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This article was written by a Baybeats Budding Writer under the guidance of mentor Eddino Abdul Hadi, music correspondent for The Straits Times.
When Taylor Swift’s highly anticipated career documentary Miss Americana aired on Netflix at the start of the year, there was one scene that stood out in particular and garnered much attention from the public.
Dressed in a simple pink sweater and dungarees while leaning against a brick wall, Swift gazed bleakly into the distance, reflecting on her career journey so far. She commented on how all the female artists that she knows of “have reinvented themselves 20 times more” than their male counterparts.
"Constantly having to reinvent, constantly finding new facets of yourself that people find to be shiny,” she stated in a deadpan tone, reiterating the harsh truth of the matter to viewers. “They have to, or else you’re out of a job”.
With how much it thrives on and encourages diversity, it may be difficult for some to believe how gender imbalances can still exist in the music industry in this day and age. However, this deep-seated issue has long prevailed, especially in countries such as the United States. Undeniably, there have been improvements in the demographic makeup as more women are taking up roles within the music ecosystem. However, this change is minimal, and achieving gender parity remains an elusive concept that is far from reach.
What about Singapore?
While this may be the situation in other countries, a question then comes to mind: does the same hold true for Singapore’s music industry?
Actress-singer Annette Lee, 28, weighs in on her experience, saying thankfully, this is not the case for her as she has not encountered any gender imbalances within the local scene.
She believes that this is due to how musicality and talent are the key components that take precedence and shine through as the main focal points when it comes to music. Additionally, in terms of creativity, there is also a level playing field that allows for everyone to have the same opportunity to create “awesome melodies and lyrics” regardless of gender.
Furthermore, she also hopes that “younger female artists will always have the confidence to know that their work and music will stand out on its own” as she reckons how streaming platform algorithms have made it such that the quality of music alone is the deciding factor of a song's success.
Singer-songwriter Joie Tan, 25, also echoes the same sentiments as Lee on her journey in the Singapore scene.
The only thing she could think of would be the weird look that she used to get when she told others of the work she did for live shows, which involved setting up and carrying equipment up and down stairs of venues. Even then, she attributes this to how it might just be because she “used to be tiny”, and not anything to do with her gender.
However, despite not experiencing it for themselves, both of them do not overlook the fact that a common con of being a female musician would be one that concerns image and appearance.
While Tan considers herself “very lucky” to not have been told that she needs to change her clothes or put on more makeup, that does not mean that situations like this cease to exist entirely as she has heard of it happening to some of her friends. “I can’t speak on behalf of anyone but I do know that some venues like bars require females to look or dress a certain way to get the job.”
Lee also identifies how there could be pressure for female artists “to look more attractive or dress a certain way compared to male artists, in order to grab more attention."
Media advertising in this digital era has significantly influenced and perpetuated social definitions of beauty and attractiveness. This also acts as a key factor that pushes some musicians to conform to a specific standard with the hopes of becoming more appealing to audiences.
Yet, there are also artists out there who are actively defying this notion through their music, conveying the message to listeners that being uniquely you is always the way to go.
RRILEY, also known as Sandra Riley Tang, 29, one of the founders of the popular quartet The Sam Willows, is an artist that is no stranger to this feat. In the music video for her catchy song mmm bye, she shares that the concept behind it came about from her wanting to make a powerful statement on how “women come in all shapes, colours and backgrounds, and there should be more of that portrayed in the media.”
Featuring a diverse cast of female dancers who she cites “are (her) inspiration” alongside her, RRILEY’s video is the perfect complement to the sassy lyrics as it showcases women from all walks of life supporting one another through the process of breaking free from their vulnerabilities. The video also serves as a strong, inspiring embodiment of RRILEY's belief in how despite us all being different, “we actually all go through very similar struggles so instead of comparing ourselves with one another, we ought to embrace and support each other”.
With songs under her belt such as her hot debut single Burn and Fire from her latest EP Alpha, RRILEY also reinforces herself as a strong advocate for women empowerment with uplifting anthems that amplify the messages of self-confidence and self-love.
When questioned on the current representation of women in the local scene as compared to the past, all three artists mentioned how there has not been too much of a dramatic shift for it has always been good. Names such as Sara Wee and Vandetta were some they brought up as prominent figures who have been part of the music circle even back in the early days.
“It’s amazing that more females are unafraid to chase their dreams and passion in music. Exciting times!” RRILEY remarks.
To women out there who may be filled with uncertainty about venturing into music, do let go of your inhibitions. Singapore’s music industry has solidified itself as one that is extremely welcoming and vibrant with space for everyone in the community so rest assured that you can go forth and let your unique voices be heard.
“If you’re ever treated differently solely because of your gender, don’t be afraid to speak up and let others know about your experience. It’s a small industry and word travels fast. We got you,” Tan adds.
The Baybeats Budding Writers mentorship programme has been running since 2014, building a community of writers to cover the growing Singapore music scene. Under the guidance and mentorship of Eddino Abdul Hadi and Daniel Peters, our budding writers learn more about music journalism and how to be a voice for the local music community.