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Drake and the persistence of the “for girls” bias

Drake thinks making “music for girls” is a bad thing. He’s not the only one, says Emily Baker.

I love Drake. That’s not a controversial statement – lots of people love Drake and many of them are women. Drake is apparently not OK with that – he doesn’t want to be tarnished with the brush of making “girls’ music”. How do we know? Well, he’s pretty much just admitted it.

The rapper released his fifth studio album, Scorpion, today and, to illustrate his intentions with the 25-track work, Drake has written his own editor’s notes. Made up of 13 criticisms often aimed at him, the notes include phrases like “Drake doesn’t even write his own songs” and contradictory statements such as “I hate when Drake raps” followed by “Drake sings too much”. Among them, towards the end, lies the offending – and offensive – “Drake makes music for girls”. Apparently, this is on par with being “finished” and using ghostwriters.

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Let’s unpack what “music for girls” means in Drake’s world and the world of his critics. Music for girls is insincere, soft and melodic. It’s inconsequential, unthreatening and digestible. Women listen to music about love and are particularly interested when a man lays his emotions bare. To its detractors, music for girls is throwaway – it’s not “proper music”; it’s not “real music”. It simply doesn’t count.

Drake’s note on “music for girls” not only proves that men think women’s opinions are invalid, but that having women like your music (or other art) is inherently bad or embarrassing. In short, female support devalues your work. We can find examples of this across the reception of TV and films. As Lili Loofbourow pointed out in a viral essay earlier this year, Disney Pixar’s Brave was dismissed as a princess movie for girls and subsequently ignored, when really it was the story of a tough young woman fighting her own battles. This is a perfect example of what I’m calling “for girls” bias, a sometimes on-purpose but often unconscious prejudice against things that are aimed explicitly at women. We all do it – how many of us turn our noses up at so-called “chick lit” books at the airport? How many of us have skipped out on an actually OK romcom because it looked just a little too cringey? To put it bluntly, “for girls” bias is why we don’t have a female equivalent of The Rock.

Drake’s note on ‘music for girls’ not only proves that men think women’s opinions are invalid, but that having women like your music (or other art) is inherently bad or embarrassing. In short, female support devalues your work

“For girls” bias was a rampant narrative during the noughties era of indie, when music was all about standing in a field, drinking a pint of warm, cheap beer and shout-singing along to Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis. Women were absolutely peripheral to the scene and, when they were noticed, they were made out to be “special” and “different”, and were essentially fetishised for liking the same music as the boys – what was deemed as proper music. Women were meant to listen to Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, manufactured pop princesses who had apparently nothing “real” to say. I know, because I thought that, too.

Now, in 2018, it’s the men of hip-hop and their fans who are perpetuating “for girls” bias. When your peers are releasing diss tracks revealing that you have a secret son with a picture of you in blackface as the cover, it’s important to look tough and unforgiving. For Drake, that means making hard-faced, implacable hits right back – music that simply is too aggressive and assertive for gentle lady ears.

Drake isn’t smart for preserving “for girls” bias. Not only is he alienating a huge demographic of listeners, he’s also throwing away the support women have given him throughout his career. It’s arguable that his biggest hits – Hotline Bling, One Dance, Hold On, We’re Going Home – were all “music for women” and, at the time, Drake was more than happy to play along with that. In fact, Drake is still playing along to that narrative – in his latest video for Nice For What, he featured a range of Hollywood women and told them they had no reason to be nice to men.

I’m willing to give Drake the benefit of the doubt and say that he didn’t mean to estrange anyone with this “insult”. But the bias still remains regardless and, while I still love Drake, I’m left wondering if he actually loves me – and the rest of his female fans – back.

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