Outcry after Apple head says women don't know how to find music

Technically Incorrect: In a TV appearance, Jimmy Iovine suggests that Apple's service helps women do that music thing that they're allegedly not so good at. Because "not everyone knows a DJ."

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Jimmy Iovine wants to help women find music to weep to.

CBS/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Whenever a woman leaves me, I always comfort myself in the knowledge that I'll find the right music to accompany my pain.

This is because I'm a man.

Women, apparently, don't have the same facility, which leaves them weeping to the wrong rhythm -- sometimes in front of their friends.

This, at least, was the strong impression left for some by Apple Music head Jimmy Iovine during a Thursday appearance on "CBS This Morning." (Disclosure: CBS is CNET's parent company.)

Iovine was there to plug Apple Music and its latest ad, which he said he'd conceived himself.

Asked about the service, he said: "Women find it very difficult at times -- some women -- to find music. And this helps makes it easier with playlists, curated by real people."

For Iovine, his observation led to the ad's conception.

"I just thought of a problem: Girls are sitting around talking about boys. Or complaining about boys, when they have their heart broken, or whatever. And they need music for that, right? It's hard to find the right music," he said. "Not everybody knows a DJ."

Perhaps not everybody knows a woman, either. Can it really be that one gender has such a grasp of music-finding when life is grinding, while the other struggles in an echoing vacuum of doom?

Does Apple have research that shows women do, indeed, have this special problem? The company didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Iovine was on the show with singer Mary J. Blige, who appears in the ad with actresses Kerry Washington and Taraji P. Henson (It's the second in the series. The first is below). She didn't react to Iovine's characterization. However, CBS presenter Gayle King did by suggesting that Iovine's words accurately described her.

Subsequently, King took to Twitter to defend Iovine's comments. "C'mon ppl! Plz listen to full @cbsthismorning intvu w/ #JimmyIovine. women&music comments totally taken out of context Not fair to him!" King didn't immediately respond to a request for elaboration. Some on Twitter suggested she'd ducked the issue.

On Friday's "CBS This Morning" she said: "I get the point that he was making." As far as one can judge, her interpretation was that Iovine is just trying to make finding music easier.

Others did respond in slightly less positive tones.

"I blacked out in rage and wrote about why women don't need Jimmy Iovine to mansplain music to us," tweeted Ilana Kaplan, social media editor at the New York Observer

And could she find the right music to black out to? Could she ever.

Iovine issued an apology.

"We created Apple Music to make finding the right music easier for everyone -- men and women, young and old. Our new ad focuses on women, which is why I answered the way I did, but of course the same applies equally for men. I could have chosen my words better, and I apologize."

But will there be ads focusing on, say, musically incompetent men weeping incontinently? I fear not.

Iovine is a brilliant and highly engaging man who has produced some of the world's most famous acts such as Lady Gaga and U2. On "American Idol," he was a supremely incisive mentor, demonstrating an excellent sense of both artists' capabilities and audience tastes and emotions.

In creating Beats with Dr. Dre, his marketing intuition was superb. He's not been quite so sure with Apple Music, which currently claims 6.5 million paid subscribers (Spotify says it has 20 million paying subscribers and 75 million active users.)

Apple Music has no tribe -- no band of committed fanatics who can emit their emotions about it to wider parts. There are no Apple Music fanpersons ready to declare the service the apogee of design, pleasure and cool. And he's up against a competitor that barely advertises at all.

Some of the ads Apple has run have been little more than music videos. Others have involved stars such as John Travolta, but in roles that seemed pointless. Who were these ads aimed at? The (non-existent) MTV crowd, one senior Apple Music exec told me. My translation: They're doing ads for themselves.

Are these latest ads an attempt to make women the brand's advocates? If that's the case, Iovine's comments are as helpful as a corkscrew in serving ice cream.

Iovine's real problem is that technology has commoditized music. Music used to be important. Now, as Iovine's own example of weeping women shows, it's merely background, readily available on Spotify.

Of course, this little brouhaha has little to do with music and everything to do with technology. The impression the great producer left is that women aren't too good at techie things, because that's male territory.

The whole of Silicon Valley has been desperate to mansplain away the massive numbers disparity between men and women working in tech.

Some might muse that the men at Apple Music haven't done too good a job, given that consumers have found the service less than simple, technologically painful and having no discernible difference from Spotify. Lifelong Apple aficionado and writer Jim Dalrymple raged against it, calling it a "nightmare."

And what might some of the many women who work at Apple Music be thinking of their own alleged inabilities to find music? Perhaps they're just weeping. To the sound of silence, of course.