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Stars including Cardi B, Chloe x Halle, Dua Lipa and Jessie Reyez discussed the specific pressures on female performers and injustice exposed in 2020 at Billboard‘s 15th annual Women in Music Awards on Thursday night.
Hosted by Teyana Taylor on the performer’s 30th birthday, the event awarded Cardi B, Chloe x Halle, Dolly Parton, Dua Lipa, Jennifer Lopez and Jessie Reyez with different laurels and streamed live at billboardwomeninmusic.com at 8 pm ET. Miley Cyrus, Lilly Singh, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Maluma and Beyoncé also performed and presented during the ceremony.
In her acceptance speech for the Powerhouse Award, Dua Lipa highlighted “how far we [women] still have to go” in the music industry, citing that just 2.6 percent of producers of Billboard Hot 100 songs are women and less than 1 percent are women of color; just one-sixth of credited songwriters were women. “All awards are special, but this one particularly, as it means standing in solidarity with my fellow female artists and all women over the world,” she said.
American Express Impact Award honoree Reyez used her acceptance speech to call out specific pressures she has faced in her music career as a woman. She mentioned moments where she was told to wear a dress or bra on television shows “in order to keep the pious public comfortable.” She added, “Today I thank my mom for letting me wear boys’ clothes, or a dress when I wanted, or cut up curtains to use that and disregard other people’s expectations of what a little girl’s wardrobe should have been.” She also said she was told to be “sexy” or told she wasn’t “sexy enough” or not feminine or masculine enough in her career.
“I’ve always said like being born a woman on this Earth is very much like being born walking uphill. There are so many burdens and bags that we carry yet manage to do so with grace,” she said. “Today, fearlessly, I am thankful and fucking proud.”
Introduced by her Marry Me co-star Maluma, Icon Award winner Lopez used the opportunity to thank her fans and collaborators for sticking with her throughout her career: “Music has always, always been my passion. For me, when I was little, music took the mundane and elevated it into a celebration.” She added, “Being able to make music and continue to make music has been one of my greatest blessings.”
Executives of the Year award winners Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas were the Atlantic Records execs behind the #TheShowMustBePaused movement, which brought the music industry to a halt on June 2. Agyemang noted in her acceptance speech that that movement came out of an extraordinary time: “We found ourselves working from home indefinitely in the midst of a global pandemic that had us all on edge. If that wasn’t enough, this was an election year and Black and brown people were literally fighting for our lives, not knowing if we would make it back from the store, wake up alive in our own homes or make it back from going out for a run,” she said, referencing the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.
Thomas used her platform to offer some advice: “To you at home, dear Black girl: You are necessary, you are smart, you are a gem, and you belong. When they call you ‘combative,’ remain assertive. When they call you ‘aggressive,’ remain stern. When they say you have ‘tone,’ continue to speak with confidence,” she said. “Don’t doubt yourself, don’t question yourself… always remember you write your own story and choose your own path.”
Introduced by Beyoncé, who said they “managed to shine in every room [they] entered,” Rising Star Award recipients Chloe x Halle underscored the importance of family support and uplifting other women in their work, just as Beyoncé did when she discovered and signed them to her Parkwood Entertainment label. “We will continue to work hard to blaze a trail for the women who will come behind us, all while holding a hand out to help pull up our sisters, too,” Halle Bailey said.
Hitmaker Award winner Dolly Parton, meanwhile, emphasized the necessity of female artists “taking control” of the business end of their work: “I think it’s so important to acknowledge the women that write and sing in country music and I think it’s also very important that they take control of their own business,” she said in her acceptance speech, before performing her 1980 hit “9 to 5.” “Anyhow, I’m wanting to always say, ‘You go girls, we can do it.'”
Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother, introduced Cardi B, the first female rapper to be named Billboard‘s Woman of the Year. “One of Breonna’s most outspoken advocates over the last nine months has been Cardi B,” Palmer said. “From the start, Cardi has used her platform to spread the truth about what happened to Breonna and to reaffirm that Black women’s lives matter.”
In her acceptance speech, Cardi B said that she was surprised by the outpouring of response to her 2020 single “WAP” with Megan Thee Stallion: “It pissed off a bunch of Republicans for no reason, you know what I’m saying? It was just weird.” She added, “I wanted to say to all of the girls out there who are just like me, or just regular girls, when I came into the music industry, I didn’t know if people were going to accept me.”
She added that she “progressed” through hard work and attempting to be the best she could be. “In order to make your dreams come true, don’t think it’s going to fall from the sky and into your lap. You’ve gotta be ambitious, you’ve gotta network, you’ve gotta become better, greater at what you do, you’ve gotta be able to take criticism.”
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