FEATURE: The Shame on You: Why Spotify Streaming Records and Music Statistics Paint a False Picture Regarding Gender and True Quality




The Shame on You


IN THIS PHOTO: Ed Sheeran/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Why Spotify Streaming Records and Music Statistics Paint a False Picture Regarding Gender and True Quality


ONE of the biggest curses in music…


 PHOTO CREDIT: @dotgrid/Unsplash

is how numbers-obsessed and focused it is! It seems, as opposed any other form of quantification and definition; numbers and statistics dictate what constitutes ‘good’ music. Every time you go onto a site like YouTube or Spotify; there are those streaming numbers and you feel like you are watching a company’s accounts being opened rather than listening to music! The same is true when you look at statistics being put out into the world – I shall concentrate on that more later. I am  huge advocate of gender-equality and rights in music. I can see there is a divide out there in many areas but you can never genuinely claim there is a gulf in terms of quality. A worrying report came out regarding Spotify and the most-streamed artists of the past decade:

Spotify has revealed the most-streamed artists in the platform’s 10-year history. Drake, followed by Ed Sheeran and Eminem lead its rankings – while Rihanna and Ariana Grande are the only women in its top 10 list.

The streaming giant, which launched in Sweden, the UK, France, Spain and Norway in October 2008, has also listed its users’ favourite songs and albums. It named Sheeran’s 2017 single Shape of You as its most-played track. Sheeran’s 2014 single Thinking Out Loud also features, in fifth place. Drake’s 2016 single One Dance comes second, while the Chainsmokers’ Closer, also released in 2016, comes in third.

Justin Bieber effectively has three tracks in the top 10. He features on Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s 2017 Despacito remix (coming in at 7), and as a solo artist with Love Yourself (8) and Sorry (9).

No female artists have songs in the top 10, however Rihanna became the first artist to reach 1bn streams on Spotify, in 2013. She is the most-streamed female artist globally, followed by Ariana Grande and Sia. Adele and Taylor Swift’s initial resistance to putting their music on Spotify may have contributed to their respective placings at six and seven”.



I do wonder how damaging streaming figures and these sort of reports are. On the one hand, you do wonder why it is so male-dominated and how come fewer female artists are being promoted and backed?! Great current artists like Halsey and Dua Lipa are popular and write great music but they are struggling against the more commercial artists – it seems men are still dominating when it comes to streaming statistics. This, as the article continues, is a big problem that is not exactly new:

The lack of women on Spotify’s 10-year streaming charts correlates with recent research by Baffler critic Liz Pelly, who found the platform’s “most popular and visible playlists to be staggeringly male-dominated”.

Spotify’s high-profile editorial playlists are immensely powerful. A high placement on a playlist such as Rap Caviar or New Music Friday can change a song’s fortunes. Playlist culture has also changed song structure, with verses and choruses hitting sooner to avoid being skipped by listeners.

Pelly concluded that the platform’s algorithmic recommendations meant that “when a user listens to mostly male-dominated playlists, what is produced are yet more male-dominated playlists”.

Whilst there is pull and power associated with playlists and what is being streamed on Spotify; I do wonder whether this pointless numbers game blurs lines. You can look at the report and, rightfully, detect there is sexism and an imbalance that suggests male artists are being promoted too heavily or consumers are being directed to music created by men.

It is shocking to see but it does not really tell the real story. I have mentioned a couple of female artists who are currently popular but, in truth, look at some of this year’s best albums and you will see some serious female talent behind them. From Kali Uchii and Kacey Musgraves to Christine and the Queens to Florence and the Machine; look at Courtney Barnett and Mitski and gander Anna Calvi and Cardi B. That is just a few names who are jostling to be among the very best from this year – their albums have enflamed and engrossed; they are seriously awesome and have, in my mind, created music more stirring and impactful than their male peers. It seems there is that assumption that streaming figures equates to quality. I am not sure how male artists are marketed and why they are outstripping women but you can certainly not claim quality is the reason. Again; maybe someone like Ed Sheeran has a bigger fanbase or his music is more digestible. He is not taxing on the brain and, in a lot of ways, his audience are attracted to him as a person as opposed his music. Drake and Eminem are in the top-ten of the most-streamed but, again, one needs to look at why Hip-Hop artists are trending more and why they are promoted more fervently. 



I am not saying their music lacks validity and quality but I look at artists like Drake and Ed Sheeran and then match them against, say, Christine and the Queens and Janelle Monáe. If you did a track/album-by-album comparison I am pretty sure, in terms of reviews and consistency, you would see the victory going to the female artists. That might sound random and specious but Spotify records and figures do not correlate to quality and talent. It might be frustrating to learn that the more talented female artists are overlooked why more mainstream and Spotify-friendly artists are being heralded and highlighted! Artists like Rihanna are making a charge but you wonder why the likes of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift did not crack the top-ten! The former, especially, has been producing exceptional, groundbreaking music since Spotify began and, for me, has been much more consistent and surprising than Eminem and Ed Sheeran. You look at any measure of artistic strength and quality and, in every case, I can find female artists who can easily overtake and replace those male artists in the chart. What bugs me is how much importance is placed on streaming figures and followers. I get a lot of requests for interviews and so many P.R. companies put Instagram, Twitter and Facebook followers in there – as if that should bowl me over and wow me! New artists are not allowed the same luxuries when it comes to popularity and many artists cannot get their music featured on Spotify. There are so many factors that skew reality and highlight this gender divide.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Rihanna/PHOTO CREDIT: Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott/Vogue

