I’ve been spending an embarrassing amount of time watching Top Ten videos on Youtube lately. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s my obsessive love of lists and analysis. They just hit a certain place in my soul that’s very satisfying.
And of course, in line with my own sensibilities, a lot of these Top Tens have to do with music. Top Ten Stupidest Lyrics, Top Ten Saddest Songs, Top Ten Most Controversial Musicians, Top Ten Most Interesting Music Facts… name it and I’ve probably watched a video on it. Music is a vast ocean of interesting facts and I’ve learned a lot from these videos, but I’ve also noticed some… disturbing patterns.
It’s not as if I didn’t already know that women are vastly underrepresented in pretty much all genres of music. But these Top Tens all too often make this fact so obvious that it’s PAINFUL. All of the Top Ten bests seem filled to the brim with dudes, while all of the Top Ten worsts seem to feature every female pop star you could possibly fit. It happens over and over and over again, and I’m really sick of it.
Of course there are exceptions. There are always exceptions, but that’s all there is… exceptions.
And the more I think about it, the more upset I get, because I start to realize… I’m part of the problem too.
You see, my personal favorite genre, Alt Rock, is a genre of music I myself have praised as diverse and interesting. I’ve thought to myself often in a sort of giddy reverence that I’m just so pleased that I’ve found myself a fan of so many open and accepting bands, bands that address real-world issues and open their arms to fans of all types. I often shun other genres like rap and pop and country for being backward and misogynistic, or racist… but then… wait a minute…
How many popular diverse alt rock bands are there really? Okay, let’s quantify this by taking a look at my personal favorite radio station – Alt Nation – and its current Top 18 and its demographics.
- Silvertongue – Young the Giant 5m
- On Hold – The xx 2m 1f
- Down – Marian Hill 1m 1f
- Love is Mystical – Cold War Kids 5m
- Middle Fingers – Missio 2m
- Wish I Knew You – The Revivalists 7m
- Send them Off! – Bastille 5m
- Cocoon – Milky Chance 3m
- Believer – Imagine Dragons 4m
- I Don’t Wanna Dance – COIN 4m
- Blood in the Cut – K Flay 1f
- Good Morning – Grouplove 4m 1f
- Radio – Sylvan Esso 1m 1f
- Pork Soda – Glass Animals 4m
- Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales – Car Seat Headrest 4m
- Born Again – Saint Motel 4m
- Heavydirtysoul – twenty one pilots 2m
- Rhythm & Blues – The Head and the Heart 5m 1f
And the results are… disappointing. Of the 68 total performers represented in that top 18, only six of them are female. That is not even ten percent of the total! I checked! I did math!
Yes, there’s a problem with misogyny in popular music but… that problem is everywhere, and is worse in places not under popular scrutiny. The genre of music I had always through was so open and diverse was really… not at all. Maybe in meaning, it was open and inclusive, but in practice, there is just as much of a lack of female presence as anywhere else. In fact, it’s probably worse.
But that’s not exactly my fault, is it? I mean, I’m just listening to music. I don’t actively seek out all male bands all the time to listen to, do I? It’s not like we’re actively discriminating against female artists, this is just what’s popular within one genre, right?
Well, yeah, I guess. But the problem with that mentality is that it leaves the question of why there is such an unbalance unanswered. Technically, there should be no reason why only ten percent of performers in Altnation’s top 18 is female. There is nothing about alternative rock that says it’s inherently more difficult for women to be successful at performing, except… it clearly is. If it wasn’t, why is there such an inequality?
This leads me to examining my own personal music tastes, where I think there’s a far more even split. Yeah, I listen to a lot of male singers (Walk the Moon, Arctic Monkeys, Saint Motel, etc…), but there’s also a ton of great female musicians I love! And I think the biggest problem with them is that I don’t talk about them enough.
So, why not? Here’s a list of my favorite female artists, along with a few of my favorite tracks of theirs. This women’s history month, let’s take a minute to celebrate them.
Marina and the Diamonds
When I set out to write this, Marina was absolutely the first artist who came to mind. And that’s what Marina is – an artist. All of her albums are statements, incredibly put-together with such a cohesive message and aesthetic that it’s almost magical.
I was introduced to Marina through her album, “Electra Heart,” and the thing about that album is, if you just listen to one or two tracks off of it, you might be fooled into thinking Marina’s aesthetic is just there for aesthetic’s sake. However, take a listen to the whole album and you’ll find it an incredibly insightful deconstruction of the various stereotypes placed on women. From the Homewrecker to the Heartbreaker to the Housewife, Marina shows an incredible insight into the downfalls and shortcomings of every false image she takes on.
Not to mention, looking past the social commentary and artistry of every song she’s ever created, Marina also has an incredibly powerful voice to back it up. I’ve yet to find a song of hers I don’t like – from the beginning of her career to now.
She’s a unique voice in music, and one I will continue to return to, time and time again.
If ever there was a renaissance woman in music, look no further than Claire Boucher, otherwise known as Grimes. She’s not only the face of her musical act… she’s the writer, the producer, the performer. She directs all of her music videos, and illustrates all of the art that goes on her album and track covers. Basically anything you see or hear in any of these videos – yep, that’s Claire Boucher.
Sure, yeah, her particular style and aesthetic can be a little hard to swallow at first. Believe me – it took a bit of listening to get used to her slightly off-kilter approach to music.
