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Women dominated UK pop charts in 2023 as festivals and awards shows plagued by diversity rows

Women dominated UK pop charts in 2023 as festivals and awards shows plagued by diversity rows

Women dominated the UK pop charts in 2023, even as festivals struggled to improve representation and female musicians were shut out of a number of major awards ceremonies.

British stars including PinkPantheress and RAYE spent a record-breaking 31 out of 52 weeks at No 1 on the Official Singles Chart in 2023, according to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) trade group. This is the highest figure since the countdown launched in 1952.

Based on combined figures from streaming and physical sales, seven of the year’s top 10 singles were by women, including Miley Cyrus’s hit song “Flowers”, Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero”, and Cameroonian-American singer Libianca’s “People”.

RAYE’s viral song “Escapism”, a collaboration with US rapper 070 Shake (real name Danielle Balbuena), was a No 1 hit that also reached No 22 on the Billboard Hot 100, while PinkPantheress’s “Boy’s a Liar” peaked at No 2 in the UK. The remix, featuring Ice Spice, also marked PinkPantheress’s debut on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No 3.

“Escapism” and “Boy’s a Liar” were the third and eighth biggest singles of 2023, respectively.

The numbers are in stark contrast to 2022 when just two female musicians cracked the top 10 biggest songs: Kate Bush, with her 1985 single “Running Up That Hill”, and pop singer Cat Burns with “Go”.

Ed Sheeran, meanwhile, managed to get three of his songs in the top 10, including “Shivers” and “Bad Habits” from his fourth studio album, = (Equals).

 (Getty)
(Getty)

BPI’s chief executive Dr Jo Twist said in a statement: “While work continues towards achieving full representation for women across the music industry, 2023 has been a brilliant year for women in the Official Charts.

“There is a more diverse range of recording artists than ever achieving great success with the backing of their labels. Women spent more weeks at No 1 on the Official Singles Chart than in any previous year, while seven of the 10 biggest tracks were by women.

“This should be celebrated, but without complacency, and our work in the music industry continues to ensure that this becomes the norm.”

Despite pop dominance from megastars including Swift, Cyrus and Dua Lipa, 2023 proved to be a mixed year when it came to acknowledging the talent and success of female artists.

L-R: SZA, Taylor Swift, RAYE, Miley Cyrus, PinkPantheress and Libianca were behind some of the biggest songs of 2023 (AP,/Getty/iStock)
L-R: SZA, Taylor Swift, RAYE, Miley Cyrus, PinkPantheress and Libianca were behind some of the biggest songs of 2023 (AP,/Getty/iStock)

In January, the Brit Awards came under fire for failing to recognise a single woman in its Artist of the Year category, after it abandoned gendered categories in 2022.

Instead, an all-male shortlist was nominated, comprising pop singers Harry Styles and George Ezra, producer Fred Again, and rappers Stormzy and Central Cee.

Meanwhile, Glastonbury Festival faced its own backlash when it was announced that three male acts – Arctic Monkeys, Guns N’ Roses and Elton John – would headline the main stage in 2023.

Co-organiser Emily Eavis – who was defended as a vocal supporter of women in music by a number of prominent female artists – said that the industry was failing to generate enough viable female headliners.

Emily Eavis on the Glastonbury Festival site (Marie Jacquemin / Greenpeace)
Emily Eavis on the Glastonbury Festival site (Marie Jacquemin / Greenpeace)

While the majority of acts performing on Glastonbury’s two biggest stages – the Pyramid and the Other – were male, organisers insisted that the festival-wide gender split was roughly 50-50 when taking into account the hundreds of artists playing that year.

“We’re trying our best so the pipeline needs to be developed,” Eavis told The Guardian. “This starts way back with the record companies, radio. I can shout as loud as I like but we need to get everyone on board.”

All eyes will now be turned towards the impending headliner announcements for Glastonbury 2024. Eavis has hinted the event could have two female headliners this year, while also confirming that a female artist would occupy the Legends slot on the Pyramid Stage.

