The music industry has many biases against women involving skin colour, body type and even the texture of their hair. However, the most prevalent of all these issues is the one that most people overlook: age. It seems that as soon as a female artist nears the dreaded age of 40, the clock starts clicking against her, with each passing moment being nothing more than borrowed time. Indeed, while many may herald a woman’s 40th birthday as a milestone of achievement, the music industry considers it be an expiration date.
No matter how successful or famous the act, the age of 40 presents a hurdle that is near impossible to overcome. From Toni Braxton to Jennifer Lopez, female artists struggle to find their place on the charts amongst their younger counterparts, regardless of their talent or the strength of their material. For instance, Janet Jackson’s latest album, ‘Discipline’, boasted some of the best records she has released since 2001’s ‘All For You’, yet it has been unceremoniously overlooked by the masses. Yet, there is one thing that women can do remain relevant: change their target audiences.
Female artists receive tremendous pressure from their fans and critics alike to start “acting their age” once they enter their 40’s. Suddenly, the revealing clothing and playful lyrics that defined their music before their 40th birthday become taboo. These women are automatically expected to behave more ‘maturely’ and craft material to attract consumers within a similar age bracket on the Adult Contemporary formats. For instance, Mariah Carey,whose sex appeal is almost as famous has her vocal range, is being pressured to tone down her look and “grow up”. In fact, she was slammed by various critics for her #1 single ‘Touch My Body’ (which she made when she was 38) because of its “juvenile” lyrical content. It seems that women are expected to magically transform into political analysts as they grow older; placing their sex appeal and playfulness in a box, only to be used behind closed doors.
Interestingly, male artists do not face similar criticism for their musical efforts. Jay-Z and R. Kelly, for example, are both over the age of 40 yet neither have been told to adjust their lyrics. Quite notably, R. Kelly’s ‘Untitled’ album was littered with sexual content with hardly anything resembling the ‘mature’ sound of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’.
Thus, it seems that the music industry is just another construct of the male-dominated world in which we live, where women continue to be pressured to conform to certain standards that men manage to evade. Nonetheless, many may argue that women themselves are at fault for their own downfall. While it may be true that women have to work harder to achieve success in their 40’s, artists like Madonna and Sade Adu (who are both in their 50’s) continue to enjoy similar accomplishments to what they did in their youth. Maybe some female artists get too comfortable with their earlier achievements and their declining success is simply a signal from their longtime fans to step up their game.