Embracing The Mess: ILUKA Talks Women In Music

8 March 2022 | 3:26 pm | Nikki Thorburn

Sydney-based, Blue Mountains-raised singer-songwriter ILUKA takes a closer look at the music industry and its inherent inequality ahead of debut album ‘Queen Of Turbulent Hearts’, out April 8 via BMG.

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As kids, boys are encouraged to climb trees, to get dirty, to pull things apart and put the pieces back together again, to try things, to be messy. Girls are praised when they smile, when they look ‘pretty’, when they follow instructions and let’s be real - when they’re perfect. They’re taught to people please and attend to other people’s feelings before their own. So, it’s no surprise that we live in a world where women will only apply for a job if they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men will apply if they meet 60%. It’s even less of a surprise that in a male-dominated industry like music, girls and women are held to impossible standards and of course, have at some point been terrified of failing. We are held under higher scrutiny when we mess up. We are picked at for what we wear, who we date (women in the public eye), what our bodies look like and whether we deserve the success we’re getting. Just look at female pop stars such as Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey who have been mercilessly criticised and constantly undermined over the years.  

It’s that constant need to prove ourselves as valid and legit. Ever heard of a little thing called ‘imposter syndrome'? It’s very real for women in music. When you take up space in a world that wasn’t designed and built for you, it’s impossible not to feel out of place and like you’re constantly having to prove yourself. For me, it’s been a backlog of small things. The constant assumption when I would turn up for soundcheck carrying an amp or a guitar that I was there supporting a boyfriend, it was the live show reviews that spoke about what I was wearing or comparing me to other female artists, rather than writing about my music, it was the sitting in label boardroom’s and being spoken about as if I wasn’t even in the room, it was the being told not be alone in a room with certain men in the industry because it may give them the wrong idea.

I have grown very thick skin over the years, but what about the women who let it get to them? Where are they? What music would they have made or produced, or what other female artists would they have signed to their labels or agencies? I wonder what songs were never made or released because of this expectation on women to be ‘exceptional’ which comes from needing to prove yourself in a world not designed for you. Whilst men can ‘fail up’ - make a mistake yet land a pay rise or promotion, women are scrutinized and held to impossibly high standards. Why do females need to be exceptional or be considered a ‘boss bitch’ for literally continuing to work and create within this industry?

For female artists and musicians, the world is definitely changing. There are more women now in the music industry than there ever has been and that is exciting. It’s a testament to how resilient we are and hopefully in the future we won’t have to have such thick skin to just exist and have longevity in this industry. But where are all the women behind the mixing board, in the A&R meetings, heading the labels and in the recording studios? These women aren’t struggling to prove their validity in those spaces, they are struggling to even get in the room.

So, where to from here? Well, whilst the driving out of a few ‘top dogs’ in the Australian music industry is definitely something to celebrate, let’s be real - it’s just the beginning. There is a whole culture that needs to shift, and whilst it’s important, especially on days like International Women’s Day, to revel in the small successes, we need to remember the big picture. As women in the music industry, we all have our stories to tell and I hope each of us can be afforded a little less flack by the industry, by the media and by ourselves. We’re just out here trying to do what we do; making a mess and trying to figure it out as we go, just like everybody else.

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