I’ve been following the excellent discussion started by Jonathan Bogart about the marginalization of black women in pop music. In particular I was interested and a little shocked by the chart analysis that reverenddollars posted pointing out that there were 25 black women who had new top 10 US hits in the period from 2000-mid 2002 compared to only 2 in 2010-mid 2012 (Nicki Minaj and Rihanna).
As with similar trend analysis my first reaction was to want to do the same thing with the UK charts. Not to try to suggest that we are more/less enlightened as a country (because even if there was a point, things are never that simple, obviously) but just because I was interested in the results and whether there are any different insights to be gained from looking at the same trends in different places. I’m not doing this as a reblog because I don’t really want to insert my tangential parochialism into a great discussion.
I looked at UK top 5 hits, rather than top 10, as an unscientific attempt to balance out the fact that our chart has a much quicker turnover than the Hot 100 and, to be honest, because it meant that I could navigate Chartarchive without having to scroll down every time I clicked on a new chart.
I expected to find the following:
1) Less of a drop-off compared to the US. This was an easy one because I thought 2000-2002 would look similar and I could think of more than two black women to have had top 10 hits this year off the top of my head.
2) The drop-off to be caused by a reduction in singers from the US, or at least singers with successful careers in the US, with the number from the UK staying the same or increasing.
Here’s the complete lists, with British singers first each time (plus the Irish Samantha Mumba).
- 2000-2002: Gabrielle, Jamelia, Sonique, Samantha Mumba, Melanie B, Mis-teeq. Eve, Alicia Keys, Christina Milian, Brandy, Tweet, Kelis, Mya, Missy Elliott, Aaliyah, Janet Jackson, Mary Mary, Destiny’s Child (6 British/Irish, 12 US-based, 18 total)
- 2010-2012: Emeli Sandé, Alexandra Burke, Leona Lewis. Willow Smith, Kelis, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj (3 British, 6 US-based, 9 total)
You could argue for Cover Drive to be added to the latter too since they’re a mixed gender group and the boys don’t do much.
So, my first prediction was correct - the decrease has been less dramatic than in the US, but the number has still halved. My second prediction was wrong - in fact, the decrease has not just been as a result of fewer US successes translating to successes here. Now, the UK charts have slowed down a bit over the ten years so it’s not quite like for like, but it’s still bad news here too.
Two further things which leap out:
First, the decrease would look even worse if it wasn’t for some of the women appearing on both lists. If you count Beyoncé’s success as an extension of that of Destiny’s Child, then of the six US-based successes in 2010-2012, three of them were also there in the 2000-2002 list. So the drying up of black female newcomers finding success in the US has, I guess unsurprisingly, completely translated to no-one then making it here either. In the UK 2010-2012 list we have Rihanna and Nicki as per the US, three women whose long-term hit-making careers have been that bit more long-term here, plus a one-off hit for Willow Smith that she hasn’t looked like turning into anything more yet.
Secondly, the fact that two of the three black British women to have had top 5 hits in the last few years are X Factor winners is really, really striking. Even more so when you consider the fact that, after eight series, Leona and Alexandra are the only two X Factor winners to have parleyed their victories into careers past a couple of singles. (Also, to put aside the gender element for a moment, note that the only other X Factor act from the first five series to have a still functioning career is JLS). It looks a lot like the public has been voting with their phones and then their cash for black women at the same time as the industry has been deciding for them that they don’t want to hear from any. I don’t know that much about American Idol, but I know that the same thing hasn’t happened to the same extent there, and would be interested as to why. US niche markets being bigger by enough that it’s sustainable and safer for winners to be directed at those rather than aiming for pop?