Much to the credit of women in the industry, summer 2016 was a musical goldmine.
That four-month span was absolutely dripping with irresistible pop hits, many of which gained steam thanks to impressive, female-driven vocal leads. At this point last year, women were dominating the charts, captivating audiences worldwide with pulsing jams like “Cheap Thrills,” “Work From Home” and “Needed Me.” These days, though, the prospects for female artists are looking significantly more grim.
Even the most noteworthy women in music are struggling to capture the voltaic summer sound listeners are seeking. The tropical backbeats characteristic of summer 2016 have been tossed out the window, only to be replaced by dancey, EDM-infused anthems. As evidenced by the sheer number of collaborative efforts clogging the charts, many artists have be unable to produce this texture independently, instead relying on producers and top-notch DJs to propel their work.
Twelve months ago, lilting female voices melted right into pop’s beachy flavor. Why, then, does it seem that many of music’s leading ladies cannot adapt to today’s electronic craze?
Female singers have collectively strained to regain chart-stopping status all summer. DJ Khaled’s “Wild Thoughts,” a joint hit shared with Rihanna and Bryson Tiller, was the first song to put a female singer in the top five of Billboard’s Hot 100 in 12 weeks — earning a No. 4 slot on July 8. When was the last time female musicians have struggled so mightily? Approximately 45 years prior, when Helen Reddy put women back on the map with “I Am Woman” after a three-month chart drought.
What underlying factors, then, are contributing to this female dry spell? Perhaps consumers are more drawn to gritty, low-range solos when jiving to electronic rhythms. Or maybe the industry is experiencing a crisis of demand — where riffing soloists aren’t as sought after as techno visionaries, responsible for churning out catchy synth melodies. Regardless of the source of the problem, some female artists have been recently driven to desperation, and Katy Perry’s new album “Witness” is a testament to that exact panic.
In her LP, Perry offers a sloppy catalog of wannabe electro-pop hits. Each track is less memorable than the next, contributing to the album’s generally poor reception. The record earned less than spectacular ratings from top critics.
Even the most recognizable songs like “Bon Appétit” and “Swish Swish” fail to ameliorate Perry’s slipshod musicianship.
Although impressive as standalone song sections, bridge features from the likes of Migos and Nicki Minaj do little to excuse the album’s stagnant melodies, lagging rhythms, and half-hearted lyricism.
In the chorus “Hey Hey Hey,” Perry quips, “You think that I am cracking, but you can’t break me.” Unfortunately, her new tunes tell a different story. To maintain notoriety in an ever-changing industry, artists must use current trends to inform their own sound — not succumb to an ill-fitting style and compromise musical values for the sake of downloads.
Hopefully, Rihanna’s recent peak on the “Hot 100” is a harbinger of impending change. In this track, her voice reverberates with authority — repurposing promiscuous lyrics to drive messages of body positivity and feminist pride. Even Miley Cyrus is learning how to capitalize upon this moment in music, using percussion-heavy backdrops to “dancify” light-hearted hits like “Malibu.”
Perhaps prospects really are on the upswing for music’s top women. Unfortunately, Perry and her contemporaries will have to stop hiding behind the guise of misinformed and disingenuous electro-pop. It could be that the answer to their problems is as simple as a return to the self — a revisiting of their roots rather than a plunge into falsities.