For the past six weeks, female artists have dominated the top 5 slots in Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. For the Hot 100, which has been the music industry’s Bible for the past 56 years, this is the longest all-female reign in history. Some music executives feel this shift may symbolize a cultural movement for women. Others are setting the gender significance aside, pointing to general music trends and business strategy.
The recent victors include Iggy Azalea, Ariana Grande, Jessie J, Tove Lo, Nicki Minaj, Rita Ora, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor, and Charli XCX, if you include featured guest spots. Artists like Jhene Aiko, Kiesza, Sia, and Mary Lambert are not far from the action. At the time of writing, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” is leading the pack, with Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” in second place. “Black Widow” by Iggy Azalea (featuring Rita Ora) takes third, followed by “Habits (Stay High)” by Tove Lo and “Bang Bang” by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj.
The artists have now broken a 15-year record previously held by Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, and Sarah McLachlan, among others. Female artists packed the top 5 for four weeks straight back in 1999. The streak fizzled into a mixed-gender bunch over the next few years and officially disappeared in 2003, when 50 Cent lead an all-male 5 to the top of the charts. History shows that the all-male configuration is much more prevalent than the all-female one.
This year, women have not only conquered with singles. The three best-selling albums of 2014 were also fueled by females, including the Frozen soundtrack (featuring Idina Menzel), the self-titled LP from Beyoncé, and Lorde’s Pure Heroine.
“When this happens en masse, it’s not just a song or two. There’s something going on culturally,” theorized Evan Lamberg, President of the Universal Music Publishing Group in North America. “I’ve never seen a gravitational pull like this.” He also examined the bold, assertive personalities of the current frontrunners, a commonality that he feels “reflects today’s culture of women being more outwardly confident and more self-empowering.” While Lamberg acknowledges that gender balance will eventually return to the charts, he feels women will continue to be a formidable force.
Some music executives, however, are finding all kinds of careful ways to say the word “coincidence” without saying the word “coincidence.” “We’re in a very rhythmic moment in pop music, and that’s a kind of music that’s traditionally associated with female singers,” observes Steve Greenberg, president of S-Curve Records.
Island Records president David Massey posits that the trend is more about strategy than gender. “It’s ladies who are leading the way at the moment,” he says. “They are the ones making the right moves, but it’s possible to overreact to a cluster of success. You’re going to see a balancing of that in the next few months.”
Whatever the case, the record break has certainly generated a lot of discussion about gender roles in the music world. With so many successful females leading the ranks, Lamberg finds it surprising that a disregard for female talent can sometimes still exist within the industry. “On the other side,” he says, “we’re hearing labels say, ‘Can you find me the next Sam Smith?’”