FEATURE: Youth Is Wasted on the Foolish: Why Age-Related Discrimination Is Damaging the Music Industry



Youth Is Wasted on the Foolish:



Why Age-Related Discrimination Is Damaging the Music Industry


THE legends of music always have the best stories…


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

so it makes me wonder why the industry in which they work is so keen to relegate and marginalise them! I was watching P!nk being interviewed by Graham Norton a few days ago - where she explained how her music is no longer on the playlists of certain radio stations. She can get onto BBC Radio 2 but the younger, ‘hipper’, colleagues at BBC Radio 1 have consigned her to the dustbin of nostalgia and Get the Party Started. Even though P!nk’s most-famous hit was released fourteen years ago; the teenage progeny of time does not mean she is a different human – her music is more mature and grown-up now. The aforementioned track is a banger, for sure, and one that, if released today, could get on regular rotation on the finest stations around. I wonder why an artist who has gained respect and enjoyed a career spanning this number of years is struggling to get the same sort of attention as she enjoyed in the early-2000s. One can argue quality is an important factor: her newer material a bit more easy on the body (translation: for a middle-aged audience). The Equality Act is a law which protects people from discrimination. It means that discrimination or unfair treatment on the basis of certain personal characteristics, such as age, is now against the law in almost all cases.



That is the law and applies to the workplace. I wonder why there are laxer laws and morals when it comes to music! If the radio stations/industry was transported into the real-world environment then you would find a lot of tribunals and complaints being lodged. Now, as music is immune from such laws, they can operate in a much less compassionate fair-minded manner. There are some who say, because most music is digital these days, any artist can release music – nobody would see their face or know their age. That is fine in principle but, when it comes to performing that song on T.V., that artist would be rumbled (unless they invested in cosmetics). A couple of years ago, when Madonna released her single, Living for Love, she was bumped from the BBC Radio 1 playlist. I caught a piece in the Independent that documented the case; the reaction Madonna provided – and why her comments opened eyes:

"I was like, 'Wait a second. Shouldn't it be to do with whether you wrote a good, catchy pop song?” she said.

"My manager said to me, 'If you're not in your twenties, it's hard. You might get your record played in your thirties. There's a handful of people who do - Pharrell [41] got lucky. But if you're in your fifties, you can forget it'.

Listen to Madonna’s music since her early-1980s beginnings and one will not see a degradation and downward trajectory. In fact, when Ray of Light arrived in 1998, Madonna was in her late-thirties. That would seem like the approaching flutter of death to a station like BBC Radio 1. Consider that album is regarded as a pivotal moment, not only in her career, but the move of Electronic music from the underground to the mainstream – surely, that proves why the issue of age is, well…not an issue. The fact Madonna was nearing forty at that time means she had the experience and determination to make an album that pushed on from her early work and subverted expectation. Since then; she has racked up some stunning albums and continues to crack out defiant and vivacious music. The same piece brought some business-minded, alarming comments to the world:

George Ergatoudis, who chairs the weekly playlist meetings, was asked in February 2014 whether he would play Madonna's next single if she agreed to appear at Radio 1's Big Weekend.

"We've got to concentrate on [people aged] 15-30,” he said.

"We have to bring our average age down. That's something we're very conscious of.

"The vast majority of people who like Madonna, who like her music now, are over 30 and frankly, we've moved on from Madonna."

The policy has not stopped 72-year-old Paul McCartney being played, via his collaboration Rihanna and Kanye West on "Four Five Seconds", or many artists over the age of 30 like Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl”.

These comments show what an alarmingly rigid and foolish policy some of our radio stations adopt. I know BBC Radio 1 is a (stupid) exception but it is one of the most-heard stations in the country! It is where a lot of young listeners go to get their fix of the hottest new sounds and artists who are being tipped for great things. How are they going to know where music came from, and the icons who pushed it to this point, if they do not have exposure to the music? Digital platforms promote new music and it is less likely listener of a certain age (younger) are going to explore the annals and archives. Radio is the portal for the finest older and new music – having such a tight age-bracket seems ludicrous! Is it the case where you have to be under thirty to get onto the ‘cool’ station; between thirty and fifty to get onto the ‘popular’ station – if you are over fifty then you might as well build your own station! Look at articles related to ageism in music and you will find everyone from Mel C, Sheryl Crow and Yoko Ono talking about. In fact, Sheryl Crow released new music this year (the album, Be Myself) and discussed the issue of age with Hello Giggles:

"The younger rock and pop stuff is very sexual and in some ways, it’s being used to illustrate having power. For older women, it feels ageist when everything is geared toward 15- to 25-year-olds," she said. "But I’ll be honest, in some ways, it’s liberating. I wanna make sure that the young female artists like Lorde, who are creating beautiful artistry, know that there’s power in that. There’s power in what Adele does when she just stands there and sings. "There’s as much power in that if not more than there is in projecting sexual images which are fine and all, but not to be misconstrued as being about beauty or power. "Women are powerful for many reasons, not just their bodies."


IN THIS PHOTO: Sheryl Crow/PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Seliger

The title of Crow’s album seems bitterly ironic given the fact remaining who she is causing commercial erosion and comparative anonymity. Listen to one of her 1990s songs like Everyday Is a Winding Road and her new material and, in terms of subject, there are very few changes. The arrival of motherhood and new responsibilities have not dampened her prowess and mental acuity. Crow is the same sharp writer and compelling singer she was when her name was all over the press. There are, sure, more songs that look at maternal/domestic ideals but, when you consider many young artists are talking about shallow and deplorable subjects – why should the older, wiser artist suffer?! Tori Amos, when quizzed about the subject of ageism in her (2014) record Unrepentant Geraldines, was pragmatic and impressively calm:

Well, I think there’s a real reason why. There are more men getting frontline record deals 50 and up than women. The culture sees women 50 and up as being vital for telling stories now. If we’re looking at men making records, they’re talking about all kinds of things that people of all ages can relate to, not just from the perspective of a 50-year-old guy singing a song. It could be that way for women. Does our culture see men as they get experience and getting older as storytellers more attractive and pleasing to hear?



