Hear Her Roar!
ILLUSTRATION CREDIT: Laura Callaghan
it gets me thinking about women in music and how they have changed my life. I think, now more than ever, there is this huge explosion of female talent that we cannot avoid! It is hard to overlook the barriers in their way and the way they have to fight harder than their male peers – I will talk about this aspect in another feature. I think the music of the past few years is among the most varied and fantastic we have heard for a very long time! Look at the changing Pop scene and how there is that balance of the more commercial yet strong artists such as Ariana Grande and Dua Lipa with the different tones of Christine and the Queens and Robyn. Sigrid is about to release her debut album and we have seen fantastic records from Self Esteem (Compliments Please), Sharon Van Etten (Remind Me Tomorrow) and Julia Jacklin (Crushing). It has been a dizzying start to 2019 and, alongside the mainstream/near-mainstream releases, there are so many tantalising cuts from those in the underground too.
I think Julia Jacklin’s Crushing, alongside Little Simz’s GREY Area, might well be the finest album of the year! I love the fact we have these incredible female artists making music much more arresting, interesting and personal. They might not all be purely Pop but one can definitely hear how they have taken the genre and added their own stamp. I feel, in fact, 2019 will be defined by women more than any other year. Let us hope that this translates into festival success and recognition because, as I show later, there is still an imbalance and we are not necessarily closer to seeing an actual balance. You cannot resist and ignore the wonderful music that women have produced this year alone. It is sensational and I think every year gets stronger and stronger. It is a marvel seeing so many terrific albums released and then, before you know it, another - each different to the last.
It is not only Pop we can look to but Folk, R&B and Rap. Solange just released her album, When I Get Home, and it has received some fantastic reviews. Whilst not as emphatic as her previous album, A Seat at the Table, it is still masterful and accomplished album that, I feel, will grow stronger in time. Look at genres like R&B and Rap and I feel women are making more of a stand. That sounds insulting but, by that, I mean the industry is having to accept these powerful and staggering voices. I feel Hip-Hop and Rap still has an issue with sexism but powerhouses like Cardi B and Nicki Minaj are releasing some of the best music around and rubbing shoulders with the very best of the genres. Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell is out at the end of this month - and it is going to be another masterful Pop record. She is always impressive and I cannot wait to see how the album is received. I struggle to see which male artists and albums will challenge the very best of the year – the majority made by women. I love all of these female artists and they provide me with so much verve, inspiration and depth. I can listen to a record by Solange or Little Simz and I get exceptional music and nuance but I also have my mind and eyes opened.
IN THIS IMAGE: Self Esteem/PHOTO CREDIT: Rachel Lipsitz for CLASH
I think a lot of modern music is dominated by male artists and bands who are talking about the same thing; too many commercial artists and a sea of Electronic nothingness. I have mentioned merely a few of the stunning women who are changing music right now but one can add Pop artists such as Billie Eilish – a prodigious teenager who is leagues ahead of most of her peers – to the list. I am excited by Folk acts like Lucy Rose, Laura Marling and Billie Marten (who will release her second album later this year) and wonders such as Jorja Smith. Janelle Monáe is another artist who is filling my ears right now and I have been familiar with her music for years. Her current album, Dirty Computer, was one of the best of last year and she goes from strength to strength.
Mitski and Kacey Musgraves, between them, create these colourful, dynamic and truly awe-inspiring songs and if you have not heard of Noname and Let’s Eat Grandma then you really should! Lizzo is offering pure confidence and swagger to the industry and the list goes on and on! I am always mentioning artists such as St. Vincent and Christine and the Queens and, more now than ever, the music made by women is far stronger than that from the men! I find female artists have more to say and they are bolder when it comes to their subject matter. I do hope that the brilliant women out there right now, very soon, will get their dues and not have to fight so hard. It is disappointing to see the inequality but I know there are so many fantastic women in music and it is only a matter of time before there is true equality. I do not know where I would be in life were it not for the fantastic humans.
I am not sure which female-fronted albums are due later in the year but we know Madonna is due to bring out her fourteenth album soon (more on her later). Robyn, Snail Mail; Florence + the Machine and Soccer Mommy made 2018 a phenomenal year and, when I consider female musicians now, I am transported somewhere evocative and physical. I know the guys are capable of bringing magic to music but the tonally eclecticism and broad palette women bring to music is taking music to new places. It is not only female solo artists amazing me but female-fronted bands. I have supported the likes of YONAKA and False Advertising before but, more and more, female-led groups are making a big step. I think this is one of the most pleasing changes in music: a break from the more rigid all-male band to something far more expansive and interesting. I do not think this is a trend either: I feel female-led bands are going to have a very big say in the future!
