If I Was a Man, Then I’d Be The Man: Sexism Within the Music Industry

By Olivia Ruiz

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Gorillaz band member Damon Albarn remarked that Taylor Swift does not write her own songs, stating that co-writing “doesn’t count” and is “very different to writing.” Swift immediately fired back via Twitter, stating Albarn’s claim was “false and damaging,” reminding him, “I write ALL of my own songs.” 

Swift’s response to Albarn.

Unfortunately for Swift, this is not the first time her songwriting abilities have come into question. During her 2019 Billboard’s Woman of the Decade Award acceptance speech, Swift spoke out about the criticism she faced when she first emerged in the music industry. Swift stated that after her sophomore album, Fearless, won Album of the Year at the Grammys in 2010, she faced extreme backlash, prompting her choice to write her third studio album, Speak Now, entirely by herself: “All of a sudden they weren’t sure if I was the one writing the songs because sometimes in the past I had co-writers in the room. So then I decided that I would be the only songwriter on my third album, Speak Now. I decided I would be what they said I couldn’t be.”

Swift accepting Billboard’s Woman of the Decade Award in 2019.

The media challenging the authenticity of female singers/songwriters is still prevalent today. Olivia Rodrigo, for instance, was essentially an overnight pop sensation. However, in her quick rise to fame, she was met with immense criticism about her songwriting capabilities. In a recent interview with Time Magazine, Rodrigo shared how frustrating it was when her songwriting was discredited after adding additional writing credits to some of the tracks featured on her debut album Sour: “It was really frustrating to see people discredit and deny my creativity… At the core of it, all my songs are about me and my experiences and my feelings. I literally wrote them in my bedroom. And I think you can tell.”

Rodrigo was a well-known actor on Disney Channel before breaking into the music industry.

Female singers writing their own songs is often a cathartic method of expressing their heartbreak and reclaiming their identities in the wake of this agony, making the media’s continual questioning of whether female artists can write their songs a disingenuous method of trying to chip this truth away.

This trend is prominent in the rap industry– a field even more male-dominated than the pop/indie genre of Swift and Rodrigo. Nicki Minaj is considered by many to be one of the best female rappers of all time, yet she continues to face accusations about her ability to write her lyrics. Following the release of rapper YG’s 2018 track “Big Bank,” featuring Minaj and Eminem, YG came to Minaj’s defense after a fan commented asking if Eminem wrote Minaj’s verse for the song. Minaj shared her response via Instagram, using the experience as an opportunity to shed light on the realities of being a female in rap: “Y’all try to take away everything from women. But just know: even when it’s no longer ‘trendy’ to write ur raps I will always write my own!!! Even if it means not being able to drop as frequent as I want to, I will never go out like that!!!” In the case of Minaj, who has achieved immense success for her raps, she too has to continually prove that she can write verses on the same playing field as her male counterparts.

Minaj’s response to a fan who asked if her verse on “Big Bank” was written by Eminem.

It is evident that the criticism these female artists face regarding their songwriting is rooted in sexism. In comparison to male artists such as Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, and even rappers such as Drake who write songs about love and relationships, female artists are consistently forced to justify their writing capabilities for songs and lyrics that are rooted in their personal experiences and emotions. 

Spanning from the beginning of Swift and Minaj’s rise to fame in 2009 to Rodrigo’s recent stardom in 2021, it is clear that the cycle of misogyny within the music industry is never-ending. These are just three of countless examples in which the validity of a female artist’s songwriting is questioned or even disregarded if they are not the sole writers of a song. Swift addresses this issue best during the latter half of her 2019 Billboard Woman of the Decade acceptance speech: “Women in music, on stage or behind the scenes, are not allowed to coast. We are held at a higher, sometimes impossible-feeling standard.”

Whenever we plug in our earphones to drown out the world around us, chances are you will hear a song about love, loss, or heartbreak. Artists’ vulnerability in their songwriting allows listeners to feel seen and heal from their past hardships. Women have just as much right as men to write about their personal experiences and emotions and not have the legitimacy of their lyrics questioned by others. Ultimately it is up to us as listeners to recognize the double standard between male and female artists in the music industry, and then to disregard it.