I think what I’ve been trying to do for myself is begin to see that you have to be telling stories that are vital. You have to be very aware of what’s happening in the world and you cannot succumb to the projection of the masses. Other women who are my age said to me, ‘You have got to see yourself as all your creations, and it has to be the vision of yourself and then build a shape of that. Look at that like a piece of architecture, and from the time you turn 50, you’re going to extend this shape and this building that will go on for the next thirty, forty years of your life”.

I am not bringing all these interviews into the mix to save my hands – more to show that, over the years, many artists have come through and said the same thing: they reach a certain age and their careers are endangered and limited. That Amos interview was back in 2014; Madonna came forward in 2015; Yoko Ono – who embraced/embraces growing old and is in rude form – was around the same time. There are patterns emerging. For a start; there are very few men coming forward claiming age discrimination. We have those old and legendary male musicians but now, given the age restrictions, how many mature female artists will be in the mindset years from now?! Madonna has endured because her music hit its peak at a time when streaming and stringent marketing rules were not in place. There were the same barriers back in the 1990s - but I was listening to the radio back then and would hear a mix of young and older artists on the same stations. The last few years have exacerbated the problem of ageism.


IN THIS PHOTO: Jay-Z/PHOTO CREDIT: Nathaniel Goldberg 

There is that debate that concerns quality vs. age. Why, then, are many older acts like Jay-Z getting credible radio-play; why are bands like Foo Fighters still being played on BBC Radio 1 – whereas acts like P!nk and Madonna are being stricken from their playlists?! One can argue, regardless of age, the best sounds will find themselves played on ALL stations. This is stringently not true. I saw a piece, written a few years back, that claimed ageism was old-hat. The journalist felt many great male acts were hyped and lauded by the kids – it is clearly an issue of quality and promoting those who have the same skill and abilities (as in their) heyday. I could easily say the latest Foo Fighters record is weaker than the sort of material Madonna was pumping out in 2005. The Madonna record, Confessions on a Dance Floor, was unveiled and gained big critical respect. She was, I think, forty-six/seven when that album came out! Look at Dave Grohl’s band and their latest album, Concrete and Gold. That record scored weaker reviews, and yet Dave Grohl is forty-eight – older than Madonna was when she released a superior record. She struggled to get the hits on her record played on a certain station: Grohl does not have to fight the D.J.s to ensure the latest Foos tracks get adequate oxygen!


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Legends like Sir Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Robert Plant are capable of releasing sensational, inspiring music – even though they are getting on in years! I doubt Robert Plant’s excellent album, Carry Fire, was in the minds of certain radio stations (we know which ones) this year. You can argue about quality all you look but what they mean is ‘cool’. It is all very well being Eminem, Jay-Z and Dre. Dre - because those guys are seen as cooler and more hip. The icons of Hip-Hop are good: the ensuing recipients of hip ops are less fashionable! There is sexism in the equation but, above all, there is a stuck-up and condescending attitude that objectifies artists who are deemed ‘too old’ or ‘past it’. Many female artists are being pushed aside but the problem extends to both genders. It is good having stations like BBC Radio 6 Music and BBC Radio 2 play your music but there are dozens of other brands that instantly ostracise certain acts – castigated because of age; without anyone listening to see if their music carries any weight and relevance. I feel a new forty-year-old artist could pen the modern-day equivalent of Revolver but, if a station head sees their age next to the album, they have no chance of getting it through the door.


IN THIS PHOTO: Sir Paul McCartney/PHOTO CREDIT: Mary McCartney

You can’t honestly argue the stations who are ageist are placing quality and innovation over all-inclusiveness, surely?! Listen to a sample buffet of youth-orientated songs and it is enough to shrivel the testicles and turn one into a cloistered monk – so they can evade music for the rest of their life! I am a big fan of newer Pop acts like Lorde but one wonders, when she exceeds thirty, the same stations who are proclaiming her a genius now will turn their backs later down the line. She could release much finer material but, because she does not fit in with their demographic; that is it for you, I’m afraid! I listen to an album like Ray of Light and marvel at its invention and longevity. It is a record that exceeds the standards of anything being pumped out by today’s young.


IN THIS PHOTO: Lorde/PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Mahaney (for TIME)

We are living in a time when music’s quality and passion does not matter in the grand scheme. Yes, age is a number - but it is budgeted and judged as harshly as anything in the music industry. Should we reject and retire artists when they get past thirty?! Do we assume what is being played on stations like BBC Radio 1 is the finest and most relevant music around?! The answer to both is a fat and assured ‘no’! We are making breakthroughs (slight as they are) regards racism and sexism in the music industry. Ageism is still that ‘taboo’ and the smelly derelict that is left on the bench to fester – poked with a stick now and then to check if he/she is still alive. We cannot incubate an issue that is curtailing and quelling the careers of musicians who have given so much to the industry – they are being retired-off without any dignity or explanation. I shall leave you with words spoken by the eighty-four-year-old Yoko Ono – when she was asked about her age and whether she should ‘act it’.

I am covering my ears not to listen to you guys! Don’t stone me! Let me be! Love me plenty for what I am!

Those words are far wiser and smarter than anything the self-anointed, too-cool-for-school


ART CREDIT: Yoko Ono/SOURCE: Acorn (Yoko Ono, 2013)

FOOLISH radio bosses (of youth-based stations) have ever said!