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Are Spotify’s Algorithms Biased Against Female Artists?

Once again, Spotify’s most-streamed artists of the year were all men. Although female artists have their moment in the spotlight, they only substantially appear on the “most-streamed female artists” list, for obvious reasons.

With major artists like Ariana Grande and Beyonce releasing new music, the statistic is incredibly difficult to come to terms with, but a study by Liz Pelly has revealed part of the problem: as it turns out, Spotify’s playlists and algorithms are leading listeners to listen to primarily male artists.

Pelly conducted her study by creating an entirely new Spotify account, on which she listened only to curated playlists and analyzed the percentage of male and female artists on each playlist. What she found was that Spotify’s playlists primarily suggested male artists, leading the algorithm to suggest even more male artists. Since she intentionally listened to a variety of genres, personal taste was not a factor in the algorithm’s decision.

In her reflections, Pelly notes that some artists were pushed to the forefront much more than others. She found herself actively avoiding any music by XXXTentacion, which seemed to appear on nearly every playlist. She also notes that Spotify has made it clear that they’re aware of the algorithm’s gender bias.

This past summer, the streaming giant teamed up with Smirnoff to release a (severely glitchy) website where users could analyze their listening habits by gender, and the site would suggest a more balanced playlist. In 2017, Spotify also launched Equalizer and later held its EQL conference to encourage women to step into the music industry.

But, if programmers aren’t doing anything about the algorithm itself, the problem hasn’t really been fixed. Spotify hasn’t announced any intentions to fix the problem in the coming year, so the issue has reached a momentary stalemate.

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