America loves White Guys With Guitars

It was apparently news today that White Guy With Guitar (WGWG) winner #2, Kris Allen of season 8, thinks that another WGWG will win this year. He’s referring to Phil Phillips, who would indeed by the fifth such winner in 5 years. I happen to agree with Kris Allen that Phil will probably win. That is not an endorsement, just a thing I think is true.

You know what else is true? It isn’t just American Idol voters: Americans in general like WGWGs.

Take any metric you like. Above is the demographic breakdown of the Rolling Stone Top 100 Artists. About half of them are WGWGs. The lion’s share of the remainder is black guys with no guitars (think James Brown) and black guys with guitars (think Jimi Hendrix). That leaves only 20% for women of any kind.

Maybe you think Rolling Stone isn’t indicative of American Idol (I disagree, since the judges and producers are of that ilk). Fine, then look at the Billboard charts. As I pointed out previously, about 65% of the Top 10 at any point are men. If we expand to the Top 100, the problem gets far more lopsided in favor of men. It’s not pretty, but it appears to be true.

Yes, it could be that Phil is winning because he’s got a PR blast. He could be winning because the judges are obsequious. He could be winning a pity vote due to his chronic illness. And, maybe he could be winning because of VFTW tomfoolery. But my hypothesis is that Phil is going to win because, in the end, Americans just prefer their singers male, white, and strumming.

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  • V

    And he might win because the audience is (I have absolutely no scientific proof of this) largely female and Phil Phillips is cute.

  • Kat

    He should win, either way we’ll be hearing his music for years to come ….I smell platinum! WGWG aside, he doesn’t use gimmicks or flash, just talent. Gets criticism for good looks…but girls strut ass-etts, no criticism for that. Phil-phil as we call him, cross of Springsteen/Cocker. Josh great talent, too. Jess/Toddlers with Tiaras and no normal teenage life/childhood, will crash & burn …love AGWG, all guys with guitars, I’m old school!

  • Donne

    WGWG is 49% based on the chart, but how many % comes from AI?
    Also how many % of the 49% were successful?
    IMO those wgwg that came from AI unfortunately did not do great after the show cause they were not the “real” winner base on talent but of the female votes.

    • Jessica

      Oh, a minuscule percentage of successful male WGWG comes from Idol (though David Cook is doing quite well, as is non-winner Chris Daughtry). I would guess that none of Rolling Stone’s Top 100 are Idol alumni (and I could probably actually look to find out but look at me not doing that!). All of the 49% were successful; that’s how they came to be on Rolling Stone’s Top 100 artists list. Rolling Stone isn’t really known for favoring obscure but awesome artists over their commercially successful peers.
      However, that’s not really the point: WGWG seems to be what Americans, and probably by extension Idol voters, are looking for.

  • G Williams

    I am black and I adored David, Scotty, and Phillip. They were humble and gifted. It’s not about their race and instrument of choice. That’s so demeaning!

  • Wilson Tenon

    WGWG strikes again. Pure horse S#@^. This is the beginning of the end for the show.

  • Chris Carss

    If Rolling Stone’s popularity percentages are so accurate, how do we explain the current dominance of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Adele? The answer is that Rolling Stone has always had a white male rock bias in their coverage of the music scene. Their followers are nearly all wgwg music types. Personally I trust Billboard’s surveys much more because they are much more objective being based on radio airplay, record sales, & concerts. Billboard doen’t use any Rolling Stone style “expert panels” to influence their surveys.

    • Jessica

      Yes, and we discuss the billboard breakdown in the very next paragraph! Reading ftw!

  • Chris Carss

    Your claim of 65% male dominance on Billboard isn’t accompanied by any graphs, so I’m questioning your research. Billboard just named Adele a few nights ago as their artist of the year for 2011-12. That doesn’t sound like male dominance to me. Even if the 65% is accurate on the longer term, that’s still significantly lower than the 80% male dominance claimed by Rolling Stone. My data also suggests the female presence on the hit parade has increased over the years. Back in the early 1970’s, the top 10 on the radio hit parade was about 75% male dominated. I know because I was there at the time and still have some printed charts from that era. I’ve periodically spot-checked the modern top 10 and seen up to 50-60% females some weeks. I agree males dominate more if you go to the top 100, but that just means more guys have marginal hits than girls which is not much for the dudes to boast about.

  • Chris Carss

    OK I didn’t notice until now that a word in the main commentary was highlighted in blue to lead to 2 Billboard graphs . Adele was their top artist for 2011. It would seem another 3 of the top 10 were female for that year and the remaining 6 were male. But what if the top 4 females together sold more product and got more total airplay than the top 6 males combined? Who would then be deemed the dominant gender? Even if guys outsold girls every year by about 65%, that hasn’t been reflected in the Idol winner’s circle for the past 5 years. I don’t need to comment on the Idol graphs because I haven’t put forward the idea that young female texting is a cause of the girls’ declining fortunes on the show. In fact, the big shift to wgwg’s winning came when the show allowed musical intruments into the competition. One thing the stats DO clearly show is that wgwg’s are way more popular than girls w/ guitars. Girls won Idol twice as often as guys when it was strictly a vocal competition. In the broader music industry, nearly all the top female pop stars have been vocal specialists and this is clearly the way the public likes them. I think Idol has placed itself as the main wgwg show, and the newer X-Factor & Voice shows are promoting the musical diversity that Idol has abandoned, at least in the winner’s circle.

  • Chris Carss

    I’ve just discovered a problem with the Billboard graphs. For 2009 and 2011, males and females are shown at 50% each in overall popularity, but if rap is removed, the male popularity is shown as increasing to 60%. This doesn’t make sense. If these graphs contain any errors, how reliable can they be?

    • Jessica

      What I can tell you is that I don’t do the stats (I last had anything to do with stats my senior year in high school, and that was twelve years ago), and Reuben is retiring from posting here until next season. I’m also not going to go digging around on Billboard’s site, because that really doesn’t sound like that much fun to me. This site is a hobby, which means I get to skip the boring parts unless strongly motivated otherwise. Soooo maybe this will get addressed later, and maybe not.

      That said.

      Do you think we need to adjust the CSS to make links more prominent? Because that’s my role here for the most part, and I can totally do that. There may be inadequate contrast between linked text and normal text, and if so, I apologize and will correct that.

  • Chris Carss

    I think part of the problem for me with the blue highlighted links is my computer room/study lets in a lot of bright daylight which can make the color distinction harder for me. Your blue highlighed links show better at night when have only artificial light in the room, so if you can make the blue brighter or more intense, it would definitely help during daytime.

    If I may say a bit more about the popularity of women in music, I believe the traditional preference for males in western culture is a reflection of the fact women still haven’t achieved full equality with men. It is said that in any endeavor, a woman has to work twice as hard as a man to be considered half as good. Most men consider music as an expression of enpowerment and so tend to favor their own gender. However, my impression, rightly or wrongly, is that most women see music as a medium for romantic and even sexual expression. This creates an opposite gender preference which, ironically, also favors male vocalists. Women who musically favor their own gender are more likely to have a same sex orientation, or are ambitious feminists who also seek musical expressions of empowerment.

    • Jessica

      I’ve adjusted the css for links; unvisited links are now a bit lighter in color, so hopefully should stand out a bit more form the surrounding text.

      I’m not sure what might explain the gender differentials in musician popularity; you very well may be on to something there, although I have no idea if that’s a testable hypothesis. I suppose this whole thing is social science (cue the natural scientists’ scoffing), so one would try to design appropriate studies to suss out what people like and link it to why they seem to like it. Still not my idea of fun!