While men are allowed to grow old disgracefully in music, taking up the mantel of Rockstar, women continue to be commodified, we want them young, beautiful, sexy but not too sexy, in fact give them to us innocent, but also slutty? All of which was ever more clear with Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s new single WAP, women owning their sexuality is a no go.
With that in mind, we met up with brand new artist Flownn, who is not only female but also in her 30s – in an industry that prematurely ages women – and preparing to launch her first solo single.
It is 2020 and Corona-coaster aside, it is starting to feel like we’re finding our feet; fighting for equality across the board, working closer as communities and supporting each other in what has been one of the hardest years we have faced globally – and three years after the launch of the Me Too movement women are being increasingly supported and represented across all industries, right?
Well… in the music industry women still only make up 21.7% of artists, 12% of songwriters and terrifyingly only 2.1% of producers. Female artists in the charts are overwhelmingly young – signed young, Mahalia was signed at the age of 13, and considered ‘past it’ once they reach their early twenties.
With a musical career spanning ten years, Flownn’s soon-to-launch solo offering has been long anticipated and feels like a return to form of the most glorious kind. Though she lists the likes of H.E.R., Amber Mark, Cleo Sol, James Blake, Tom Misch and Rosalia as her favourite artists, her musical style cannot be melted down and moulded to a single genre and elements of all of the aforementioned can be heard at points.
Flownn’s first single release – think honeyed vocals lightly distilled over an electro-pop beat – is titled “Illuminate” and was produced at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown via a Zoom with producer Pearse Macintyre… “We laughed at the idea of actually creating something of value through the ‘new normal’ of a computer screen, let alone creating a piece of music that makes you want to move at a time when we were all so sedentary.
I was so used to collaborating in real life that I really struggled to make it work on my own but we kept at it and to my surprise Illuminate was born. The song is about the internal reflection on love just working out and the aspects of that physically and emotionally illuminating you, but I have found that the song does that for me too.”
Here she opens up about the inspiration behind the music and the problems she has faced as a female artist in a male dominated industry…
It is notoriously hard to significantly break-through in the music industry as a solo artist. What have been some of the barriers you have come up against?
Totally, it’s one of the hardest games out there, I always compare it to stand-up comedy, will they like me? Will they like my songs? What side of myself do I need to show to gain a committed audience. There are so many new artists and new releases, being mostly male led as we know, you have to do everything to be different whilst also showing your true authentic self. I have kept my head down, working with the producers I love, if the songs that we write don’t work I put them to bed, maybe I’m too cut-throat but at this stage and age I feel like this has to be the format in which I work. I guess you could say my internal barriers are what I’m up against but fuelled by the industry I’m in and what it has become.
What kind of sexism you have experienced has surprised you?
Previously I was in an all-female band called Paradisia and actually the sexism and sexualisation was pretty much everywhere. One occasion, which I think of often as the musician in question has now officially been ‘cancelled’ as a predator, takes me back to two years ago. We were on tour with a highly successful, older male solo artist. He DM’d us the day before the tour started asking us to meet him in his hotel room before soundcheck, amongst some other quite leading messages.
At the time we were so excited at the prospect of this amazing opportunity and being messaged by one of our heroes. It is very easy to see how you can find yourself in a compromising and potentially dangerous situation, all of us were in our late twenties, in committed relationships, but also felt like we couldn’t really say no. I honestly think the only thing that stopped us from getting into trouble time and time again is that there were three of us; something I am more conscious now that I’m solo.
Today though, I have to say it is a lot better all round and I do think Me Too has had a massive impact on this – there is a sense of change within the creative industry, I now work very closely with mostly women and my management are incredibly protective so I hope I won’t find myself in that position again.
Do you think the industry still subscribes to an age limit on female artists?
Absolutely, looking at the top 3 female selling artists, all of which are under the age of 25 and began their careers at 18. Even The X Factor, which at a time was the one of the most watched shows on British television had an over +25 group (this year this age bracket has been lifted to 28) and we all considered that group as being past it, their stories always reflect on this being their last shot.
Not a day goes by where I don’t consider my age as potentially restricting me, and don’t let me start on the idea of having children. I know there have been times where had I have walked into the studio 10 years younger the energy would have been different. Ultimately great songs, great team, no matter what age you are should be enough, I still feel 21 to be honest.
What does this song symbolise about you as a person and an artist? Do you feel like you are finally controlling the narrative of your career and how liberating has that been for you?
Illuminate symbolises so much for me, my new journey of confidence, feeling like I’m no longer in something that restricts me both on a personal level and in my career, to be honest I have never felt more free. At the start of Flownn I knew I wanted to make a pop record that you can dance to, it’s the music I listen to and not allowing the industry to make me feel as though my age wouldn’t support this, if anything my writing got better, I knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted it to sound more than ever before.
I signed my first major record deal at 20, I was always made to feel like I had a voice in that big building when I really didn’t, I had money coming in for songs I hadn’t written yet, it was wild but I was powerless. Today I am totally liberated daily, I am signed to an independent label, I own my songs and I get to work with an incredible team. We are mostly always aligned on the things we put out, I have full creative control. It takes a village and my village is banging.