DJ Khaled’s sultry jam “Wild Thoughts,” featuring Rihanna, debuted at No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 this week. Rihanna has dominated the chart for more than a decade — only The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Mariah Carey have topped it more times than her — but the “Wild Thoughts” showing bore larger significance. Prior to the song’s chart debut, the Hot 100 had lacked female artists in its top five since Taylor Swift’s collaboration with Zayn Malik, “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever (Fifty Shades Darker),” notched the No. 3 slot on the April 8 edition of the list. That 12-week drought of female artists in the top five was the longest of its kind since 1972.
Before Billboard released the July 8 edition of the Hot 100 on Monday, the chart had documented this summer’s unprecedented male dominance. Contenders for the coveted Song of Summer title — Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito,” Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” and Khaled’s “I’m the One” — were all male-made. But the trend is more widespread. From 2007 to 2016, as the calendar flipped from June to July, female artists averaged 3.6 songs in the top 10. In seven of those years, women occupied the chart’s top slot. This year? The only woman on the top 10 of the July 1 chart was Alessia Cara, who featured on Zedd’s single “Stay.”
So what’s going on? For one, strong performances by male stars like Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran have coincided with commercially disappointing albums by marquee female acts like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. And the industry is changing. “Female artists are still scoring hit singles, but they’re doing it with an asterisk,” says Billboard music editor Jason Lipshutz, citing “Stay” and recalling 2016 smashes from the Chainsmokers that served as vehicles for Halsey and Daya.
Streaming has also played a role. The Hot 100 now includes streaming stats in its formula (along with sales and airplay), so songs like Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” and Future’s “Mask Off” don’t need round-the-clock playback on Top 40 radio to make a strong chart showing. “These songs are getting airplay, but not the type of Top 40 airplay that would normally get it into the Hot 100,” Lipshutz says. “You have a song like ‘Mask Off’ which is huge on streaming and bleeding over into hip-hop and pop radio because of streaming.”
“It’s almost a perfect storm of all of these factors playing a part in making this so male-dominated,” Lipshutz concludes. Sharon Dastur, Senior Vice President of Programming at iHeart Media, agrees: “It’s just timing,” she says. “I don’t think there’s anything more to it really.” Insiders aren’t too concerned — and note that female reinforcements are coming. In addition to “Wild Thoughts,” Miley Cyrus, Camila Cabello, and Halsey all have rising singles — “I really feel like that’s the album of the year,” Dastur says of Halsey’s June release — and Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj are working on new records. Come fall, Lipshutz says, “we could be having a very different conversation.”
–Additional reporting by Nolan Feeney and Madison Vain