International Socioeconomics Laboratory
International Socioeconomics Laboratory

Double Standards In the Music Industry

By Margaret Kelly

When first beginning my research process for this article, I typed two searches into Google. I began with “A career timeline of Harry Styles…”, and the suggested searches included things such as a timeline of Styles’ acting projects or albums. After this, I searched “A career timeline of Taylor Swift…”, and what I found was disheartening; instead of searches relating to her numerous successful music projects, the suggestions offered timelines of her boyfriends and hairstyles. This Styles-Swift unequal gender dynamic is an obvious display of the double standards that exist in the music industry.

Most of my generation grew up listening to Taylor Swift on the radio or our iPods. Personally, her album “Fearless” was the first CD I ever bought for myself. As kids, my friends and I idolized her because of her songs and style, but even now, it is hard for me to imagine how young Swift was when she first began her musical career. However, controversy soon began to surround her when an online fight broke out between her and singer Kanye West back in 2016, resulting in a mass media onslaught against Swift. The hashtag “#taylorswiftisoverparty” began trending on Twitter, and people began to insult Swift about everything; from her exclusive friend group to her string of ex-boyfriends, nothing was off-limits.

It seemed that all of a sudden, one of our generation’s most famous pop stars had been reduced to nothing more than a pathetic girl who couldn’t let go of a grudge or stop writing about failed relationships. Small towns are often full of people who share close-minded opinions, and as a young teenager in one of these towns, that drastically affected my opinion of Swift. All I heard about Taylor Swift was that she was a desperate ex-girlfriend who could not let go of a grudge. I did not ever want to be compared to her after I heard those words from the people closest to me and that was all it took to stop talking about her whatsoever.

Harry Styles started as a contestant on The X-Factor U.K. in 2010, leading him to become a part of the hugely popular and world-renowned band One Direction, which later broke up in 2016. During his time in One Direction and even after, Styles was called a “womanizer” by the media, but it did not often seem to be an insult. Instead, he was celebrated for it, as most famous men in the entertainment industry are. He even dated Taylor Swift for a short time in 2013 until an apparently peaceful split was made public. When compared to the media’s treatment of Swifts’ past relationships, the differences are stark: Swift was criticized and called derogatory terms, while Styles was seemingly applauded for his string of exes. Everyone decided that Styles was impressive for dating the women he did, while Swift was seen as pathetic. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Styles even acknowledged his privilege, stating “I’m aware that as a white male, I don’t go through the same things as a lot of the people that come to the shows. I can’t claim that I know what it’s like, because I don’t. So I’m not trying to say, ‘I understand what it’s like.’ I’m just trying to make people feel included and seen.” Taylor Swift also discussed this in her 2019 album, “Lover,” Taylor Swift’s song “The Man” describes extreme double standards like this one she has faced throughout her entire career. She discusses that if she was a man, her number of relationships would be seen as powerful and would have no impact on the amount of respect she is given by the world.

As a practically life-long listener of both of these artists, I have grown to not only be a fan of their musical projects but a supporter of their media personalities. However, I cannot help being upset that for a period of time, society had told me that I should dislike Taylor Swift just because they were angry that she had had a lot of past relationships. I listened to them, and I listened again when I was told that Harry Styles should be celebrated for the same reason. Today, I can see where I went wrong and why the double standards in the music industry are harmful to how we perceive relationships between men and women. The media’s disgust at Taylor Swift shows girls that it is wrong to have a lot of relationships, which is not fair. Overall, it can make young listeners self-conscious about who they choose to date, just because their favorite music artist was hated for it. This needs to change, and the only way to do that is to step back and look at all music artists without prejudice based on their gender.

Sheffield, Rob. “The Eternal Sunshine of Harry Styles.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 3 Mar. 2020,