It is great you have a sense of popularity and appeal but numbers do not mean quality or promise. So many artists who have millions of followers and break streaming records do so because they are cool, fashionable and hot. Maybe their music appeals to a certain demographic who is more concerned with hooky choruses and generic lyrics. So much of music, now, is based on how many streams you get and how many playlists you can get your music on! Sure; there are female artists who are as commercial and unchallenging as the most-streamed men but you have to wonder why they are not receiving kudos. I am not a big fan of Taylor Swift, Katy Perry or Dua Lipa – or someone like Rihanna and Jess Glynne – but they write music that has its market and, look at YouTube and the sort of figures they pull in and you wonder why that does not translate to Spotify! One feels playlists and their sway is muddying the waters and creating an imbalance. I feel there is sexism at work but many might, naively, assume the men in that most-streamed list are there because they are superior. There are articles like this that gather women’s voices and showcase the fact there is sexism in the industry.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @tompottiger/Unsplash

I was reading an article from earlier this year that looked back at 2017 and the disparity between men and women – how many men were credited when it came to big hits and how few women there were in the industry:

After researching the lack of diversity in Hollywood, the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the leading global think tank studying issues of inclusion across entertainment mediums, has set its sights on the music world. The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism division just released its inaugural report on inclusion in popular music and the results reveal that just like in the film and television industry, there is a strong need for more females in the music industry.

The report showed that:

In 2017, 83.2% of artists were men and only 16.8% were women.

2017 marked a six-year low for female artists in popular content

Of 2,767 songwriters credited, 87.7% were male and 12.3% were female.

73.8% of female songwriters only worked once in 6 years, 7.9% worked twice, and 4.3 percent worked three times. Less than 6% of female songwriters had 6 or more credits across the sampled time frame.

Nine male songwriters were responsible for 1/5 of the songs in the sample.

Out of the study’s 651 producers, 98% were male and only 2% female.

A total of 899 individuals were nominated for a Grammy Award between 2013 and 2018. 90.7% of those were male and 9.3% were female”.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It makes for worrying reading but, again, we forget how many fantastic women there are in the industry and the sort of work they are putting out there. Beyoncé recently topped a poll conducted by Woman’s Hour that sought to find the most powerful women in music. We are seeing figures that show most top-forty songs are written by men and most producers are men. It seems all the sides of the industry are male-led and women are in the minority. I agree a lot needs to be done when it comes to employment and redressing the balance of producers/engineers etc. but my mind keeps coming back to this Spotify list. I think the most compelling and fantastic artists at the moment are women and yet, more and more, it is male artists you see promoted on the site. I am not sure whether there is a connection but how is a true balance across music going to happen when the world’s most-popular and talked-about platform for music are putting the men first?! We have these powerhouses like Beyoncé and artists like Halsey who speak out against injustices and make their voice heard. In terms of political and social awareness; female artists are much more potent and prolific; my favourite albums from this year, largely, have been created by women and I feel the Pop mainstream is seeing artists like Ed Sheeran being overtaken by Dua Lipa, Sigrid and their peers.



In order to see some real change and improvement happen in the industry as a whole, we need to change the way platforms like Spotify do things and how much of a role playlists play. You go onto the site and most of the new playlists have men heading them up. I do not believe there are more men making music than women as a whole. There might be a slight advantage to the men but not as large as many suggest. Perhaps more girls are streaming than women and men so that is something that needs to be questioned. Talk to those buying albums and the non-preteen demographic and there will be a different picture painted. We are in a golden age for female songwriters and look at the mainstream and underground and I can see that revolution happening. I realise the Spotify top-ten looks back at the last decade but, again, fantastic female artists have been in the business since then and you get this misleading sense of popularity/quality. Is it true women market more to other women whereas men market to everyone? Perhaps that is true in terms of mainstream Pop but it is not the case with the wider market! Many might say this latest report is irrelevant and who really cares – so long as you support female musicians in your own way then that should be enough. I understand that but I also know how much power and influence Spotify holds and how the young generation are swayed by it. Their schematics and marketing needs to change, that is for sure.


PHOTO CREDIT: @brucemars/Unsplash

I am not saying a change at Spotify will lead to improvements regarding females headlining at festivals and getting more women into studios. I am fully aware of the sheer quality out there and how many world-class female producers, artists and songwriters there are. I would like to see THEIR voices and talent recognised and inspire future generations. Spotify’s most-streamed list would lead you to believe artists like Ed Sheeran and Drake are the best from the last decade but, if anything, they are the most consumable, marketed and easy on the mind. That appeals to a certain sect but it is taking so much away from so many extraordinary female artists who, if they were given the same props, would be able to affect real change in the industry. If we start looking at the way huge influencers like Spotify tabulate and promote their artists then the service can be amended to that it goes away from the commercial and chart-bound and reflects the true nature and brilliance of modern music. Statistics and streaming figures suggest men are dominating and hold the most power but when it comes to the most important thing of all, the music itself, I feel women are the ones…


 IN THIS PHOTO: Maggie Rogers (one of the most interesting and engaging voices in new, modern music)/PHOTO CREDIT: Jennifer McCord for DIY

WHO have the most powerful voices!