In her documentary “Miss Americana” (2020), Taylor Swift admitted, “As I’m reaching 30 … I want to work really hard while society is still tolerating me being successful.” Despite having five No. 1 albums before the release of her 2019 album “Lover” (her eventual sixth No. 1), Swift feared the potential demise of her career. “We do exist in this society where women in entertainment are discarded in an elephant graveyard by the time they’re 35,” she said. Why is this?
Male music icons like Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie all released successful albums past 60 years old, Yet at half their age, Swift feels more pressure. Sexism and ageism in the music industry favor men and prevent them from needing to demonstrate artistic growth in order to be successful. As artists age, their music matures, so the belief that a female musician has to be at her peak before 35 is frustrating.
Swift’s fear is not without merit. There is clear-cut intersectionality between sexism and ageism in the music industry. In a just world, artists’ worth and success should be determined by the quality of their work, not their age.
Katy Perry experienced this while transitioning from her successful albums “Teenage Dream” (2010) and “Prism” (2013) to her more recent album “Smile” (2020). “Prism” sold 286,000 copies during its first week, whereas just seven years later, “Smile” could only manage 50,000 equivalent album units.
Female artists have also successfully challenged age limits. Lana Del Rey released “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” (2019) at age 34 in August 2019, receiving some of the best reviews of her career. Earning a 9.4/10 rating on Pitchfork, Del Rey proved that a woman in her mid-30s could still best her earlier works. “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” undoubtedly reflects Del Rey’s growth as an artist. Transitioning from an indie artist in the early 2010s to a full-blown alternative icon, Del Rey’s success came with age.
Even Swift’s doubts proved fictitious. Now 30, Swift’s recent album “Folklore” (2020) topped the Billboard 200 for seven weeks, scoring her 47th week at No. 1, more than any other female artist. Would she have achieved this at 25? Probably not. She needed time to grow and build upon her existing success. Had audiences written Swift off due to her age, the chart-topping success of “Folklore” would not have been possible.
As artists age, their albums mature and reflect life experience, regardless of gender identity. The reality is that women are held to a separate standard created by sexism and ageism. Demonstrated by the success of “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” and “Folklore,” music by women over 30 clearly holds merit, so it is time the music industry and audiences give credit where it is due.