Kevin McNeese:: "We need more female role models for our children, especially in the church. For a gender that makes up 49% of our population, 14% of the charts is shameful." (Photo: Francesca Battistelli, photographed for NRT by David Holzemer)
In November 2008, nearly a year and a half ago, NRT contributor Logan wrote about how females are impacting Christian music. The article was a hopeful look to the future for female artists inside an industry that has largely been dominated by males. Citing bands like Fireflight, BarlowGirl and Flyleaf, along with Francesca Battistelli and Krystal Meyers--all of which have released strong new music in the past 12 months--Logan gave a solid argument for the growing presence of women in Christian music, despite that fact that the sales and radio airplay charts painted a bleaker picture. (read full article here).
But with 18 months passing, and a growing number of females dominating the mainstream music arena (more on that in a minute), I've decided to dive back in and see if things have really improved for my musical sisters in Christ.
Before we look at who is releasing what, I want to first spend a little time examining radio airplay and retail sales charts. I believe these numbers paint the best picture when examining this topic, and no one provides better charts than Billboard Magazine.
Last year, they released their annual year end charts for Christian artists, songs and albums, but they also put together some comprehensive charts that summarized the sales of the past decade, and the data is humbling for female artists in the Christian music industry.
The "Top Christian Albums of 2009" chart lists 8 women, or female-led groups, in the Top 50 (not counting Selah, Casting Crowns or Skillet, all of which have women singing lead in their group, but are largely fronted by male band mates). While just under 20% certainly sounds like an adequate number on the surface, I'd argue that only six truly made an impact last year. Mary Mary dominated the charts at #2, and while their music is largely sold and consumed in the general market, they are two women on fire for God and it continues to shine in their interviews and music. Francesca Battistelli continued to find her audience with My Paper Heart, her debut that released in July 2008, hitting #11 and newcomer Kari Jobe make a huge impact with her worship debut hitting #20. Mandisa, Flyleaf and Britt Nicole also released solid albums that landed in the Top 50.
What about the other two? Amy Grant's re-released Christmas collection, which was heavily discounted and promoted during the holiday rush, was the 16th most popular album last year but featured just four new songs. Without anything new to grasp on to, music fans continued to buy Natalie Grant's February 2008 album, Relentless, coming in at #33 (more on Natalie in a minute). Heather Headley's general market album, Audience Of One, landed at #24, but I'd argue she's off the radar of the majority of Christian music fans.
Am I picking apart the chart to prove a point? Even if I did include the Grant duo and Heather, are you satisfied with females making up 16% of last year's Top 50 releases?
Radio didn't wait to hold the door open for female artists in 2009 either. The "Top 50 Christian Songs" according to Billboard, which ranks radio airplay impressions as measured by Nielsen BDS, has seven female led songs listed, a mere 14% of the chart. They include Francesca Battistelli (#10, #35), Britt Nicole (#18), Natalie Grant (#20), Mandisa (#26) and Addison Road (#45).
Diving in deeper as we look at the last decade (that's ten years of releases for those of you keeping track at home), we see that the pattern has long been set. Just seven albums in the Top 50 are from females artists, two of which belong to Yolanda Adams, and only 3 of which hit the Top 20.
So why should we care? A great song is a great song, either by a female or male, right? I would agree with that, but as my daughter continues to grow and be molded by her environment (one that I, as a parent, will have ultimate control over for only so long), I find myself continually disturbed by the mainstream world pushing females artists that use sex and profanity to sell. Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Lady GaGa, Black Eyed Peas and Rihanna are all in the Top 15 this week with singles that would make any parent run to plug their daughter's ears and eyes. And just this month, teen queen Miley Cyrus, who has long been tied to her solid Christian roots, shed her family-friendly image overnight (among other things) for a more sexed up, adult version of herself. Her fans, many of which are barely in junior high, have followed in droves, recently pushing her latest single, "Can't Be Tamed" to #1 on iTunes and the racy video in the top 10, finding comfortable company among the latest round of shock-pop videos from Christina Agularia (Grinding in a church? Check!), Ciara and more.
We need more female role models for our children, especially in the church. We need more female artists willing to cross that line into mainstream, much like Flyleaf has done, and Sixpence None The Richer did before them. For a gender that makes up 49% of our population, 14% of the charts is shameful.
2010 is more promising than years past, but I'm still not satisfied. The first five months have produced new music from Tal & Acacia, Fireflight, Vicky Beeching, Meredith Andrews, Point Of Grace, Adie, Poema, Kelly Minter, Amy Grant, Charmaine, Superchick and The Letter Black among others, which is an impressive list. And later this year, we'll get new music from Natalie Grant, Sixpence None The Richer, Addison Road and Britt Nicole. But Audrey Assad remains one of the only major label debuts from a female artist that will street later this year. Where are the new artists?
As an industry, we need to do a better job of finding, producing and marketing female artists. And as consumers, we need to do a better job of supporting them. The sad fact lies in the economics, which is why I spent so much time looking at the charts. If female artists don't sell, labels won't release as much music, giving radio less to play, and consumers less to purchase. And the cycle continues.
But as this cultural war continues to heat up, and as girls have less and less to look to for quality, wholesome female role models, I'm getting more and more concerned that our industry isn't doing more for female artists. This, certainly, is not all she wrote.
Posted May 24, 2010 | Kevin McNeese started NRT in 2002 and has worked in the industry since 1999 in one form or another. He has been a fan of Christian music since 1991.
agreed| Posted June 01, 2010
This is true: Stacie and Rachael are long-gone from the public eye now...under-supported and touted too heavily? It seems the men do tend to have more public-eye endurance. I love Lacy and Flyleaf. Thank God for their stance in the midst of it. This remnant of Raze is one I wish would have taken off better, or been embraced wider...she's the only one I know that can go head to head with Rihanna, Ke$sha and the like: http://www.myspace.com/mizzieonline