As a musician, one of my least favourite questions to answer is ‘what’s it like being a woman making music?’ It’s a ridiculous conversation to have – female is a gender, not a genre. Aren’t we all just humans making music?
Of course the problems come when the industry you’re working in doesn’t support that level of genderless thinking, and the music business is notorious for putting up road blocks based on all manner of things – gender, race, age, looks… Thankfully the internet allows us to sidestep all this nonsense rather neatly, but that freedom has been hard won.
Some days you’d be forgiven for thinking the only women succeeding in music are the ones who shout the loudest and wear the least clothes, but thankfully there are many, (slightly) quieter, artists who continue to forge their unique paths and provide inspiration for humans everywhere.
And so, in no particular order, here are ten inspiring female music icons to provide a stellar soundtrack to your day. Can you add to our list?
So much more than the undisputed queen of country music, Dolly is a true one-off. Alongside her incredible music career spawning 3000 songs, 42 studio albums, countless tours and collaborations she’s a bona fide film star and businesswoman, running her own theme park, production company and global reading initiative helping disadvantaged children. As she famously said, ‘I’ve done business with men who think I’m as silly as I look. By the time they realize I’m not, I’ve done got the money and gone.’ Hard working doesn’t even cover it – she also happens to be Miley Cyrus’ godmother.
Marianne Faithfull has been to hell and back and has the voice to prove it. She started out as a 1960s coffee house folk singer, was quickly picked up by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham and released 5 albums before the decade was out.
With boyfriend Mick Jagger she was part of the notorious ‘Swinging London’ scene, but drug addiction, homelessness and health issues sadly ensued. Marianne fought her way back but would never be the same again – her vocals changed dramatically from innocent songbird to wild, wise woman by the time her seminal record ‘Broken English’ was released in 1979.
Marianne continued making music as well as building a successful acting career, and her latest album ‘Give My Love To London’ is her twentieth. She embarks on her 50th anniversary tour this month.
Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor aka Lorde is notable in modern music for more than her strange penchant for keeping her clothes on. The teen New Zealander took the world by storm last year with her cool, pared back pop, insightful lyrics and anti-materialistic, feminist stance.
Hit single ‘Royals’ was revered around the world and debut album ‘Pure Heroine’ has sold more than 1.5 million copies. Most recently Ella has fronted Nirvana and been invited to curate the soundtrack for the ‘Hunger Games: Mockingjay’ film. Her contribution, ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ hit the net last week and bodes very well for future musical creations. She is also working to help increase young voter turnout in New Zealand.
4. Kim Deal – @thebreeders
Kim Deal was the bassist and backing vocalist in seminal indie band The Pixies, inspiring a generation of young women to play rock instruments in bands and a generation of young men to appreciate them for doing so. Her distinctive vocal delivery and melodic, bouncy basslines were a key part of the band’s sound, and her lead vocals on ‘Gigantic’ (co-written by Kim and lead vocalist Black Francis) make the song a true classic. Her own band The Breeders made four albums (1993 single ‘Cannonball’ is still an indie disco staple) as well as providing the rollicking theme tune for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Kim was part of the reformed Pixies from 2004-2013 before leaving in typically mysterious circumstances. She is now releasing solo music on her website.
Named after a hospital referenced in a Nick Cave song, St Vincent aka Annie Clark started out playing guitar in The Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens’ touring band before kicking off her solo career with her debut album ‘Marry Me’ in 2007. She has released three more albums since.
Fusing virtuosic guitar performances with dark, intense lyrics and dramatic soundscapes, her mesmerising live shows are part rock gig, part choreographed performance art. So who better to collaborate with than Talking Heads’ David Byrne? Their joint album ‘Love This Giant’ came out in 2012 and is as unique as its writers.
Alongside Lorde, Annie took a turn fronting Nirvana at the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremony in April 2014.
Bassist, guitarist, visual artist and fashion designer Kim Gordon was one of the founding members of seminal alternative band Sonic Youth in 1981. Working with her partner Thurston Moore she wrote and released 16 studio albums with the band before they split up in 2011, and she now tours as half of experimental duo ‘Body / Head’.
A friend, mentor and champion of Kurt Cobain, she also produced Hole’s 1994 album ‘Live Through This’, co-directed the music video for ‘Cannonball’ by The Breeders and more recently has appeared in an episode each of Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl and Girls. She has designed lines for Urban Outfitters and Surface To Air as well as her nineties label X-Girl and continues to make visual art.
Her hotly anticipated memoir ‘Girl In A Band’ will be released in February 2015.
7. Viv Albertine – @viv_albertine
After blazing a trail as guitarist and songwriter in seminal 70s punk band The Slits, Viv spent 25 years away from music to work in film and raise a daughter, making a triumphant return to music in 2012 with her solo record ‘The Vermillion Border’. The album credits are a who’s who of music luminaries: Mick Jones (The Clash), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), Norman Watt Roy and Dylan Howe (The Blockheads), Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads) and Jenny Lee Lindberg (Warpaint) all feature.
Viv’s memoir ‘Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys’ came out in 2014 and manages to be both hilarious and heart rending, sharing stories of the grimy London punk scene, motherhood and cancer, all told in her unique, no-nonsense voice. A starring role in Joanna Hogg’s 2014 film ‘Exhibition’ has also garnered critical acclaim.
Imogen Heap is a multi-instrumentalist performer, producer, songwriter and social media pioneer. One of the first blogging musicians, she engaged with her fans throughout the making of her second solo album in 2003-4 and started posting video blogs to YouTube shortly after it came in to existence (she continues them to this day).
She’s also pushing boundaries in the world of music technology, currently developing ‘The Gloves’. As her website states, ‘The Musical Gloves are both an instrument and a controller in effect, designed to connect the user fluidly with gear performers usually use, such as Ableton – think minority report for musicians brought to you by the DIY/maker revolution.’ Appropriately, she just curated her own visionary music festival ‘Reverb’ at the Roundhouse, London featuring performances, interactive installations and collaborations.
Fourth solo album ‘Spark’ was released on 6th October 2014 and in her own words now she’s ‘preparing for biggest craziest journey of all, Motherhood! here i come!’.
Grimes aka Claire Elise Boucher is a Canadian alternative electro-pop artist. Endlessly creative, she writes and produces her own material (three albums to date), directs many of her own music videos and is a refreshing contrast to the manufactured pop world.
In April 2013 she created quite a stir by blogging about the negative aspects of being a woman in the music industry and she continues to share her inspirations and thoughts online.
Creating incredible textural landscapes with a cello and a loop pedal, Zoë Keating is a Canadian musician based in California who travels the world to perform her instrumental music as well as touring with other bands (notably Imogen Heap and Amanda Palmer).
She’s released two solo albums and appeared on many more including the Breaking Bad soundtrack. She’s also a mum, a wife, and an outspoken blogger – when her husband Jeff was diagnosed with cancer in May she took to her website to illuminate the flaws in the US health insurance system. Her fans rallied around and have helped pay for Jeff’s treatment.
Featured Image: dollypartonentertainment.com