Two years ago, a study was conducted by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to assess just how inclusive the music industry had become. Unfortunately, despite the growing presence of women on the charts, on the radio, on the lineups for famed music festivals…the results were bleak.
From looking at 600 songs that made the Billboard Hot 100 in 2012 to 2017, the study showed only 22.4 percent of the artists, 12.3 percent of songwriters, and 2 percent of the producers, were women. Despite the incredible fandoms for artists such as Beyonce, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and Cardi B, there seems to be an existing problem: Women are still largely marginalized from the creative, music-making process.
But things are changing. The evidence is mounting towards a more female-directed pop genre. Just last night at the 2019 Grammy Awards, the women definitely took over the live performance entertainment. And the pop music genre categories were dominated by female winners—Ariana Grande, Dua Lipa, and Lady Gaga.
Not only are women accruing more recognition in the pop genre, but they are changing it as well. The growing presence of R&B in the pop mainstream? Women have certainly been there, influencing the tide. Increasingly honest songwriting? Women have been penning the pop genre’s most vulnerable moments for decades.
Last night, longtime songwriter and producer Linda Perry was nominated in the category of “Producer of the Year” for her contributions to popular music. For working behind the scenes of singles made famous by Miley Cyrus, Adele, P!nk, Weezer, Christina Aguilera, Solange, Alicia Keys, and more. Last night, Linda Perry could’ve taken home the first ever win for a woman in this category.
She didn’t win, unfortunately. And we still have a long ways to go when it comes to recognizing female contributions to popular music. But it starts here, at the micro-level of journalism, of opening your feeds to reading about the women who are making a difference. Here are only some of the figures who’ve leant their minds to changing the ever-fluctuating pop genre, for the better.
WondaGurl: Ebony Naomi Oshunrinde, aka WondaGurl, became a well-connected R&B producer before she could legally buy a pack of cigarettes. If there is a singular fact that unites Drake, Jay-Z, Rihanna, Travi$ Scott, and Young Thug, it’s WondaGurl, infusing magic beneath the tracks. Much like the iconic Dr. Dre, WondaGurl has been making beats since childhood. Her co-production on Jay-Z’s “Crown” happened before her senior year of high school, redefining the teenage dream. Now, WondaGurl provides a model, a proof, a possibility for female producers worldwide. Not to mention how the star continues to rise. Check her on last year’s Astroworld, providing production and lyrics for “No Bystanders” and “Can’t Say“.
Billie Eilish: Right now, she’s seventeen years old. She’s also performing at music festivals like Bonnaroo. And collaborating with Khalid. And sitting front row at Calvin Klein fashion shows. Oh, and next year, she’s going on a headlining tour, which includes a night at the landmark Radio City Hall. Her first full-length album, WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, is set to arrive in March. It will include her latest single, “bury a friend“. When you listen to Billie Eilish, you can hear the whispers of her contemporaries, of Lana Del Rey, Lorde, Grimes. But then she goes deeper, further into the dark realm of pop music. A less-charted territory, which is both contemplative and seductive. Can we know a person through pop songs? Eilish answers: Yes, but only if you’re really good.
Robyn: In 2010, Swedish popstar and vocalist Robyn dropped Body Talk, the first of a trilogy. The LP included the hit single “Dancing On My Own“, which went on to appear on several TV show soundtracks. Critics and fans on the forefront of pop music knew then, Robyn was the real deal. Is the real deal, even though it took eight years from the last Body Talk to 2018’s Honey. Robyn has been known since she broke through, a beacon from beyond the North Sea, a Swedish teenager who propelled herself into the industry with grit and obvious promise. With “poptimism“. Now, pulsing beneath the heavy synths of Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York”, and the dancing-through-tears attitude of Lorde’s Melodrama is Robyn. You’ve been listening to her for over a decade now, even when she wasn’t there. But now she’s back, touring in promotion of Honey, arguably one of the best albums in 2018.
Halsey: Appropriately enough, Halsey’s contribution to modern pop can be summarized in her recent Saturday Night Live appearance, where she acted as both host and musical guest. Not only was her involvement into the sketches seamless and entertaining, her performances of “Without Me” and “Eastside” were honest, fully realized moments of expression. In the first song, which is confirmed to be about Halsey’s break-up with G-Eazy, the artist sat beneath a dim spotlight, beautifully rendering a stripped down version of “Without Me”. Then, with increasing visibility, were the words “Ashley I Cheated”, along with names of cities, and scribbled half apologies. The second performance—of “Eastside“, her collab with Khalid and Benny Blanco—was done in concordance with Halsey painting a face on the canvas beneath her. Music, visual art, acting. A sly memoirist, breathing life into the pop genre—her sensibility a vehicle unto the world.
