Women rule the charts but are trapped in a product banding life cycle designed by men
Money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous. ~ Beyoncé
Beyoncé has made lemon the queen of emoji fruit and the bumblebee the queen of insects. Her revenue from Lemonade downloads has been estimated at $3.37 million per day. Beyoncé dominates the charts with an album priced at a $17.99 Bey-mium and may have saved her husband’s $56 million Tidal investment, making it an attractive acquisition target.
I make music to be a musician, not to be on the cover of Playboy. ~ Adele
Adele made Sony’s fiscal year and propped up flagging global music sales with the first significant year-over-year growth in two decades. She ruled Billboard’s adult contemporary charts for 21 weeks, tying the longest run by a woman. You couldn’t go to any public place in 2015 without hearing “Hello…it’s me”, a plaintive call that made it seem as if the other side of the produce section was alive with sorry vegetables running out of time.
Feminism is probably the most important movement you could embrace. ~ Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift is BFF with Apple, a Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, winner of ten Grammies and the only woman to win two Grammies for Album of the Year. She is the youngest woman ever to be on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list and has been spotted browsing in the feminist section of a Manhattan bookshop.
Together Beyoncé, Adele, and Taylor Swift are music’s ruling female triumvirate, so powerful that Adele could dedicate her Brit Award to Kesha, with whom she shares the Sony label, the same label that recently won a court case against Kesha who pleaded sexual abuse at the hands of her producer, Dr Luke. Three strong, talented and savvy women are heralding a bold new age of woman power.Or are they?
Take a look at the top ten on Billboard’s music industry Power 100 List for 2016. There are 14 women in the top 100 (only five get their own circle) and none are in the top ten.
And Sony’s board of directors…
And Apple’s senior management team…
The galleries of men behind the music scene are enough to make you wonder if women’s success as leaders in entertainment is helping or hindering women who strive to be leaders in business. Are Beyoncé, Adele and Taylor Swift role models for female empowerment or do they give us a false sense of advancement while reinforcing the perception of women as accessories who provide the soundtrack for a world in which men still rule?
Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time. Write yourself. Your body must be heard. ~Hélène Cixous
Women artists want their bodies heard. The music industry wants their bodies seen. Kristin Lieb, Associate Professor in Marketing Communications at Emerson College, is an expert in how the music industry treats women. Her book Gender, Branding and the Modern Music Industry: The Social Construction of Female Popular Music Stars is the perfect accompaniment to Beyoncé’s Lemonade. After reading Lieb’s book, you will never look at female pop stars the same way again.
Lieb makes the argument that, in the music business, a woman’s core asset (and unsustainable competitive advantage) is her body. Her body must fit an established type, most commonly referred to as HOT. She is not an artist: she is a short-term person brand, and as a brand, she has a product life cycle.
Based on discussions with industry insiders, Lieb developed a multi-category model for female stardom in popular music. To maximize career length, an artist should ideally enter the industry as a Good Girl, slowly become a Temptress, then if the stars align just right for her, she may become a “best in class” Diva. Other categories and exemplars are as follows (terms are the words–often harsh–that industry insiders use):
Beyoncé straddles multiple categories. She could be a Temptress or Diva, but lately the media has placed her in the Provocateur category for her defiant, racially-charged performances in the Super Bowl half-time show and Lemonade.
With her Maxim cover, Taylor Swift completed her transformation from Good Girl country singer to full-fledged pop star Temptress. In 2015 Taylor Swift topped Maxim’s Hot 100. That’s maximum Maxim Temptress territory, folks. But the category the music industry offers women that’s even better than Temptress, Provocateur, or any other option available to women, is the Diva position currently occupied by Adele.
Diva is the only category where the focus is on your musical talent, not your body. Adele doesn’t have to appear on the cover of Playboy if she doesn’t want to, yet even she has bowed to pressure to slim down and glam up.
In 2016 there are limits as to what is acceptable diva deviance.
Sadly, even after her weight loss, there’s only room in the Diva category for one woman at a time. For every Adele, there are 100 Dolls who must meet stringent BMI and BRA requirements before they get to bend over backward for their fleeting moment of fame and that song that will live on forever at pole fitness class.
The music industry craves superstars, the blockbuster talents that fund the business not only through their music, which is an increasingly insignificant part of their revenue stream, but through “entertainment verticals” such as fragrances, clothing lines and movies. In entertainment verticals, how you look is far more important than how you sound.
More than successful women artists, Adele, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift are successful brands. Their enduring success is remarkable because unlike Coke, these are living breathing people who are constantly reformulating themselves as they change, and the culture around them changes. Coke’s sugar daddy is Warren Buffett. Coke never has to worry about Buffett being seen with a Pepsi that gets mistaken for a Dr Pepper. Short-term person brands can get messy. Ask Rachael Ray.
What are the implications for the rest of us that women are branded in the music industry as sexual consumables? Music is a cultural touchstone and women pop stars are cultural objects influencing the way we look at ourselves and each other. As women, we feel the tug, ever so subtly, to get into formation with Beyoncé and her image as the epitome of feminine perfection and sexual attractiveness. Beyoncé and Taylor Swift and countless others in the music business who embody the looks-first message, cast a powerful shadow on the rest of the female population, especially women who would like to assume a different kind of power, the kind of power that rules the world.
Which brings us back to the central question: how can women rule the charts and not the world? It’s easy. Spend a disproportionate amount of time, money and energy on packaging, and interrupt your cognitive function with frequent body monitoring. If you don’t measure up, freak out. Now get back to work.
It’s impossible to rule the world if you try to follow the rules of the women who rule the charts. You’re too busy maintaining, analyzing and agonizing over your packaging to work on your product. The lesson of Lieb’s research is, when you believe your body is your most marketable asset, you may find yourself focusing on the “wrong” things, as least as far as ruling (or changing) the world is concerned.
We all have our imperfections. But I’m human, and you know, it’s important to concentrate on other qualities besides outer beauty. ~ Beyoncé
Originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse on May 4, 2016