The 2024 Brit nominations will also be announced this month, following yet another overhaul of the awards categories after last year’s row.

The ceremony, which is organised by the BPI, has increased the number of nominees for Artist of the Year and International Artist of the Year from five to 10. It has also introduced a new genre category, R&B, after criticism that a combined category of Pop/R&B meant that no R&B artists were nominated last year.

The lack of R&B representation was called out by prominent musicians including Tiana Major 9, Bellah and Mahalia.

“Forget putting us in this category. Give us our own!” Mahalia wrote on X/Twitter in January 2023. “How many times do we have to scream at you?”

She added in a follow-up post: “Winning awards isn’t the reason why we make and release music. We do this s*** out of love. But, at this point, it’s nothing short of disrespectful.”

Mahalia later wore a jacket bearing the words “Long Live R&B” while walking the red carpet at the Brit Awards.

Mahalia at the Brit Awards 2023 (AFP/Getty)
Mahalia at the Brit Awards 2023 (AFP/Getty)

“We’re hoping that by extending the [shortlist] we can improve representation, but we’ll see in a few weeks,” Gennaro Costaldo, director of communications at BPI, told The Independent of the forthcoming Brit Award nominations.

“There was [also] a much more balanced longlist for the voting academy members to select from. We’re hoping the combination of all those things will move [the Brit Awards] in the right direction.”

He added: “If, after that, we feel further action is needed to achieve meaningful change then we’ll look at that too. It’s a constant evolution.”

Paul Williams, the BPI’s strategic communications consultant, said the top 10 biggest singles of 2023 showed it had been “a particularly strong year for women”, but said the industry shouldn’t grow complacent about championing female artists.

“We know that doesn’t represent the norm and we’re working hard to make sure it does become [the case],” he said.

“However, we do hope this shows that we’re all heading in the right direction and there’s a lot more investment in talented women artists, and more diverse artists across the board.”

He pointed out major wins for RAYE, PinkPantheress and newcomer Kenya Grace, all of whom cracked the Billboard 100 chart in the US last year.

 (Getty)
(Getty)

“The holy grail for any artist is to break America, and the three UK artists who have [done that] are all female,” he said.

Costaldo added: “Success tends to breed success, so where labels can see the demand is growing, they will carry on investing in that.”

Swift herself recently acknowledged how she hoped her success would pave the way for more female artists to break through.

“If we have to speak stereotypically about the feminine and the masculine, women have been fed the message that what we naturally gravitate toward,” she told Time magazine after being named the title’s Person of the Year.

“Girlhood, feelings, love, breakups, analysing those feelings, talking about them nonstop, glitter, sequins… We’ve been taught that those things are more frivolous than the things that stereotypically gendered men gravitate toward, right?

“And what has existed since the dawn of time? A patriarchal society. What fuels a patriarchal society? Money, flow of revenue, the economy. So actually, if we’re going to look at this in the most cynical way possible, feminine ideas becoming lucrative means that more female art will get made. It’s extremely heartening.”

 (AP)
(AP)

Female artists are set to dominate the Grammy Awards next month, with Swift, SZA, Victoria Monét and boygenius leading the nominations.

Following the shortlist announcement in November last year, SZA scored the most nominations with nine overall for her critically acclaimed album SOS.

Both the Song of the Year and Record of the Year categories are almost entirely female, with Oscar-winning composer and singer-songwriter Jon Batiste – the former bandleader for Stephen Colbert – as the sole male nominee in both.

Swift, who in 2023 also helped boost vinyl sales to their highest level, is on course to achieve Grammys history should she win Album of the Year, which would make her the first artist ever to win the award four times.

Other prominent nominees at this year’s ceremony – which takes place on Sunday 4 February at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles – include Billie Eilish, Nicki Minaj, Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa and Miley Cyrus.