“Something about you makes me feel like a dangerous woman.” These lyrics, sung soulfully by Ariana Grande, have become an anthem for women that transcends age, relationship status and worldview.
“Don’t need permission, made my decision to test my limits,” Grande croons to open the ballad. And with that, girls in clubs sip their vodka sodas with a little more clout, and women in their cars turn up the volume on the stereo and maybe even roll down a window. Lyrics like these make most women feel more confident, more in control, more like a dangerous woman who shouldn’t be messed with. This is why I didn’t know how to feel when I learned the words were written by men named Johan Carlsson, Martin Karl Sandberg and Ross Golan.
For the record, this doesn’t make me love Grande any less, nor am I mad that she didn’t write “Dangerous Woman” herself. But why three dudes?
Grande and her team aren’t the only culprits of the crime of hiring men to write female-empowering songs — or popular songs period. Rihanna’s “Take a Bow” was penned by Mikkel Eriksen, Tor Erik Hermansen and Shaffer Smith. Men wrote Britney Spears’ “Stronger,” too. And “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson — the song that got us all through breakups with our middle-school boyfriends of a week? Those were lyrics by Sandberg and Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald. Yes, that Dr. Luke.
Only 12 percent of the most popular 600 songs from the last six years were written by women, according to a recent study by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Female producers only made up 2 percent for the top 300 in the same time period. From all of the other incredibly skewed statistics from the study, one thing is clear: Men are making the music. It’s not because women aren’t trying.
The overwhelming number of successful male songwriters has created the false idea that men are better lyricists, even when it comes to writing songs for women to sing. It’s that intrinsic thought that leads pop singers and their teams to hire men instead. Just nine men wrote roughly 20 percent of the 600 songs sampled in the study. They’ve profited from a long history of choosing men to pen songs. They’ll continue to get these opportunities rather than women if we don’t actively push for change.
Male privilege is everywhere: It’s in our classrooms, our wage gaps, our elections and, as was evident in the Golden Globes’ (all male) director category, our movies. It’s disappointing but not surprising that this privilege has made its way into our music, too. By passing over lesser known female songwriters in favor of well-known male songwriters, the industry is leaving out voices that need to be heard and lyrics that need to be sung.
Music has the power to make us all feel less alone and more understood, but it also has the important power to steer the public conversation and set the agenda for change. With male songwriters egregiously favored, women are denied the ability to exist in such an influential space.
Like any movement for women, it’s clearly our responsibility to stand up for ourselves before powerful men will follow suit. In the last six years of the most popular music, just over 35 percent of songs sung by women were written or co-written by another woman. Female pop singers should remember this when they decide to recruit a man to write their lyrics. With gender equality in the zeitgeist, now is the time.
Each of us can do our part to level the playing field for female songwriters. We can all be more cognizant of downloading and purchasing songs written by women, especially women of color, who are even more of a minority in songwriting and producing. Let’s support the female artists behind the music just as much as we support the ones on stage.
Carly Breit is a UF journalism senior. Her column focuses on feminism.