From Post-Punk and Alternative through to interesting Pop outfits...having a female voice at the front, to me, provides more range, emotional depth and brilliance than anything else. I do tend to find a lot of male bands are quite generic and they cannot dig as deep as the women. A lot of people – sexists, mainly – claim women do not have the same power as men and cannot rise to the level of festival headliners. I will tackle sexism later but there are so many female fronted groups – including Wolf Alice and CHVRCHES - that can get the crowds moving. I feel a lot of organisers and bookers ignore female bands and solo artists because they are stubborn - and feel boys-with-guitars is what the people want.
I feel a lot of traditional guitar music has become stale and the educated consumer wants their music with a lot more ambition and flexibility. MUNA, Dream Wife and First Aid Kit are other female acts that could storm festivals; Stand Atlantic and Rews are other options and, well, if you do your research and keep your ears open one can find a huge wave of female bands/female-led acts who are stronger than a lot of male artists. I have not mentioned Anna Calvi at the moment and, off the top of my head, I could list a hundred fantastic female artists who could rule their own festival. I am excited by the new breed coming through and striking and I have so much respect for what they do. Just trying to keep up with the array of styles and different colours is both exciting and a bit scary for someone who loves music - but who can knock that quality and ambition?!
Every week reveals incredible female music and the sheer variety is mind-blowing! Maybe it is the different and more arresting lyrical perspective or the capacity of the female voice – richer and more colourful than the guys – but I think women are leading the charge right now! It is great for me, being a journalist, being approached by so many great female acts and getting a front-row seat to this revolution. I have not even scratched the surface but I wanted to finish by looking at classic acts and non-performing women who one must investigate. It is vital, when it comes to music, too recongise all the brilliant women in all fields of music - there are those that work behind the scenes and away from the limelight who are just as inspiring and important as musicians.
When it comes to inspiration and the music that truly moves me, I have to mention names like Madonna and Kate Bush. The former is that rare thing: a Pop maverick and icon who has compelled for decades and created some of the finest music ever. Kate Bush is that unique and wondrous musician who holds a special place in all of our hearts. They are both different and, aside from being born in the same year (1958), have made an enormous impression on the music world. From Beyoncé and Patti Smith to PJ Harvey and Aretha Franklin, I have grown up around these amazing women who have made music the incredible place it is. I do worry what the young generations are listening to and whether, because we are more digitally-minded, these legendary women will be overlooked. I know they have a huge reputation but I do feel there needs to be a greater move towards promoting their music and not just what is new and hot right now.
I published a playlist last year that collected the female voices that have changed me. Stevie Nicks and The Bangles are in there; Carole King, Cher and Lauryn Hill; Missy Elliott, Alicia Keys and Neneh Cherry. I should update the playlist to reflect some of the newer female artists but I have put some videos through this feature that, I hope, fill the gaps. When I think of music and how it changed my life as a child, I think of male bands like The Beatles and Tears for Fears but there is something about the intoxication and power of the female sound that has resonated deep and lasted longer. All of the women in that playlist, in fact, have played a role in my life and made me stronger as a human being!
I wish I could write a feature that shines a proper light on all the women I have mentioned but I fear my hands might actually fall off! Through the years, I have mentioned female icons and I do a weekly playlist with female-led sounds new to the public. I am always keen and passionate when it comes to supporting women in music and all of us owe a huge debt of thanks to the pioneers, new and classic, who have given us so much. It is not only the women of music that I am marking today. I cannot really name all the fantastic women behind closed doors who help promote the best new music – the P.R. agents and bosses – but we must salute them. They do sterling work and are crucial. I know so many wonderful women who work relentlessly to ensure the best and hungriest musicians out there are heard and acknowledged. It is tough being that focused and hard-working all the time but the passion is obvious and impressive.
Great female producers like Catherine Marks, Lauren Deakin Davies and Olga FitzRoy are hugely celebrated and, in terms of their male peers, not given the same respect – although they have plenty of awards between them. Brilliant D.J.s such as Carly Wilford and Nina Kraviz have always been on my mind and they continue to do fantastic work. So many of her peers, working in clubs and on radio, are bringing endless joy to people and are blowing minds. Look at mainstream radio D.J.s such as Maya Jama, Annie Nightingale; Annie Mac, Clara Amfo and Adele Roberts and there is some staggering talent in there. Jamz Supernova, Tiffany Calver; Yasmin Evans and Jo Whiley are revolutionising radio and their peers, such as Harpz Kaur and Noreen Khan, are doing such incredible work. We know BBC Radio 2 changed its line-up recently and Zoe Ball helms breakfast; Sara Cox is on drivetime; Jo Whiley takes the evening slot - and Mollie King hosts alongside Matt Edmondson on BBC Radio 1.
