Two can play this game

Artist Taijah Gary.
Photo courtesy of Gary’s Instagram @tajiahgary

The melodic art of music has united and divided people for centuries. Whether it be genre versus genre or artist versus artist, music lovers everywhere will go to war for music that they grew up with, rappers from their hometown and songs that brought them out of dark places. 

An ongoing argument in the music community is the double standard between male and female artists — specifically, why are women disproportionately criticized for writing songs about disrespecting men and having sex when men can freely do the same thing? 

It’s not breaking news that some male artists have consistently produced hit songs that have content related to having sex with a woman — or multiple women — while treating them poorly, undermining their intelligence, calling them derogatory names and even promoting acts of sexual abuse. 

Perhaps both kinds of lyrics are unethical regardless of the gender, but listeners are the ones who keep songs like these in high demand.

Misogyny is the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. Misogynoir is the dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against Black women. Both continue to create obstacle after obstacle for the music industry girlies. 

Up and coming artist, Izzy Joven, says one reason this double standard causes so much controversy that the positive effects these lyrics have on women makes men angry.

“l feel like men genuinely feel threatened by the amount of women that are coming out in the industry. My male friends always complain about the City Girls, and how they’re boosting girls’ heads for no reason, but it’s like so are the male rappers,” Joven said. 

Male artists are allotted more latitude in their artistry, such as more lyrical freedom and exploration between different genres and beats.

Tajiah Gary, a female artist from Atlanta, says the double standard in the music industry is driven by intimidation and it bleeds into more components of the craft other than just lyrics. 

I am a very girly person, but my artistry definitely brings out masculine perspectives of my identity. I like to rap or sing about what’s real and in a lot of cases, topics such as sex, scamming [men], females getting money is real for a lot of women. People also tell me all the time that I should either choose to make R&B music or rap music, but they’re not going to tell any male artist that he can’t find that in between,” Gary said.

An artist’s gender also depicts the way in which their record label allows them to present themselves on and off the stage. 

Women such as Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Britney Spears have broken barrier after barrier with their beyond-entertaining live performances. Following their jaw dropping shows, they were expected to keep up these “wow factor” personas to keep fans intrigued and give their record labels a multitude of options to monetize their personalities. 

Lady Gaga’s wild outfits became a running joke during the past two decades. Her “bubble outfit” is an honorable mention from her performance at the 2009 House of Blues. 

Nicki Minaj is a constant topic in the media for her over-the-top music videos such as the “Anaconda” video where she had a whole lotta snakes and a whole lotta dancers with big butts to go alongside them. 

Britney Spears performed with a live serpent wrapped around her body during her 2001 Video Music Awards  (VMAs) performance of her hit song “I’m a Slave 4 U.”

All of these amazing women are remarkably talented without their wow factors. And after years of the costumes, music videos, dramatic performances, and yes, the snakes, they were “allowed” to focus less on these factors and evolve into musicians recognized first and foremost for their music. 

Nicki still gives us everything and more in her music videos and Gaga comes in nothing less than stunning at all her appearances. However, in recent years, Gaga has not been correlating her music with her outfits and Nicki has been staying true to her flow without shocking her fans with anything more provocative than they’ve already seen. 

Female artists are pressured and even sometimes required to create outstanding rapport among the public as to why they should bother with their existence as an aspiring artist. 

There are strict guidelines in the music industry for female artists. Whether these guidelines are clear or imaginary is up for debate. Women must follow these guidelines  in efforts to just be heard. 

Sing well, but sing differently than everybody else, but not too differently because people won’t listen if it’s too unfamiliar. 

Once they’ve been heard, they must be larger than life to be seen. 

They must do something that will have the media talking and people watching. A dress made out of meat, a bright pink wig with matching pumps, an entire Candy Land themed performance, and probably something to do with a goddamn snake. 

After checking a long list of boxes and making all the right impressions (and a few bad ones for the tabloids), women will finally have the leash of the music industry loosened inch by inch. They will then be allowed to maneuver through the field with more autonomy. 

Highlighting the over-the-top measures that women are subjected to does not negate the hard work that male artists put in. It also does not insinuate male artists have no personality, alter egos, or stage presence. 

Kanye’s cockiness and Harry Styles’ whimsical wardrobe are prevalent factors in their celebrity personas. But Styles’ clothes are one of his only  wow factors beyond his singing. And Kanye’s cockiness and disregard for others (paparazzi, Stormi, and Taylor Swift  to name a few), says more about the death grip that the patriarchy has on the music industry more than it says anything about Kanye’s character.

The public and the industry allow Kanye to wreak havoc upon anybody he pleases because his douchebag persona complements the behavior.

Rihanna coined herself a “Good Girl Gone Bad” back in 2007, but it’s safe to say that she would not have been allotted the space to publicly humiliate whoever she pleased with no consequences just because of an album’s title.

This argument can be summarized into “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” — an old phrase meaning something that what is OK for one person should be OK for another person. 

Up and coming male rapper, DKOMX, 18, agrees that women are judged more harshly in the industry, but regardless of the misogyny they face, in the coming years they will be the change.

“Media platforms and the industry as a whole judge female artists’ appearances and lyrics harder than males so, from a male perspective, I see my peers coming up having to pay more attention to what they wear and say when in reality art is art. [Women] should be able to live their truth. The industry puts a lot of pressure on female artists, but it makes me excited for our industry’s future when female artists break the mold and make what they feel,” DKOMX said.

Like every other great feat in feminism history, female artists such as Joven and Gray are making strides to erase these misogynistic barriers, one song at a time. 

If you’re interested in supporting Tajiah Gary, Izzy Joven and DKOMX on their journey to music stardom, check out their released songs on Apple Music.