Girls allowed – slowly

Music’s Rich List shows a clear gender divide between established and upcoming stars


The top 10 richest musicians in Britain and Ireland are all men, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. But the top 10 richest musicians in Britain and Ireland age 30 and under are all women, according to the Sunday Times Rich List .

It’s a weird gender dichotomy, reflective of the music industry’s in-built bias again female artists – a bias that’s only recently been upended. And that wasn’t down to progressive thinking but to a quick look at the sales receipts from the past few years.

It will be a few more years before a woman makes it onto the grown- up list. Consider the financial gulf: the richest artist under 30 is Adele (£30 million) and at No 10 in the overall list is Sting (£180 million).

If you want to be pedantic about it, there is a token bloke at joint 10th spot on the 30 and under Rich List: one of the now defunct JLS. And there is one token woman on the big boy’s list at joint 10th place: Olivia Harrison, George’s widow.

What we’re seeing now on the younger list is a near complete cultural domination by female music artists. Whether they’re arriving from the sets of TV shows (Cheryl Cole is No 2 on the list, Leona Lewis No 3) or from the classrooms of the Brit School (Jesse J is No 6), the only acts turning a profitable buck these days are young women.

How many of them will sustain careers long enough to get anywhere near the overall music richest top 10 list is moot. But the absence of any female presence at the top table shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since the beginning of the popular music era, the thinking was that it’s fine to release a single by a woman (especially is she looks nice on the sleeve) but at the big money end of the market (the album) it was best to leave sales to the men. And any artist’s true worth is only ever judged by album sales.

The belief for decades was that men just wouldn’t buy an album by a woman. And this became a self- fulfilling prophesy. The first UK album chart was introduced in 1956, and it took 26 years before a women made it to No 1 (not including compilations): Kate Bush with Never for Ever . Plenty of women should have gotten there before Bush, most notably Dusty Springfield, but when it came to marketing and promotion, there was never the same push for female albums.

Today you have popular female artists located at every point of the musical spectrum, from complete rubbish to high art. Such has been the shift (and we’re really only talking about the past five years) that these days it’s no surprise to see eight or nine female artists in the album top 10.

People labour under the illusion that the music and collective entertainment industry is an exciting, innovative and radical world. In truth it’s deeply conservative, if not reactionary. That it took decades for a female artist to have a No 1-selling album is ridiculous; that women are now keeping the music industry afloat is ironic.