On Sunday night, some of the music industry’s finest—and more than a few its faves—gathered to celebrate a year of popular music’s hits at the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards. However, while there were plenty of female artists to be seen on the red carpet, presenting and performing onstage, and even hosting the evening’s festivities, there were undoubtedly far less women credited as producers on those lauded pop, R&B, hip-hop and country hits.
“While female voices are heard from the stage, so many critical decisions are made behind the scenes and in the studio,” says award-winning singer-songwriter-producer Ester Dean. “Having been in the industry for over a decade, I’ve witnessed the power female voices can have in shaping the future of music production and want to ensure more women are in the room.”
In fact, according to a press release from Mattel, less than three percent of music producers are women, with only two percent of popular music produced by women. That’s why this year, Barbie is launching a “Music Producer” doll “to inspire and empower girls to explore a career in the music industry...and shine a light on the importance of women’s stake in the industry.”
To introduce Barbie’s latest potential career path in the over 200 careers she’s had thus far, Mattel enlisted Dean as its very special role model. More from the release:
With the goal of inspiring more girls to explore a future in music production, Barbie has joined forces with one of the music industry’s most in-demand and sought-after hitmakers, Ester Dean, the Grammy Award-nominated music producer, songwriter, singer, and actress who’s written and produced numerous hits, including “Firework” by Katy Perry and “Rude Boy” by Rihanna. Barbie is also partnering with Girls Make Beats, an organization dedicated to expanding female presence in all roles - from on the stage to in the studio.
“As part of our ongoing Dream Gap Project, Barbie is dedicated to leveling the playing field for girls in careers where women are underrepresented, like music producer,” said SVP and Global Head of Barbie & Dolls at Mattel, Lisa McKnight, in a statement. “By exposing girls to inspiring women excelling in this role, like Ester Dean, and by highlighting the music producer career with dolls, Barbie is reminding girls of their limitless potential. Our partnership with Girls Make Beats takes our efforts one step further, championing female voices from the studio to the stage and giving girls the tools to help them pursue a future as a music producer.”
“I strongly believe in the positive influence of representation and am honored to work with Barbie on this program as we further their work to close the Dream Gap,” said Dean—also memorable for her onscreen role as “Cynthia Rose” in the Pitch Perfect franchise—in statement exclusive to The Root. “Introducing girls to a new career, especially a career where women are currently underrepresented such as music producer, can help build their confidence and encourage them to pursue new avenues,” she added.
Each music producer Barbie in the multiracial collection “wears a graphic tee, trendy jeans, an iridescent crop jacket, platform boots and has colorful hair in four fun styles,” the release explains, adding: “The doll also comes with a sound mixing board, computer and headphone accessories to get the creativity and music going. “
Of course, like many other creative industries, there is an especially significant lack by Black women in music production, despite our indisputable sonic influence upon popular music.
“Black women’s contribution to music is massive,” Dean told The Root, “and yes, there’s a beautiful light on the women on the performance stage, yet the spotlight dims when it’s placed on the Black women architects of music, even though creativity has no color or gender. Music is a personal gift that we share to make the world a better place. Everyone should be accepted into this club; if not, the world is missing out on its fullest experience,” she added.
The gift of inspiration is being bolstered by investment. As part of the collaboration, Barbie is donating to Girls Make Beats—an organization dedicated to expanding the female presence of music producers, DJs and audio engineers—to empower the next generation by funding scholarships “to give more girls access to pursue their future dream,” according to the release. MTV is getting in on the act, too; on Saturday, September 18 at 8 a.m. ET, Barbie and MTV will host an hour-long takeover of MTV’s Saturday Music Video Block to feature music hits produced exclusively by women.
On Friday, September 24, Dean will also make an appearance on Barbie’s latest vlog on the Barbie YouTube channel, titled ‘I Interview Ester Dean, Song Machine’. There, she will share her inspiration and experience as a music producer. Dean will also join Barbie and Girls Make Beats for a live webinar hosting girls ages 5-17, “to engage and help empower future female music producers.”
“I hope that by bringing girls along my journey and sharing my personal story of determination and hard work we can empower girls to believe that they can truly be anything,” said Dean.