Arizona Daily Star/New York Daily News
September 14, 2000

Updated September 25, 2000

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I found an article in the Arizona Daily Star from September 14, 2000 that examines the fact that many serious female musicians have experienced sharp declines in album sales recently. Tori is mentioned in the article, and at the end they actually show U.S. Soundscan sales figures for the last few albums from various female musicians to prove their point, including sales figures for Tori's last 3 albums. The article was written by Jim Farber for the New York Daily News. I would imagine that it will run in several newspapers across the United States. The article is somewhat disturbing in some ways, and interesting in others. You can read it below.

For a while this article was available at the web site for the St. Paul/Minneapolis Pioneer Planet.

Right now you can read this article online at The article was published in that newspaper on September 24, 2000.

Once thriving female musicians see decline in album sales

By Jim Farber

Where have all the serious female musicians gone?

Two years ago, cover stories from coast to coast touted the triumph of sensitive, probing women in music, led by the literate ladies of Lilith Fair. Huge sales for ambitious stars like Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos, Melissa Etheridge, Paula Cole, Jewel, Fiona Apple and Natalie Merchant were supposed to herald a sea change, in which female artists would finally hold their own against the men.

Over the last year, every one of these women has experienced a serious decline in album sales. While six of the Top 10 albums of 1999 were recorded by women, in the first half of 2000 only two were - and Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera might more accurately be described as girls.

At the same time, the modern and alternative rock radio stations, which were vital to women's breakthroughs, have abandoned them in favor of a fresh wave of macho male artists. The current Top Modern Rock Radio playlists feature not a single female artist.

"There's a total backlash," says Evelyn McDonnell, co-editor of "Rock, She Wrote," a collection of women's essays on music. "The things that are happening now have misogyny embedded in them."

"You've got a lot of disgruntled guys saying, 'Why do we have to listen to all these chicks with their swinging hormones?'" explains Ann Wilson, singer for Heart, one of the first female rock groups to break through, in the '70s. "Because women spoke out, does this mean that now we have to sit back for the next five years and listen to male performers say things like `Die, bitch, die'?"

Wilson points to Eminem as an example of the most violent reaction to the Lilith generation. "He represents the opposite to what Sarah was trying to do," Wilson says of singer-songwriter and Lilith founder Sarah McLachlan.

Some observers think it's a seasonal shift rather than a politically driven one. Says Cyndi Maxwell, rock editor of the trade magazine Radio and Records, "We had a glut of female product for a while there - it's only natural that people would tire of it."

Aggressive sound

An aggressive new male sound, the rock-rap trend spearheaded by Korn and Limp Bizkit in 1998, has replaced these women. By the time of last summer's Woodstock festival - its unofficial anthem Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff" - the new macho wave was seizing all the headlines and the airwaves.

"At the end of '98, alternative radio was very leery of playing music that hard during the day when people were at work," Kerr explains. "But now that's no big deal. They'll play as heavy as possible."

Meanwhile, the pop stations that did play female artists began to focus on lighter, fluffier music than was offered by the thoughtful ladies of Lilith.

"There's a time when people want to cry in their beer and look inward, and a time when they want to kick up their heels and have fun," says pop culture critic Carol Cooper. "This is a kick-up-your-heels time."

That explains, in part, the dominance of teen-age girl singers, such as Spears and Aguilera, or what Cooper calls "sassy young women" - such as Pink, TLC and Destiny's Child - "who don't moan."

Cooper adds that "you can't underestimate how important the dance element is in popular music right now. You can't exactly bounce around to Sarah McLachlan or Fiona Apple."

"There's so much emphasis now on production and beats and so little on songwriting and lyrical content," agrees McDonnell.

Similarly, the women's music that's succeeding now accents vocal athleticism over personal expression in songwriting. Aguilera, Destiny's Child and reigning divas like Mariah, Whitney and Celine all put sound over substance.

Looking good

Then there's pop's increasing emphasis on appearance. "It's hard to spend any time developing your craft when you have to spend so much time at photo shoots having your makeup done," McDonnell observes.

Women who remain largely unaffected by these developments include such ambitious R&B artists as Lauryn Hill, Macy Gray and Erykah Badu. Each has continued to evolve musically and emotionally.

That doesn't mean that other reflective female performers should quit. Inevitably, their day will come again. "In the long view, I don't think we've lost all the ground we gained," says Wilson. "I remember a time in the '70s when radio stations had a quota, and you couldn't play more than one woman in an hour, regardless of whether it was Grace Slick or Joan Baez. That doesn't happen anymore. At some point, much wilder and more wonderful things will happen for women.

Dropping sales

* Numbers don't lie. Over the last few years, female singer- songwriters have seen a steep drop in album sales. Here's a look at the exact figures, according to SoundScan, for each star's last three albums in order of release:


* "Pieces of Me" 6.8 million

* "Spirit" 3.5 million

* "Joy" 600,000


* "Boys for Pele" 960,000

* "The Choirgirl Hotel" 700,000

* "To Venus and Back" 400,000


* "This Fire" 1.6 million

* "Amen" 100,000


* "Tidal" 2.5 million

* "When the Pawn . . ." 723,000


* "Yes I Am" 4 million

* "Your Little Secret" 3.5 million

* "Breakdown" 537,000


* "Tigerlily" 3.5 million

* "Ophelia" 1.2 million

* "Live" 183,000


* "Jagged Little Pill" 13.6 million

* "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" 2.4 million

* "Unplugged" 420,000

Jim Farber, New York Daily News

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