I’m a Belieber…in Sexism

Madison Van Althuis, Contributing Writer

Sunday, September 12 marked the most recent MTV Video Music Awards, and several honors were given out. Perhaps the most coveted award of the night, Artist of the Year, was won by none other than Justin Bieber.

Bieber had a rather commendable musical year, with his album Justice debuting at No. 1 and his songs “Peaches” and “Stay” receiving widespread success. This success was awarded with seven overall nominations at this year’s VMAs, and victories in both the Best Pop and the aforementioned Artist of the Year categories. Bieber was up for Artist of the Year against five of music’s most influential women: Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, Olivia Rodrigo, Ariana Grande, and Taylor Swift. 

Each of these women had commendable musical years of their own. Meg released her debut album Good News and everyone rocked out to “Girls in the Hood”, “Body”, or “WAP” at least once this past year. Doja dropped Planet Her with her hits “Ain’t Shit” and “Kiss Me More.” Olivia Rodrigo released Sour and had everyone crying to “Driver’s License” and screaming along to “Good 4 U.” Ariana dropped Positions and the title track, as well as “34+35”, have been on replay ever since. And Taylor released Fearless (Taylor’s Version), hitting fans with the nostalgia of her country days and the classics “Love Story” and “You Belong with Me.” 

While all of the Artist of the Year potentials had chart-topping success, I find Justin Bieber to be the least deserving of taking home the title. However, since music is so objective, everyone will have differing opinions on who should have won. A lot of people clearly enjoy Bieber’s newer music, and just because it isn’t to my taste, does not necessarily mean that it is bad. Perhaps Justice was just that good and that well received that it allowed the Biebs to beat out these other popular artists.

However, seeing as JB had such steep competition and was the only man in the running, it leads to the question over whether his gender had any affect on his success. As the only male artist in the category, the chances of a female winning were 5:6 – pretty good odds. Yet somehow, out of the five women nominated, not a single one of them won. They are all clearly very talented and are being acknowledged by nominations, but what is preventing them from receiving the votes and winning? 

Have you ever asked a straight male friend of yours what artists they listen to? Have they ever said Taylor Swift, or Doja Cat, or Olivia Rodrigo? Have “Girls in the Hood” or “34+35” ever been on their playlists? Now, some men have no problem jamming out to these artists and will unashamedly sing “Good 4 U” at the top of their lungs. However, a large majority of the straight male population would not be caught dead listening to these women. 

Some people will attribute this to simply a matter of taste. And to some point, this is valid. As I said, music is entirely objective and some of these artists might just not be to a listener’s preference. However, there is a point when it stops becoming a matter of taste and transforms into a prejudice. According to Spotify data, male listeners only stream 17.5% of their music from female or mixed-gender artists. (EveryNoise). That means 82.5% of their music is streamed from male artists. This is a huge discrepancy, and one that I don’t believe can be accounted for simply by “taste.”

But, then, why are men so reluctant to listen to female artists? Why is it so taboo? One of the contributing factors of this discrepancy is fragile masculinity. Rocking out to T. Swift is seen as the opposite of tough to a large majority of the cis-straight-male population. Due to the toxic masculine standards that are upheld by our society, men contributing to anything that is inherently feminine are often viewed as wrong and embarrassing. Listening to female artists is a point of ridicule for a lot of men, and those who regularly listen to female artists are often considered to have poor musical taste, no matter how popular the artist is.

This is due, mainly, to a factor that I like to call the One Direction Effect. One Direction was one of the most popular bands of the 2010s, and they sold out stadiums and arenas with countless No. 1 hits. However, One Direction was consistently written off by male listeners because their fanbase consisted of mostly teenage girls. Despite their large success and their millions of fans, they were not recognized as ‘good music.’ This is because, in a world dominated by men, the opinions of young girls are simply just not taken seriously. Young women’s opinions are seen as flighty and basic, and lacking any true taste. 

Now, it can be argued that Justin Bieber himself is subject to this effect. And that is true, for the early years of his career. When Bieber initially blew up, boys and men worldwide ridiculed his music and refused to listen to it due to the stigma of being a fan. However, since his hiatus and subsequent rebranding, Bieber has garnered a much wider range of listeners. As a result, since his evolution from teenage heartthrob, his audience has greatly diversified, giving him validation as a ‘true artist.’ This just further establishes the lack of merit the opinions of young women are given. It took Bieber moving away from his teenage fanbase to be recognized as a good artist, rather than just a cheesy hitmaker. 

However, this notion that teenage girls’ tastes are invalid is quite frankly ridiculous. Teenage girls, especially in today’s social-media-centric society, practically set the trends and tastes that circulate through the rest of our daily lives. Dismissing what may be good things simply because they are widely enjoyed by a younger, feminine population is horribly sexist and demeaning.

However, this is exactly what these iconic female artists are falling victim to. They are all strong women who appeal mostly to female audiences, making songs that empower women, do not focus solely on men, and are sex positive. It is music that young women can relate to and enjoy. But because their main audience is mainly these young women and despite their widespread success and irrefutable talent, male audiences refuse to recognize them as legitimate artists.

This is clearly a much farther-reaching issue than a VMA award. However, moments like this award’s show draw attention to the lack of validity that is given to the opinions of young women. Avoiding listening to an artist simply because that artist is enjoyed by teenage girls just sounds silly. By avoiding listening to these artists due to fear and built-in prejudice, listeners are only hurting themselves by conforming to society’s standards and missing out on some truly incredible music. Just because certain music is targeted towards women does not mean that men will not or aren’t allowed to enjoy it. If you don’t like something, that’s valid, but be aware of the reasoning behind your dislike and don’t allow your preconceptions about who an artist’s target audience is distract you from your enjoyment. 

And P.S. – someone who can jam out to Taylor or Meg is ten times more interesting and attractive then someone who lets the gender of an artist influence their opinion.