Sexism and Colorism in the Boys Club of the Music Industry
Sometimes, we want to think that we’re in a post-racial and post-gendered world. But instead of seeing the world through these rose-tinted glasses, we need to acknowledge that biases are still very much alive. Especially in the entertainment industry, where record label giants want us to believe that the industry is diverse and inclusive. But the reality is, that industry is vastly different for men and women.
Often, being a female in the industry is equated with how attractive you are. Or at least, how attractive old white record executives, the unfortunate gatekeepers of the music industry, find you to be.
My ex used to teach these twin DJs in New York City how to produce. Their skills were minimal and they didn’t learn nor were they innovative in any sense of the word. They mostly DJed and rose to the top with features in editorial magazines and cover shoots due to their attractive image, regardless of their talent level. The level of exposure that they’ve received versus other more talented and groundbreaking DJs is vastly different, mostly due to their appearances. They often happen to be light skinned black women, and colorism within the music industry is no joke.
We constantly see faces of black celebrities lightened in magazines, and it’s no coincidence that light skinned stars like Alicia Keys, Rihanna and Beyonce are the queens of the music industry, or that Lil’ Kim has turned herself into a bleached, barely recognizable version of herself. Dark women are consistently rejected from the music industry, and it’s not ok. However, dark skinned male rappers and singers are widely accepted, praised, and found to be good-looking. The music industry has always been a boys club, and there’s an overwhelming case of evidence for that.
There are some loopholes, however, and innovative ways to handle the insidious racism within the industry. Artists like Leikeli47 have impeccable lyrics and production skills that would make Missy Elliot proud, but we have no idea what her face looks like. She always wears a mask or a well-styled bandanna so that we can only peek at her lips and eyes. This artist doesn’t want us to focus on what her face or body looks like, even if she is drop-dead gorgeous. She told Noisey “It distracts from everything that everybody would normally go to…what’s she look like, what’s her shape, her complexion”. That mystery factor and her dedication to the hustle over superfluous matters makes her a winner in our book, but she still has a ways to go before she gets to join the mainstream heavyweights.
While its a bummer that women feel like they need to not show their face in order to be taken seriously in music, we love that ladies are finding badass alternatives to get their message and artistry out there. In the face of #metoo and #timesup, raising awareness and being allies on issues like this within the industry is more important than ever.