But really, all it took me was a few minutes to read the lyrics and meanings of all of the songs on “Artangels” (her newest and honestly most incredible album), to completely hop on board with every strange image she creates. Gorey or adorable or creepy or beautiful… I love it all.
Her lyrics are incredibly in-depth, her songs are unique and authentic… I couldn’t recommend the music of the one and only Grimes more highly.
I’m a casual fan of Broadway, but I usually find my specialties and tastes lie more in musicians rather than musicals… but Vienna Teng melds the positives of both styles. Each one of her songs tells a different story in such a meaningful way.
Vienna’s voice is warm and calming, but her lyrics are poetry – mixing gorgeous language with incredible storytelling. Plus, she tends to opt for classical instrumentation, clarinets and strings and sometimes just a simple piano.
It’s maybe contradictory to talk about Vienna’s Broadway appeal in the same breath as her subtlety, but trust me, just give it a listen. She doesn’t need big boisterous numbers to sell the drama of the stories she’s telling. All she needs is her incredible skill with the written (sung?) word.
This is possibly my nerdiest review of a musician yet, but come on. Vienna melds all the things I love together: stories, an attention to detail, and incredibly-written lyrics. Give her a listen, you won’t regret it.
I feel like I’ve loved Regina Spektor for as long as I’ve loved music. That’s maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s just something about her that has appealed to me from a really young age all the way until now.
Certainly, she has a beautiful voice. But it’s what she does with it – the frank, earnest lyrics she performs and the sometimes goofy vocal effects she uses so often to make her point. Regina has the talent and the looks to stand and sing ballads all day long, but she doesn’t.
Instead, she brings a real energy to every song she performs – a dose of humor alongside her sometimes blunt portrayal of life. There’s a lot more to her than meets the eye – and she constantly proves it with each new song.
Regina Spektor has been one of my favorites for years, and I suspect she’ll remain there for a long time.
A relatively new favorite, Haim is that cool, super chill indie band made up of all sisters that you never knew you needed in your life.
With a really great sound with a foot in both rock and pop, the girls in Haim use their crisp, clear voices perfectly. Listen to those harmonies! Just beautiful.
Plus, and this is very important to me, a lot of their songs are awfully relatable – down-to-earth lyrics. These girls don’t sugarcoat anything, and their tongue-in-cheek views comes through in all of their songs.
And I mean, come on. Next time you need the name of a super cool indie band to drop to impress all your friends, why not try Haim?
Halsey’s music just oozes style. Is her music a little angsty? Sure, but it’s in a way that makes me feel like I’m the coolest kid ever, even if I’m also apparently the saddest.
All jokes aside, though, Halsey’s lyrics are beautiful and the music in her songs is beautiful and her voice is beautiful and everything she does is beautiful. She’s got this unique style of singing that’s so hard to describe – but it’s warm and really pleasant to listen to.
Plus, every one of her songs is bursting with meaning and artistry. I’ve spent some time just parsing through her often deeply personal lyrics and they’re all so gorgeous.
So, embrace your deep inner angst and spend some time listening to Halsey. You won’t regret it.
Florence and the Machine
If you want to talk about powerful vocals, look no further than Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine because good GOD can she sing. Every note that comes out of her mouth is 100% pure and perfect and I can’t stress enough how amazing she is.
If her gorgeous voice wasn’t enough, though, she also creates such grand, sweeping tracks to back her vocals, and it’s an experience. Every single one of her songs is a journey, almost gospel-like in its grandeur.
And Florence herself is almost goddess-like. I mean, it’s no surprise, with vocals like that. But still, I have to love the ethereal image she evokes in all of her music videos – such an absolute joy to see.
Florence and the Machine is another one of my old favorites, and just sifting back through these songs has reminded me once again why I love her so much.
Did you know Lorde was only sixteen when her big hit, “Royals”, hit the US Top 40s? Isn’t that 100% crazy? When I was sixteen I could barely stand up straight, much less write and perform hit songs…
Lorde has such a unique tone to her voice, and such a unique, relatable perspective in all of her songs. It’s hard not to pay attention when someone that young has such raw talent, and it’s amazing how she just keeps getting better and better.
(Also, I must confess, I’ve listened to her newest song, “Green Light”, so many times in the past 48 hours and oh my GOD is it ever the most beautiful thing and I suspect I’ll never grow tired of it…)
The hype is real, Lorde is amazing. I can’t wait to see where she goes with her career – I expect great things.
I end my list with a feel-good favorite. I’ve been a casual fan of Sara Bareilles for years, and I always find her music bringing a smile to my face. Well, except for one song, “Gravity”, which brings a tear to my eye, but that’s a good thing.
When she’s not singing gorgeous yet tear-jerking ballads, though, Sara Bareilles has the kind of music that makes you want to hop up on your feet, grab someone you love, and dance for like three hours without a care in the world. She inspires such joy and fun.
There’s something so wholesome and good about her music, and it’s something I just love. Deep, tragic meanings are fun in music, but sometimes you just want a feel-good number, and Sara Bareilles delivers.
So, with that, my list of favorite musical ladies comes to an end. This list is by no means all-encompassing, of course. If I had to list every female musician I’ve ever liked, we’d be here all day. But I hope these few musicians will help you find a new favorite to add to your collection this Women’s History month.