You’ve likely heard a lot about equal pay. Now let’s talk equal play.
Equal play is a movement centered around the sometimes glaringly obvious fact that male artists get more airtime on radio than female artists do, and so far, it’s rooted largely in country music, a genre where in 2018 only 11.3 percent of songs airing on the radio were by women. Sadly but, perhaps, unsurprisingly, this gender disparity is one found across genres. In fact, between 1960 and 2008, 827 of the 1,250 songs on Billboard’s end-of-year Top 100 were by men, with every genre dominated by male singles. Equal play aims to close that gap.
But beyond radio, female representation in music overall lags far behind that of men—and not for lack of talent. Key gatekeeping roles like “producer” are often filled by men, and women who are on the up and up face ageism and sexism as they navigate the industry. For women, being a musician is harder on all levels—to top the charts, to book concerts, and to win awards—because even when you’re selling out the Ryman three nights in a row, you’re still not a man selling out the Ryman. And for some absurd reason, that matters.
As we continue to downvote these sexist notions (and ones like “women artists cannot be played back-to-back on the air,” which was something one radio DJ claimed), we think it’s high time to support and uplift women across all genres and cultures. In other words: If they won’t play music by women, we will.
These eight Tiny Desk Concerts from NPR perfectly reflect how dynamic all women in music can be, and they’re exactly what we want to hear more of on the airwaves. Turn the volume way up.
We love how expertly the voices of the three Israeli sisters of the group A-WA blend. Yemenite Jewish on their father’s side and Ukranian and Moroccan Jewish on their mother’s side, the sisters are innovative, mixing modern elements with traditional folk sounds. In this Tiny Desk Concert, A-WA performs their 2015 international hit single “Love of My Heart” as well as "Hana Mash Hu Al Yaman," or "Here is Not Yemen," one of the group’s releases that touches on the daily joys and struggles of living in Yemen.
If you’re a jazz fan—or maybe if you’re not—Esperanza Spalding is an artist to watch because her kind of jazz isn’t the torch singing we’ve all heard in coffee shops. It’s a sound entirely her own. A singer and a bassiest, Spalding brings darkness to her original music, darkness as well as poise. Her vocals are unique, and her technique pristine. It’s no wonder NPR considers her the 21st century jazz genius.
Need 20 minutes of pure, trance-inducing bliss during your hectic workday? This concert from English singer-songwriter Nao changes the game. Drawing from the hits such as “Orbit” and “If You Ever” from her 2018 album Saturn, an acoustic performance this beautiful is hard to come by.
The Tiny Desk had never been blessed with perfectly executed operatic Italian love songs before Joyce DiDonanto decided to give this performance. In this concert, mesmerizing mezzo-soprano vocals collide with jazz instrumentals to form modern renditions of classic pieces in something so stylistically fresh you’ll be hitting the repeat button.
Raveena’s music focuses on moving forward from trauma and uplifting oneself after grief. Her fresh and authentic performance is clearly emotional and personal for her. Clad in cheerful pastel colors and surrounded by flower props, Raveena attempts to bring joy through her work, and she does. If you’re in need of some feel-good energy and hopeful messages, this Tiny Desk concert—especially the songs “Honey” and “Bloom”—will do the trick.
This concert is a walk down memory lane, a perfect dose of happy nostalgia. Sheryl Crow starts off with her 1993 hit “All I Wanna Do” and continues with amazing renditions of six more of her catchiest country songs. (Take that sexist radio DJs.) More than 30 years since her singing career took off, Crow is just as talented as ever. That’s the power of women.
If there’s anyone who can totally rock a “tiny ass desk” (her words), it’s Lizzo. And believe us, she does. Lizzo’s powerful voice radiates through this performance in songs such as “Juice” and “Truth Hurts,” filling the room with hip-swinging magic. Lizzo’s music is an awesome blend of pop, hip hop, R&B and soul; and it’s widely loved by women for being a huge confidence boost. Be your own soulmate? Oh yes please.
Imogen Heap not only gives a beautiful, emotional concert featuring hits from Frou Frou like “Guitar Songs” as well as her own single “Speeding Cars,” but she also teaches her audience an impromptu tech lesson. Alongside her wildly popular career as a singer and songwriter, Imogen Heap has helped to develop the Miu.Mi glove, an “advanced wearable music instrument” that helps her with perfecting her vocals and generating her music. Not only is this performance a treat for your ears, it’s a reminder of the groundbreaking progress women are making in the tech world.