YOUNG FEMALE ARTISTS AS ‘INDUSTRY PLANTS’
Updated: Mar 6, 2021
Traditional takes on masculinity, femininity, and male entrepreneurialism all contribute towards a (mostly) subconscious stigma towards young female musicians.
There is no universal definition of what makes an ‘industry plant’ – but it’s generally agreed that to attach this label to an artist is to accuse their success of being the result of corporate planning, rather than genuine talent or effort. YouTube comments sections make these accusations daily, but two of the biggest controversies surrounding alleged industry plants in the past couple years have been centred around Billie Eilish and Clairo.
There are some glaring issues with the term ‘industry plant’ (it’s a whole discussion in itself). Subconsciously, we often expect the bands and artists we like to be home-grown, to have really grafted for their notoriety – when it becomes known that these bands/artists used their many established connections within the industry to aid their growth, some people are shocked. It is seen as disingenuous, and the ‘industry plant’ label is thrown like rotten fruit at a pillory.
The first issue is, in that case, the (vast) majority of famous bands/artists can be called industry plants. The case against Billie Eilish is fuelled by her producer and brother Finneas being experienced and well-connected, and the case against Clairo being that her father had connections to The FADER magazine and record label. Surely, a musician with the wealth and/or connections to boost themselves will of course do so, like any startup in any industry would – and there’s nothing immoral about that. You wouldn’t call a fully-trained pilot an industry plant because her dad is an airport executive.
The second issue with the term ‘industry plant’ is – why would it matter anyway? If the band/artist doesn’t claim they are entirely self-made, we are not being lied to. More importantly, the fame of well-connected bands/artists does not detract from the growth potential of your favourite undiscovered experimental garage punk band; the two aren’t exclusive, and don’t exist in spite of one another.
And frankly, the more good music that’s out there, the better!
Why do young female artists particularly face this stigma?
From my observation (you may agree or not), it seems that young female artists face ‘industry plant’ accusations most intensely when they become more experimental, or genre-bending in their music.
When an artist like Clairo or Billie Eilish, who in their earlier discography had been corralled into the ever-present ‘young female pop singer-songwriter’ box, attempts to collaborate and integrate with a male-dominated genre (usually hip-hop or rock/metal), it creates a largely subconscious association in the minds of comment-section critics that the young female artist cannot survive there on her own. When Clairo opened for the likes of Steve Lacy, Brockhampton and Tyler, the Creator; when she featured Rejjie Snow on the track “Hello?”; when Billie shows a close friendship with EARTHGANG, Denzel Curry and others – all of this, in the mind of the subconscious music industry sexist, is the signal that she is out of her depth. That surely she must be guided through the male-dominated genre by a man with more experience – thus making her an industry plant.
I say ‘subconscious’ because much of our surface understanding of the music industry is innately sexist. I’m not too proud to admit that, around five years ago, I used to think like this. Sixteen years old and of the attitude that only sheep listen to pop music, my stubbornness resulted in 99% of artists I listened to being male (that’s a literal statistic, taken from my old Spotify playlists). This is broadly due to the old-fashioned vision of male entrepreneurialism – that traditional masculinity encourages boys and men to experiment in endeavours and seize opportunity, whereas traditional femininity has encouraged routine and passivity. It has become the case that young female artists are discouraged from diving headfirst into genre-bending and experimental ideas due to the perceived norm that a male-dominated industry presents.
In recent years, as this norm changes with more and more female artists disregarding the ‘pop singer-songwriter’ box, the more traditionally-minded of us innately expect that those artists must rely on a lot of helping hands to reach success.
Of course, there is plenty of conscious sexism in the entertainment industry – we need look no further than the MeToo movement to see that. But the kind of engendered attitude I’m talking about here has rooted itself due to the industry being significantly male-dominated. ‘Abusers, the pay-gap and lack of representation’ – all of these are issues that must be addressed, but the solutions largely come from legislation, lawsuits and CEOs. What can we, as simple consumers of music, do to help change the tone?
We can make a conscious effort to find and listen to more female artists.
Let’s keep our foot on the accelerator. We’re witnessing the exponential growth of experimental female artists, and actively deciding to seek them out and listen to them whenever you’re tired of shuffling your main playlist is gradually going to make a huge change in the way the music industry operates.
The more female genre-bending artists we support, the more potential young female artists will be encouraged to share their music.