Three years ago, the nominees for the Icelandic Music Awards were only about 10% female. It was very clear that this gender imbalance didn’t represent the Icelandic music scene at all. It got female musicians talking, and a movement was born: Konur í Tónlist, or “Women in Music.”
The purpose of KÍTÓN was to create a dialogue and foster solidarity among women in the Icelandic music scene. Their method was to promote greater visibility through events and a constant conversation between female artists in Iceland.
Three years later, the organization has grown to include 248 women—a number that’s still steadily increasing. Now, they’ve ganged up with KEX Hostel for a monthly KÍTON concert by some of their members, which include many of Iceland’s most prominent female artists. To find out more, I sat down with Lára Rúnarsdóttir, along with with fellow musicians Þórunn Antonía Magnusdóttir and Hildur Kristín Stefánsdóttir, to talk about their experiences, both as musicians, as as a part of KÍTON.
“To me, feminism is liberating, empowering and extremely enjoyable. It opened up my eyes for so much more than just gender and status and it made me respect the complexity of life and nature.”
– Lára Rúnarsdóttir
How does the music business approach you as female artists?
Þórunn Antonía: It is a very male-dominated scene. As a woman, you have to really stand out as a musician to get noticed. When they are putting together gigs, they’ll more often think of lesser-known men than lesser-known women. I have literally had cases where I was asked to play at the exact same show and got offered less.
Hildur: People are like, “Oh, woman are obviously in the music scene, we see them”—but we’re not getting the same money, and the same opportunities. Of all royalties here in Iceland, for example, only 10% goes to women. It is crazy that 90% goes to men. I don’t think people realize this.
How do you experience men’s reaction to this underrepresentation of women?
Þórunn Antonía: I’ve had all kind of reactions. There are always a few that think that because you’re a girl and blonde, dress up in pink clothes or whatever, that you’re stupid and they know all the best. It’s a constant struggle between being respected and being a considerate, valuable artist.
Hildur: Björk recently talked about this in an interview where she said that she has to say an idea three times, but a guy only has to say it once. When people then say we’re just whining, I mean—if even Björk says so, then it’s pretty obvious it’s still a problem. […] The way people sometimes talk to female musicians is also weird. I write my music myself and I so often get someone that asks me, ”Who wrote the song?” or “who helped you to write the song?” They assume it’s a guy and I’m just the singer. We have endless examples of this at KÍTÓN. […] Or when you’re sound checking and the sound guys talk to you like you’re a five-year-old that doesn’t know how to plug their own gear.
How do you think women themselves are represented in the music scene?
Lára: I hate to use the word “pornification,” but I can say with certainty that the music business has many examples of that, where women are represented as submissive and powerless.
Þórunn Antonía: If you’re willing to be the sexy one, everyone wants to give you the time. The first label that wanted to sign me wanted to dress me up in a bikini and put me on a beach, but I was like, “Hell no.”
Lára: Things are slowly changing. Here in Iceland, it’s partly because of the all female rap-group Reykjavíkurdætur. Beyoncé also deals with women’s experiences on her recent album ‘Lemonade’. It’s happening slowly, but it’s showing that women of all sorts can be empowered, regardless of how they’re dressed. But still, I’m not sure that empowerment alone will be enough to tear down the male-dominated system.
How is KÍTÓN influencing how women are seen now in the music scene?
Þórunn Antonía: It is a way to make women stick together. It is important to create this kind of community, especially for women who are starting out. We are all making very different kinds of music, but there is room for all of us.
Lára: This movement—and especially this event—is to show people how many women are active in the Icelandic music scene. It’s just not possible to say they’re not as visible or not as willing to play as an excuse for underrepresentation.
Þórunn Antonía: I think that KÍTÓN also wants to give women the courage to stand up on the stage, because they belong there, and they should be there. It’s not because of someone doing them a favour.
Watch out for KÍTÓN’s book of musical notes on songs by women, and the ongoing KÍTÓN + KEX concert series.