So, following on from yesterday, I have now had a closer look at Richard Kingsmill’s top 100 songs. Overall, it must be said that I think I would prefer Kingsmill’s list to the hottest 100 so far (not that it is in any way terrible), with favourites of mine like Custard, Pavement, The Ramones, NWA and Sonic Youth included (did I just completely reveal my age there?) and interesting songs like Goreki by Lamb. It is a better list. And, interestingly, Kingsmill does a little work in redressing the absence in the Hottest 100. His list includes 12 song with female vocals (+ two which are very non-traditional and use female vocals amongst their sounds – Primal Scream Come Together and Aphex Twin Windowlicker). Out of that group there are 4 distinctly individual female artists – PJ Harvey, Kate Bush, Bjork and Sinead O’Connor. The others are Portishead, Lamb, Goldfrapp, This Mortal Coil, Sugarcubes, Sonic Youth (with Tunic (Song for Karen) sung by Kim Gordon), Massive Attack and The Breeders. Which makes a serious group of female artists – but it is, nonetheless, still only 12 out of 100.
This of course poses two questions – (1) why in the popular vote do women do so much less well than in the “expert” opinion, and (2) why are there so many fewer women represented in this part of the music industry – that is in the “serious” or alternative music arena, while they are clearly strongly represented in the disposable pop field? It would be simple to suggest that the reason is one word which starts with “P” and ends in “Y” as has been suggested to me, but that misses the interesting play of economics and choice and the apparently individual but nonetheless highly constructed and culturally influenced arena of taste.
These things are of course hghly inter-related and self-reinforcing. To return to the analogy of the newsreader, while there were no female ones on television, female newsreaders were considered unacceptable to the public – and the public found them unaccepatable because, in part, there had never been any exposure to female newsreaders. Women found themseles on the edges with journalism and current affiars, which started to soften the view that women could talk about serious news. But once they started appearing, that acceptance came. without too much protest. Perhaps while there are so few women in the alternative arena, their contribution is devalued – discouraging more women from participating.
There is also the question of whether, as a society, pop is devalued because it is a female form of the arts, as soap opera and romance novels have been previously. With this devaluation as an art form, economic exploitation becomes more entrenched, making the form more and more commercially focused as this is its method of achieving longevity.
Or perhaps, more simply, women (and to some extent, black musicians) are channelled into an arena where they are disposable and replaceable, without the cultural and economic power to search for something different. Instead they are produced and presented with little actual control over the profits they produce as they primarily are singing the songs of others, on contracts which give them a wage while the surplus value pours into the hands of the wealth producer/record company.
Anyhow, I also note that Kingsmill’s list address the race divide to some extent as well, with artists like Public Enemy, NWA, Prince, Kanye West, Erik B and Rakim included. But nothing is perfect – his Top Ten, it must be said, is pretty darn white male.