Female recording artists are poised to influence the marketing of cannabis culture
by Marshall Bowden
When people talk about marijuana and music, the focus tends to be on genres like hip-hop and rock and on iconic male artists like Willie Nelson and Snoop Dog. But female recording artists are not only engaging with the cannabis culture, but they are also poised to alter it in a major way as marijuana becomes a larger industry with each passing year.
With recreational cannabis legal in Canada and 11 U.S. States and a total of 33 states with some form of legal medical marijuana, the march towards decriminalization and legalization has begun to legitimize recreational marijuana use as a lifestyle choice. Having mature artists like Nelson become deeply involved in the blooming cannabis industry helps to remove the stigma that has always surrounded the drug and demonstrate its potential as an entrepreneurial and economic engine.
Streaming music has helped to stabilize the music industry but it has contributed to a generalized decrease in album sales. Artists have already become familiar with the fact that live performances and gear tend to rack up bigger dollar sales than their recorded music. The music itself has become more of a content marketing tool than a moneymaker: the music draws in a certain group of listeners and creates a community that the artist can then market other merchandise to. For some artists, cannabis products are a natural line to promote, and an increasing number of those recording artists are women.
Jenny Lewis/Red Bull & Hennessy
Indie rocker and former Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis has recently announced that she will release a strain called “Rabbit Hole” developed by Glass House Farms, a Santa Barbara area pot cultivator. Lewis’ product is available in pre-rolls and is described as a Sour Diesel Sativa with a 16.3% THC content. Many users like to smoke a strain that is lower in TCH because they can partake of some of the more positive effects of the drug while still being able to function at a high level. In a recent Rolling Stone interview Lewis offered this insight into her product:
“I really wanted a low-THC Sativa dominant. Because I think a lot of the weed that you can buy at the dispensaries is pretty high THC. And that stuff, let’s say you roll a joint, and then your friends’ parent is backstage, it will just knock them on their asses. You want something that’s a little more old-school, like a low-THC Sativa. Sour Diesel is perfect. And this is not my own strain, which I want to be clear about. This is a blend, and we’ve got these doobs right now, however, I hope a strain is imminent.”
Lewis apparently sampled around 20 kinds of weed before she settled on the Sour Diesel strain. “When we had our meetings, she showed up and busted out her stash and started smoking. She’s a true fan and not just doing a greenwash,” says Glasshouse Farms CEO Graham Farrar. So far one of the key elements to successfully selling a marijuana product has been for the artist involved to be a regular user of the product, not merely someone looking for additional revenue.
Lewis acknowledges that marijuana use isn’t a non-issue yet, though, even in the music industry: “In our generation, there’s a little bit of secrecy and shame if you’re a true pothead, because there were consequences.”
One female recording artist who seems to have taken some heat over her use of pot is country-pop star Kacey Musgraves. While spaceykacey (her Instagram handle) has never shied away from talking about marijuana use in songs like “Trailer Park” and “Straight Arrow” or her own affection for pot, some fans thought it went too far when she posted wedding pics of her and husband Ruston Kelly appearing to smoke weed at the event. Many users posted comments saying they were disappointed and that Musgraves was a role model who should not be flaunting such behavior. Would people say the same to Snoop Dog or Whiz Khalifa?
Musgraves has staked her claim as an outlaw, and her overall aesthetic definitely represents a changing demographic in country music, one that is at odds with the mores of traditional (read: male) country listeners. In some ways, participation in the cannabis lifestyle and culture is a declaration of independence for many female recording artists, for whom it represents not only personal freedom, but also the ability to craft a lifestyle brand in an industry that is creating itself from the ground up.
Margo Price/Hands of Time
Other female country singers and songwriters have signaled a cannabis positive approach, including Ashley Monroe and singer-songwriter Margo Price. Price is another artist with a cannabis product, this one her own strain named for her album All American Made. Like Musgraves, Margo isn’t exactly the stereotypical female country performer. Her songs wrap up criticism of Nashville’s toxic sexism, cocaine cowboys, and other obstacles with masterful melodies and a steel guitar-soaked country sound, while dark humor and introspection allow her to explore depression and drinking as well.
“I think there’s more money to be made in the weed industry than selling records,” she says in a recent Guardian article. “No one buys albums anymore – most people just stream them for free – but lots of people buy weed!”
Price’s cannabis strain was created specifically for her by Willie Nelson’s brand Willie’s Reserve. According to brand developer Elizabeth Hogan:
“It’s a natural extension of Margo’s love of Willie and weed, and our love of Margo’s music and outlaw attitude. This started where a lot of collaborations do – as an idea backstage, around a joint…Musicians supporting cannabis is nothing new, and artist voices are incredibly powerful for building support, but it takes an extra dose of boldness to speak up about cannabis in a pre-legalization community like Nashville.”
Right now one of the biggest things the legal cannabis industry has going for it is that those who are most involved are strong advocates for legalized weed and live the lifestyle themselves. We’re in the ‘absolute beginners’ phase of the industry, before the culture becomes completely co-opted by the biggest companies in the world.
That will inevitably happen, but I don’t think you can ignore the fact that this is an industry being created from the ground up for the first time in the digital age. Social media, social branding, and a more engaged and woke consumer all reward authenticity over greenwashing (or any ‘washing’) and reward the individual for being authentic rather than fitting into a tribe or genre.