I have long been deeply disturbed by my own personal preference for music performed by male vocalists; I feel like it is something I should hand in my feminist card over--it seems contradictory to believe women should get equal opportunities in the music industry but not really be that into their music myself. And the thing is, it's not that I like what most people would cosnider "nice" male voices; I'm a huge fan of Placebo (no, really, I hear you say); I've done my time with the Smashing Pumpkins, and I was briefly fascinated by Lukas Rossi--none of these men have traditional voices. I've always been obsessed with the lyrics of songs, and I know far more lyrics than it is reasonable for one human being to know, so the words that are being sung are often (though not always) more relevant to my choice of music than the voice that is singing them.
So, recently I was working on a playlist for a mix CD for a friend of mine who likes female vocalists, and to my surprise, I discovered that actually, I like quite a number of female vocalists--Dilana, Brooke Fraser, both the Runga sisters, Alanis, Marie Fredriksson, Beth Ditto and Hanna Pakarinen--to name a few she might not have heard, or who she might not have heard recently (which doesn't even begin to touch on my flirtations with better-knowns like Annie Lennox, Stevie Nicks and P!nk who I know she listens to). I was trying to figure out what the common theme was, and initially I thought it was rage, but that should imply that I would like (for example) Lily Allen, who I cannot abide. Thinking about it more, I realised it was actually just having something interesting to say, and saying it to an appealing melody in a way that meant I could connect with it emotionally. This allows for the spectrum Placebo have presented me with, for Hanna's rage and Bic's homesickness, even for Brooke's devotion that I do not share.
So where, I hear you asking, do I get my feminist card back? The answer is pretty simple: Exposure. The majority of my music exposure is through popular channels, for example the gym, commercial radio, television, and my itunes recommendations. At a guess, exposure is usually going to come via a record company, adn besides suing 12 year olds and screwing artists out of the majority of their royalties, record companies exist to make money. In a culture where women are objectified, dismembered and made two dimensional at every opportunity, it's a big risk for a record company to take on a woman who has strong feelings about anything, because you know, thinking and feeling women who sing about it are more than just tits, ass and male sexual fantasy. Even when such a woman does make it through the record company gauntlet, too often the lyrics are about how men have altered their lives for the worse, and how they are still cut up about it (this is probably how Alanis made it out, but all the subsequent albums were much more interesting). Men, on the other hand, can sing about whatever they want and get away with it; record companies will still sign them if they are angry or even write music that doesn't have women at its centre.
While this discovery has made me realise my discovery channels are failing, and has reinforced to me that the record companies are failing to provide what I want in so many ways, I no longer feel like I should hand in my feminist card over my musical taste...I just need to keep looking in less mainstream channels for women to love.
Update 8 Jul 2008: For a more theoretical and coherent discussion, read this at Smart Like Me.