While accepting the award for Woman of the Year at the Billboard Music Awards on Friday, Lady Gaga called the music industry “a fucking boys club.”
The honor is Lady Gaga’s second major triumph of 2015; she just received a Grammy nomination for the song “Til It Happens To You,” which she co-wrote with Diane Warren for The Hunting Ground, a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses and the ways in which both universities and law enforcement fail to provide victims with the resources and recourse they need. Lady Gaga performed the song at the Women in Music event, held in New York City.
“It’s a song that’s really dear to my heart,” she told a red carpet reporter. “We really care about the issue of campus rapes and raising the social awareness about trauma and violence in young people’s lives. So I wanted to use today as an opportunity to continue to spread the message and the movement for young people to raise their voices of their stories and come together to be brave and strong.”
It was during her acceptance speech that Lady Gaga addressed the gender inequality in music directly. “What I really want to say is that it is really hard sometimes for women in music. It’s like a fucking boys club that we just can’t get in to.” According to People, the crowd applauded. She went on:
I tried for so long, I just really wanted to be taken seriously as a musician for my intelligence more than my body ever in this business. You don’t always feel like when you’re working that people believe that you have musical background, that you understand what you’re doing because you’re a female.
Lady Gaga is one of a phalanx of female recording artists who have spoken out about being disrespected and discounted in the music industry on account of her gender. As Slate noted at the beginning of the year, she’s just one in a long line of women who are presumed to be the face of, not the brains behind, their music. In January, Bjork gave an interview to Pitchfork in which she detailed how she had to keep reminding journalists that Acra was not, in fact, the “sole producer” on her new album; he co-produced it with her. Bjork described how she’d been denied credit for the production on her albums for a decade. “I didn’t want to talk about that kind of thing for 10 years, but then I thought, ‘You’re a coward if you don’t stand up. Not for you, but for women. Say something,'” she said.
Solange Knowles has complained about how outlets — Pitchfork among them — refer to her as a “muse” for her “main producer” Dev. (Dev and Knowles co-produced Knowles’ EP.) Knowles responded to the inaccurate, sexist coverage on Twitter, writing: “I find it very disappointing when I am presented as the ‘face’ of my music, or a ‘vocal muse’ when I write or co-write every fucking song.” Grimes wrote about her similar frustrations on Tumblr: “I’m tired of men who aren’t professional or even accomplished musicians continually offering to ‘help me out’ (without being asked), as if i did this by accident and i’m gonna flounder without them. or as if the fact that I’m a woman makes me incapable of using technology. I have never seen this kind of thing happen to any of my male peers.”
Even Taylor Swift has to bat away allegations that her collaborators are the real engine behind her mega-popular body of work. As she told Billboard last December while promoting 1989, “If someone has studied my catalog and still doesn’t think I’m behind it, there’s nothing I can do for that person. They may have to deal with their own sexist issues, because if I were a guy and you were to look at my catalog and my lyrics, you would not wonder if I was the person behind it.” Meanwhile, pop star Kesha is entangled in a messy, fraught legal battle with Dr. Luke, the superstar producer whom she claims sexually abused her, and Sony, which houses Dr. Luke’s label — the one Kesha is signed to — and is refusing to free her from her contract.
This summer, Pitchfork senior editor Jessica Hopper asked her followers on Twitter: “Gals/other marginalized folks: what was your 1st brush (in music industry, journalism, scene) w/ idea that you didn’t ‘count’?” Hundreds of replies poured in, detailing similar stories of condescending remarks from male musicians and critics, comments to the effect of “You must be sleeping with someone in order to get that job,” and experiences with harassment (and worse) from men met on the job, along with indifference from witnesses and higher-ups about said harassment (“Complaints about groping met with shrugs from venue staff, other bands. “Let the pros do their job, sweetie” in the photo pit.”) What a time to be alive.
Billboard Women in Music airs on December 18 on Lifetime at 8:00 p.m.