated with black hair.

Moreover Solange herself has written, “I believe that hair is incredibly spiritual, and, energetically, it really encompasses and expresses who we are”. Privileging Eurocentric conceptions of beauty, whilst appropriating ‘fashionable’ aspects of blackness, is just another form of racism that pervades ‘Western’ societies today. Solange challenges this by reclaiming her hair as her ‘pride’, both for herself and her community.

Want more? Check out A Seat at the Table in its entirety as well as Solange’s performance art film, ‘When I Get Home’. If you want to learn more about the history of black women’s hair and its importance in decolonisation, read Emma Dabiri’s book Don’t Touch My Hair (2019).


Cover Image by Spencer Imbrock via Unsplash

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