This post started off as a casual idea - ask some ladies from work about a female artist that they find inspiring. Just write a quick blurb and include a popular track plus a deep cut. All of us (myself included) ended up digging deeper and hitting on what we really love about these musicians and why they're so important to us. I try to find any and every excuse to talk to people about music, especially with folks as passionate as these.
Being a woman in the music industry, either as an artist or on the business side, can be complicated at times. Hell being a woman in general is complicated. But these are some of the artists that helped us find ourselves, make it through high school, and who just straight up shook our world.
Features editor at The 405 - Junior Press Officer at Secretly Label Group
I remember being in year 10 (15 years old) and my best friend at the time asking me if I'd ever heard of MIA. In a somewhat dismissive fashion, I said 'no, not really' and continued to burn paper with the bunsen burner that was on my desk like a maladjusted pyromaniac - I was meant to be doing titrations.
The name stuck with me though, and I recall one night resigning to the opiate-of-my-generation (the TV) and maniacally flicking through the channels to find a song that I liked. The TV sort of lit up when I saw this one video; bright colours, weird dancing, this "asian inspired" inspired rhythm that I only heard in certain corners, on certain streets of Coventry. The dancer wore baggy boyish clothes and rapped with a nonchalance that could be accused of not really rapping at all - I mean she hardly had the flow or the vocal that I was used to.
That was my first introduction to MIA and I loved it - it was the coolest thing that I'd never seen. She wasn't tall, blonde, submissive in the face of men, and bitchy in the face of fellow females. She was loud but comfortable in expression; her abrasive arms in the air seemed tactile, like she was reaching through the screen. She wasn't feminine but a female that I could in some ways look up to in many ways. She was Asian but indiscernibly British; at that age, I didn't know too much about the political statements she was talking about but I knew she was talking about something grimy and untoward.
It's easy for her to be cannon fodder for the press, and too many times you hear people that sympathise with her views saying, 'well, she doesn't do herself any favours does she?'.
She doesn't; and I'm not saying that she's one of the leading political scientists of this day but she has more on the ground, empirical experiences of the worlds harsh realities than any of those said political scientists, who work in their high towers, protected by forts, leading campaigns through discoveries they've made with telescopes that normal people couldn't touch with a barge pole. Most of all, she's in control of her sound and her image, and a lot of the times press is very quick to attribute her early success to Diplo. But she steered it and it was her voice.
I'm not best friends with the girl that tried to introduce me to MIA early on. Last time I checked she'd come out as a lesbian, now dons pink hair and has in indiscreet love of anime. We're totally different people, but what we share is the love of free expression, not giving too much of a fuck about what other people think, and an ongoing love of MIA. I think all those things are linked somehow,
Retail/Domestic Account Manager at SC Distribution - Blog lady at Vegetarian Ventures
This is easy. For me, Badass Babe #1 will always be Stevie Nicks. She has been there for me since before I remember even liking music. She was singing in the background when I would cruise around country roads with my father growing up, while I was getting ready for my senior prom, while I was getting over my first heartbreak, and while I was discovering that I wanted music to be my career. Her witchy wardrobe was a constant inspiration for me growing up and helped me discover the benefits of wearing black at a young age. Rumors was one of the first albums I owned when buying a record player and its still in frequent rotation when I need something to dance around the house to. I even saw her in concert a few years ago, decades after her "prime", and she just blew it out of the water - her voice just as strong and empowering as it was on records from the 70's.
While on the topic of badass babes, #2 is currently Courtney Barnett. The Austrailian singer-songwriter will steal your soul with her witty lyrics and catchy guitar riffs. Her anxiety prone lyrics speak to our generation of 20-somethings saying no to 9-5 commitments in order to chase after our unstable creative yearnings. Her lyrics in 'Are You Looking After Yourself' sums it up perfectly: Are you working hard my darling, we’re so worried, always thinking of you and we just want you to be so happy, keep on going. / I don’t want no 9 to 5, telling me that I’m alive and ‘Man, you’re doing well!’ / Have you got some money saved up for those rainy days? You should start some sort of trust fund just incase you fail / My friends play in bands, they are better than everything on radio.' and 'I don’t know what I was thinking, I should get a job / I don’t know what I was drinking, I should get a dog / Should get married, have some babies, watch the evening news.
Former Radio Champ at Secretly Label Group - Fashionista at Dripping Dream Vintage
It’s very safe to say that White Lung and it’s frontwoman, Mish Way, are having a serious moment right now. The band just released their third record, ‘Deep Fantasy’, on Domino to a boatload of well deserved critical praise. It also seems to me that there is an awful lot of talk about the fact that Mish is a female who has no problem speaking her mind, telling off her critics and that her music is vaguely reminiscent of Hole, statements that are all both surprisingly and unsurprisingly still a part of the larger discourse when discussing female punk musicians in 2014, but I digress.