Lizzo: For those of you who just tuned in, perhaps on The Ellen Degeneres Show, perhaps on Jimmy Kimmel, you ought to know: Lizzo has been making no-genre music for us all since 2014. This right here, this isn’t even Lizzo’s first big break. That came when Prince brought her on for his 3rdeyegirl collaboration Plectrumelectrum. Now, Lizzo is getting ready to drop her third LP Cuz I Love You, which will include her biggest single to date—the funky, contagious “Juice“. First, Lizzo should be recognized for her talent, her attention to style, and her attention to herself, which can be heard in most of her music. But it also bears mentioning Lizzo’s influence on pop music, how the love of Lizzo means more people in the world can believe themselves to one day be on TV, performing music festivals, headlining tours. Lizzo says it best: “If I’m shiny, everybody gonna shine”.
Ariana Grande: Two weeks. From beginning, to end. That’s how long it took to make the record everyone has been listening to since it’s release. If Sweetener soundtracked her sophistication and stability, thank u, next provides the backdrop to her less serious attributes. Her flirtations, her indulgences, her playfulness. The second single—the luxurious “7 Rings“—was written after getting drunk mid-morning at Tiffany’s and accidentally spending thousands of dollars. A now potent track from thank u, next is its conclusion, “break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored”. We know what Ariana Grande has been through. All too well, since the starlet can’t help but make the front page. But here she is now, defending No. 1 and No. 6 of the Billboard Hot 100. And in two months, she will headline Coachella. And soon after that, she will embark on the Sweetener world tour. By being steady, brave, and uncompromising, Grande has changed pop music forever and for the better.
Janelle Monae: When Lady Gaga arrived, so did her little monsters. Now that we have Janelle Monae, the first generation of Dirty Computers are here too. Since 2018’s Dirty Computer—Monae’s best album to date—the world has been feeding off of her contagious, fabulous energy. With grace and flash and complete sexual freedom, Monae has led a movement of feeling oneself through art. Dirty Computer was flushed with bangers: “Make Me Feel”, “Pynk”, “Django Jane”. Monae successfully infiltrated the pop sphere while telling the world exactly who she is. Now, she continues to draw comparisons to Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Pharrell. She performs with her latex heart and the rhythm between her hips. She brings style and class. We can’t wait to see what talented Dirty Computers arise from the greatness. Don’t forget, Janelle Monae is a part of that dazzling Coachella lineup.
Ravyn Lenae: You can catch her name, Ravyn Lenae, nestled in the second tiers of music festival lineups. You can catch her music—ethereal disco, a mix between hip-hop and electric—all over Spotify, in playlists described as “high-key bangers for low-key enjoyment”. Her vocals continue to soar into features with Steve Lacy, with fellow Chicagoans Noname and Smino. When we talk about the future, we have to talk about Ravyn Lenae, just one of the many R&B powerhouses coming out of Chicago at the moment. Considering the popularity of last year’s Crush EP, we think it’s only a matter of time before Lenae is working with whoever she wants to make deeply moving R&B-flexing pop music for us all.
Julia Michaels: She’s penned songs for Justin Bieber, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, and more. She’s opened on several arena tours, including for Maroon 5 and P!nk. Now, she’s touring behind Inner Monologue Pt. 1, a set of tracks she released for herself, beneath her own name. Julia Michaels, one of the most sought-after songwriters of her generation, has such a huge head start on influencing the pop genre. And she does so with delicacy and personality. With an approachable, albeit flawed character. Julia Michaels joins the ranks of female songwriters who lead with honesty and execute with pop perfection, and her songs continue to dominate the current.
Dua Lipa: Last year, British artist Dua Lipa was the second most streamed female artist in the U.S. Her self-titled, debut LP became the fourth-most streamed album on Spotify. Dua Lipa became Dua Lipa, an artist born the way many of them are: from uploading cover videos on YouTube. But what is so fascinating, so pop about Dua Lipa? She is invited to every party—or rather, every genre—to do her damage. She can collaborate with Wale. She can vocalize within the production of Silk City, the duo of Mark Ronson and Diplo. She can duet alongside St. Vincent, which she did at the recent Grammy Awards—where she was also nominated in two categories. With her chameleon ability to thrive in many musical environments, Dua Lipa has become the genre-defying pop ideal. We can’t wait to see what she, and the rest of these female artists, do next.