The other day, I saw one of the best pop music performances of my life. Christine and the Queens, the alter ego of singer Héloïse Letissier, was a brilliant whirlwind on stage — like Michael Jackson, if Jackson was a small androgynous French woman. Then, about halfway through the performance, she paused and made a comment that struck me.
“There are just so many amazing, strong women in pop right now,” she said. “Beyoncé. Rihanna. Marina and the Diamonds.” Others she could have mentioned: Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Tove Lo, Robyn, Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga…the list goes on.
It’s much more difficult to think of the big male stars in pop music. Justin Bieber, Drake, Nick Jonas…the list is shorter and somehow not as exciting.
This wasn’t always true. When I was growing up, many of the biggest pop stars (Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and so on) were men.
What happened? “Females are sort of the new rock stars of this generation,” he says. “I think women are feeling more comfortable with themselves and more empowered than ever, and it’s exciting for the culture to see them doing what they want,” posits music manager Adam Leber in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
That doesn’t entirely explain what happened to the men, though. Bobby Campbell, Lady Gaga’s manager, has another theory: “…the overall perception of a pop star is so much more than just the music or the charts or their touring numbers. It’s such a fashion- and spectacle-dominated world right now that I don’t think that men have as much that they can really do to stay at the forefront of the conversation, ” he tells EW.
Maybe it’s our perception that’s changed. In an analysis of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Fusion found that women only made up 29% of the top 40 in the first half of 2015. Men are still dominating on the charts, but they aren’t dominating the cultural conversation.
As Mic points out, female pop stars these days tend to speak out more about issues that are important to them — everything from feminism (Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj) to the plight of musicians being screwed over by streaming services (Taylor Swift).
Women in the pop world have also figured out how to rule the social media world, which makes their reach seem larger than life. This is evidenced on the Billboard Social 50 chart (which measures popularity on social media), where women had four of the top five spots during one recent week.
That same week, men had all of the top spots on the Hot 100.
Some male pop stars are still around, clearly — they’re just less flashy, and perhaps a little more boring. I’m still waiting for the man who can match Beyoncé.
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