Why Do I Listen to So Many White Guys with Guitars?


You learn a lot about yourself when you take a three-week road trip soundtracked by the 1200 or so songs that you keep on your iPhone. No matter who you’re traveling with, you are bound to eventually exhaust all normal conversation topics, and your focus will inevitably shift to the songs that are accompanying you. I have always believed that you can tell a lot about a person based on their book or film collection, and I feel the same way about music libraries, too.

See also: On Default Genders, Dead Girlfriends, Politics, and Imagination

With that in mind, I decided to take a long, hard, objective look at myself, sizing my music library up the same way I’d size up a potential date, roommate, or friend. When I did, I noticed something slightly disturbing: I listen to a lot of white boys with guitars. I’d like to think I have pretty eclectic taste in music and try to listen to anything, as long as the lyrics aren’t heinously stupid/misogynistic. It’s pretty normal for the shuffle function to skip from 1940’s show tunes to EDM to jazz to a cappella to folk to indie rock. But even with tastes that diverse, I noticed that most of the artists I listen to are male.

I found this alarming. I’m a feminist, and while I don’t think there’s a way to quantify feminism, I aim to support those who identify as female in any way. So why do I listen to so many male artists, and just how outnumbered are the ladies in my music library, anyways? With this in mind, I came up with an undertaking: re-listen to all 1,257 songs I currently have on my iPhone, and mark down whether the song was sung by people of the male persuasion, female persuasion, or a duet/group song between males and females. I also skipped through all songs from musicals (of which there are quite a lot–I’m a musical theater kid at heart), since those are sung by characters who are telling a story, and the instrumental-only songs, since they don’t have singers.

Is my methodology ***flawless, to borrow some syntax from Beyonce? Certainly not, but it did the trick. For better or worse, the singer of a song is the face of the song, and, in bands, often the face of the band. This is the face that the artist chose to present to the world, and so it is the face for which I will judge them. When I jumped in, I was shocked by the numbers I was seeing. I had a feeling that the majority of the songs I listened to were sung by dudes, but I had no clue just how few females I had on my iPhone.

I also noticed something surprising–almost all of the songs by women had earned their place on my phone. It’s a battle to be awarded a spot on my phone, but the songs sung by females were all awesome ones that I genuinely love and hand-picked. The songs sung by dudes, though? Not so much. The songs I didn’t know very well, or the free songs from Starbucks that I’d been keeping on there and had forgotten about were all sung by dudes. I knew almost every single female-fronted song by heart. This brought up an interesting question for me: why am I so much more willing to keep songs by guys around, to “give them a shot,” but I wouldn’t do the same for my fellow ladies?

I may be overstating things, but I feel like this is a form of deep-seeded, latent sexism in myself. I’ve been unconsciously setting up higher standards for female artists, like they have to prove themselves more than their male counterparts do. That’s a concept that’s unfortunately familiar to any group that isn’t white males, and I’m saddened to find that I’ve been subconsciously reinforcing it, even in something as simple as my taste in music.

See also: “The Assumption Is That I’m a Prop”: On Being a Woman of Color in the Indie Music Scene

My iPhone seemed to be aware of what was going on, and was sending me messages (probably not–I was almost certainly reading way too much into the song order, as I’m wont to do). Regardless, I was quite amused that about 1/3 of the way through, “How I Could Just Kill a Man” came on, effectively capturing my feelings towards the patriarchy. Things took a turn for the weird when, 2/3 of the way through, “Rockin’ the Suburbs” came on, and Ben Folds intoned, “Let me tell y’all what it’s like / being male, middle-class and white.” No, Mr. Folds, I don’t think I need your help, I think my music library is perfectly capable of doing that on its own.

As I continued through my library, I became less shocked by the disparity between the number of female singers and male singers, and just kept going, blindly numb to the overwhelming influence of white men in my life. And then I reached the end, and saw the final tallies: 601 songs sung by men, 56 songs sung by men and women, and 212 songs sung by women.

Yikes. Men sing three times as many songs as women on my iPhone. Isn’t it my civic duty or to make sure I’m supporting female artists, and show that there’s a demand for good content created by women? Yes. It kind of is. So I need to stop Spotify-streaming female artists and start actually buying their music. If I do this, and enough other people do this, the mysterious old fogeys who run the record labels will see that people will pay money for music created by women, and sign more ladies to their labels. That’s a situation I can definitely support.

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