IN THIS PHOTO: Jamz Supernova/PHOTO CREDIT: Vicky Grout for CLASH
Aside from the great female D.J.s already on BBC Radio 2 – Liza Tarbuck and Vanessa Feltz among them – I am glad women have been promoted and are more visible. Despite them still being in the minority, we are seeing changes and improvement. The same sort of evolution happened on BBC Radio 6 Music where Lauren Laverne was moved to breakfast; Mary Anne Hobbs moved from weekend breakfast to weekday mornings and they join their colleagues like Cerys Matthews in making the station the must-listen-to option for those who are truly passionate about music. There are great female music news presenters like Elizabeth Alker and Georgie Rogers and the latter, in fact, is someone I am always keen to champion – the woman deserves her own shows. All of these wonderful personalities and voices are making radio richer and providing fresh dynamics.
Away from radio, there is an army of brilliant female journalists – such as Laura Snapes – who are inspiring more young women to follow their lead. I think that is one of the most rewarding things about seeing so many strong women in radio and journalism: many girls and young women will be inspired and realise that, slowly, we are seeing positive change. I do think we have a long way to go but I am seeing improvements and hope. I keep forgetting names to mention in this feature – including D.J.s Claudia Winkleman and Jane Garvey – but that is the point: there are countless women who we should recongise on International Women’s Day. It is good we have a special day every year where we can celebrate women and, in musical terms, ensure that there is discussion regarding quality and progression - the past year or two have seen stains left on music (by men) that are incredibly damaging and toxic.
I wanted to publish this piece a day early so that, a), people can check out the incredible female artists and talent I have mentioned and, b) there are so many other things I want to discuss that relates to gender-equality and parity in music. There are a lot of men who sniff and moan and ask when there is an International Men’s Day – in terms of ego and self-importance...that is pretty much every other day of the year! It is important we celebrate women in every field because, even in 2019, there are pay gaps and inequality. There are fewer women in radio than men - and that is nothing to do with a lack of talent out there and women choosing other fields. Festivals are pledging a fifty-fifty split by 2022 but this year’s bills are lacking in true equality and the majority of headliners are still men. We saw this issue last year with festivals in the U.K. and U.S. Cases of sexual abuse are coming out and it is worrying that, in many ways, women are seen as second-class citizens.
The more we mark the great work by women in music the quicker we can see some resolution and awareness. They are shouting loud but more men need to show their backing and I feel it is alarming that we still have to have discussions around gender imbalance and sexual abuse in music. Rather than dwell on the changes needed and the negatives let us celebrate the fantastic work by women in music – from the D.J.s and writers to the promoters, bands and artists who are influencing the masses. I cannot give thanks enough to the iconic female artists and the new generation who are providing me with so much substance, diversity and incredible music. On International Women’s Day, there are important debates and issues raised but I think music and the great women in this field are not given enough focus. Maybe that is just my viewpoint but, tomorrow, it would be good to see a spotlight put on music - I know a lot of radio stations will celebrating and doing their part.
It is because of the extraordinary women in music, from decades past to now, I am driven and continue to push what I do. I have said it before but I will say it again: I think the best music of today is being made by women and so many of the iconic women who are revered helped direct me to music journalism. It is impossible to name all of them but, on the playlists and the special one I produced last year, I have tried my best - and, essentially, every woman I include on my blog is very special and definitely worth a look! It makes me wish we had a day like International Woman’s Day every month - one can imagine the complaints from men and the media! In any case, it has been great tipping my cap to the great women, in music and the media, who are doing sensational work. They do not get quite the credit they deserve but I am optimistic we will see that situation improve.
I am especially grateful for the stunning musicians. From such a young age, I was captivated by the female voice and what it could do to me - and what it continues to do. At times I need a cheer and rush, I put on inspiring women to get me where I need to be. When I require something more reflective and soothing then, again, it is a female artists, for the most part, I opt for. It is arguable that, without these brilliant artists, I would be in a very bad place and not be the journalist I am now. The fact that they have made a gigantic impression on me and countless other means more than words can express. Their music and words have changed my life and, for International Women’s Day, this humble piece is...
IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
THE least I can do!