When Will Mainstream Radio Stop Being So Sexist and Homophobic?

· Updated on May 28, 2018

The IHeartRadio Music Awards don’t have the same cache as the Grammys, but their nominations and and eventual winners make a huge statement about modern mainstream radio. IHeartRadio (part of ClearChannel) is the largest radio and internet platform in America. With 100 million registered users, it’s the second largest streaming platform (following Spotify).

So when the IHeartRadio Awards air in March, the abundance of men and significant lack of women in major categories will be staggering–especially after #GrammysSoMale reverberated so loudly over the last week. And considering their newly announced performer line-up only has two women (Cardi B and Camila Cabello), the DJ Khaled-hosted affair will surely be as male-dominated as their nominations.

Major categories like Best Duo/Group of the Year, Alternative Rock Song of the Year, Alternative Rock Artist of the Year, Rock Song of the Year, Rock Artist of the Year, Country Song of the Year, Country Artist of the Year, Dance Artist of the Year, Hip-Hop Artist of the Year, Latin Song of the Year, and Producer of the Year are all 100 percent male. The only woman included in a Song of the Year nomination is Rihanna for her cameo on DJ Khaled’s song “Wild Thoughts,” and Rihanna is also the only woman nominated for R Artist of the Year, as Cardi B is the only woman in Best New Hip-Hop Artist of the Year.

Outside of Cardi, some of the year’s biggest earners of critical acclaim and fan adoration, such as Sza, Halsey, and Pink, are relegated to the women-specific Female Artist of the Year, or fan-voted categories that expand nominees from five to 10 (including the all-female line-up of Cutest Musician’s Pet.) Lorde, who the Grammys snubbed by not giving her a live performance despite a Best Album nod, has only one appearance is in the socially voted Best Remix (“Homemade Dynamite”).

And while similar to the Grammys, many music fans don’t count on these conglomerates to get things right as far as lesser-known artists that they should be hailing (especially queer artists like Kelela, Perfume Genius, Torres, the xx, Muna, and Syd, who had incredible albums in 2017), some indisputable major players are completely MIA. Kesha, for one, sang one of the year’s biggest singles and yet IHeartRadio instead secured spots for the likes of Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth, Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes, The Weeknd, Imagine Dragons, Maroon 5, Migos, Portugal. The Man, The Chainsmokers, Foo Fighters, Highly Suspect, Metallica, Papa Roach, Royal Blood, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett–AND SO MANY MORE MEN!

This goes beyond an awards show. Radio promotion is already heteronormative and sexist AF, with women artists being consistently asked asinine questions about their love life, alleged feuds and cat fights with other women in their field, and their sex habits instead of their musicianship. Radio DJs are more often than not straight, cis males who cross boundaries with women artists (related: the DJ who groped Taylor Swift? He just got a new gig at a Missouri radio station where he will co-host a morning show using the name Stonewall Jackson,” a name which pays homage to the Confederate Civil War general”). Ariana Grande famously shut down two Power 106 DJs, Justin Credible and Eric D-Lux, whey they asked her, live on-air, which she could go longer without–a phone or her makeup. (She responded: “Is this what you think girls have trouble choosing between? Is this men assuming that’s what girls would have to choose between?” … You need a little brushing up on equality.”)

IHeartRadio is also home to The Breakfast Club, the popular talk show that allowed the misgendering of Janet Mock and has had several problematic episodes related to women as well as LGBTQ topics and guests. Sadly, they are just one of many similar shows that air every day on IHeartRadio’s 850+ stations that are creating hostile environments for women artists, and queer women artists in particular.

Tegan and Sara had such a terrible time doing radio promotion with an early album that they refused to participate on following albums, despite their label’s wanting.

“I so traumatized by my experience with ‘Walking With a Ghost,'” Quinn told me last year. “We had really faced a lot of super-misogynistic, sexist DJs and radio programmers. We’d had this really humiliating experience at a big radio station near the end of So Jealous where we’d been asked live on air in front of all these contest winners if we were incestuous. I hated radio and I felt angry and the only way I could have any kind of control was to sort of deny that sort of machine from really taking affect. I pretty much made it impossible for anyone else in our career to kind of take us down that path for that album. Like I really, really strongly remember pushing back hard about it.”

That kind of pushback is exactly what needs to happen in radio, especially as it remains a must for artists looking to find listeners. Musicians depend on radio play and promotion to distribute their work, and women and LGBTQs deserve a safer and more woke environment in which to discuss their artistry. And the misogyny and homophobia that permeate mainstream radio is reflected in IHeartRadio’s Music Award line-ups and nominations, and coming so closely on the heels of criticism of the Grammys, they are pretty much saying they don’t give a fuck.

In an effort to seem LGBTQ-friendly, IHeartRadio has participated in GLAAD initiatives like Spirit Day and made Pride appearances in the past, and in 2014, the company allegedly gave its on-air talent GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide to read up on “the basics of terminology, harmful stereotypes that the LGBTQ community faces, anti-LGBTQ slurs to avoid, and the general tips for keeping LGBTQ-related content fair, accurate, and inclusive.” Yet when it comes to who they reward, it’s cis straight guys. There is no inclusive or intersectional approach, despite their desperately needing Cardi B, the biggest new star of the year, to perform or they will be irrelevant altogether.

In a #MeToo and #TimesUp moment, it’s even more egregious when institutions won’t acknowledge and rectify their misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. And within the music industry, this is clearly needing to come from the top down. We must demand better from IHeartRadio, whose influence is wide and whose decisions affect many.

The IHeartRadio Music Awards will air on TBS, TNT, and truTV on March 11. Expect a lot of testosterone and toxic masculinity, per usual.

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