Liz Pelly

Discover Weakly: Sexism On Spotify

Spotify’s most popular playlists are noticeably male dominated. Spotify’s biggest playlists in rap (“Rap Caviar”), rock (“Rock This”) and electronic (“mint”) comprise some of the platform’s most visible real estate, and often include very few women artists. “New Music Friday” is routinely male-dominated as well.

To find spaces on Spotify where women are fully represented, users might navigate towards playlists like “Women of Hip Hop,” “Women of Rock,” “Women of Indie,” and the list goes on. There’s also “Feminist Friday,” “Women Crush Everyday,” “Badass Women,” “Queen,” and “Girls Night,” while gender stereotypes also inform masculine playlists like “The Bachelor Party” (Tagline: “Enjoy your last evening of freedom!”) and “Tailgate Party”.

Despite the gender disparity, a high number of playlists feature pictures of women on the covers, using their images to “sell” playlist clicks even when barely any are represented within: take for example “Hot Country,” which upon a recent investigation pictured a woman artist on the cover, but only included seven women artists out of 53 tracks on the playlist (and four of them were features on men's tracks).

It’s time for a thorough investigation of Spotify’s gender bias, and to consider what it means for a music culture increasingly reliant on the platform. Despite what the woke optics of “Feminist Friday” might suggest, Spotify’s data-driven environment serves a sexist status quo. And the echo chamber effect of algorithm-driven discovery amplifies and exacerbates pre-existing gender inequities on Spotify, rather than fighting against them. Here, I will present robust research on the streaming service along with an analysis of the inherently patriarchal, top-down nature of the music industry’s new center of power.



Liz Pelly is a writer in New York. Her byline has appeared at The Guardian, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, The Intercept, and elsewhere. She has criticized the music streaming economy for The Baffler, Watt, and Shadowproof.