I listened to White Lung for the first time in early 2013 after, ironically enough, the boy I was harboring a crush on at the time declared to be “one of my favorite punk bands right now”. I was intrigued and gave ‘Sorry’ a spin. Despite the fact that I generally like my guitars hazy and jangly instead of fast and abrasive, something about the band grabbed me. Way’s lyrics were catchy and hooky enough to permeate into my brain in all the right ways and at just about 20 minutes long, the record was lean enough to have that perfect quality of making me want to press play again the second it ended. ‘Sorry’ very quickly became my favorite ‘I slept on this in 2012’ record of 2013.
Understandably then, I was thrilled when the band announced ‘Deep Fantasy’ would be coming out this year. I started reading more of Mish’s writing and interviews, including this one with Rookie where she comments on the ‘Deep Fantasy’ track “Snake Jaw”:
"That song’s about body dysmorphia and its residuals. I feel like I there are two women battling in my head sometimes: my completely confident self who can tell anyone to f*** off at the flick of a finger, and this other woman who hates herself, her body, and her mind, not because she actually hates herself, but because she has been told by her culture to hate herself for not being MORE, BETTER, THINNER, PRETTIER. Being crippled by a hatred for your own body—why? How did that happen to our f***ing culture?"
My god, I thought to myself after reading that, not only do Mish and I share the same initials, but girlfriend is straight up in my head right now. In just four sentences she had precisely articulated the dichotomy that swirls around my brain on a regular basis: feeling confident and good about yourself versus feeling like you’ll never be good enough. It’s a juxtaposition that inhibits my mind more than I’d care to admit, but I suspect it’s one that the majority of women think about at least some point in their lives. And yet despite that, I feel like it’s not really talked about as much as I wish it was. It seems like something that’s kind of a taboo, as though women are just supposed to keep it inside because talking about it would be giving into that whole “I’m not perfect thing” that we’re supposed to be avoiding. The fact that someone, and not just any someone but the cool singer of a punk rock band, totally laid it all out there was downright INSPIRING and POWERFUL. That she was willing to talk about it publicly stirred something in me and made that confident part want to come out even stronger. Is there really anything else you could ever ask for from a singer, role model, public figure, etc?
Needless to say, I think Mish Way is kiiiiiiiiinda amazing. Not only does she front White Lung, but she regularly writes for places like The Talkhouse, Vice, Bust and many others. White Lung’s new record is superbly excellent. Also the opening 10 seconds of their song “Just For You” reminds me a bit of “The Hell Song” by Sum 41 and I think that’s pretty superb too.
To me, not much sets an artist apart quite like versatility. Generations of musicians have begun their careers in one genre and after a few albums found themselves in another. The times play into that metamorphosis, no question. However, the artist themselves is more often the orchestrator of this change. Diane Birch has made that trip between genres many times over during her budding career - but she has an ability not many artists nowadays have: the ability to traverse multiple genres and sounds within the same album.
Diane's sophomore release 'Speak A Little Louder' just came out this past October, and it flies through different flavors of music like confetti in the breeze. Throughout the album, her voice and her music ride the bouncing waters of electronically tinged pop, flat-out dance music and soft rock, and every so often it will slow down for an intense piano ballad. None of the intensity is lost without a full band on every track, though. Her lyrics are enough to stop you in your tracks, and her voice just cuts through to your core, particularly on "All The Love You Got". Take a listen to that one and you'll see what I mean.
'Speak' was one of my favorite albums of 2013, but where I really fell in love with her sound was on her first album, 2009's 'Bible Belt'. I wish I could remember the moment I first heard her song "Valentino", but I was instantly hooked when I heard it. The chorus is infectious and is just pure fun. Even the music video is full of whimsy, as she watches a version of herself dressed like a robber "steal" her feet from under her in a bit of eye-boggling trickery with a movie screen. On a casual listen, "Valentino" sounds like a bouncy song full of joy; in reality she's speaking of a lost love that she's longing to make a part of her life once more. It's heavy stuff, but it's disguised so well in this poppy number.
Another stunning example of her chameleon-like talent is the song "Photograph" off of the same album. It starts off as a pretty standard ballad about love, and it slowly builds through the choruses to become a really beautiful piece. Then, the last minute of the song comes along. All of a sudden, what was once a pretty ballad becomes a full-on gospel song, complete with a choir of backing vocals that fit so well with her ad-libbed singing. I do remember the first time I heard this one: sitting in my bedroom during my sophomore year of high school trying to figure out how to French braid my own hair. Just listening to that part dropped my jaw.
Diane's ability to channel so many types of music, time periods and sounds is truly remarkable. To me, it's a sign that there's no limit to what she can sound like, no matter what the current scope of music appears to be. She lets her listeners into her world and can simultaneously entertain their ears with innovation they probably didn't expect. She fits within no boundaries, and it's so refreshing to know there's so much more she can do.
I honestly have no recollection of the first time I heard Fiona Apple. If I had to guess, my initial encounter was probably nothing more than bits and pieces of "Criminal" that wafted to the back seat from the car radio.
When I was in high school we met briefly again as I skimmed her catalogue. I dwelled on Tidal's "Never Is A Promise" when getting over a crush or feeling particularly dramatic. For one reason or another I never dug further, until the summer I was living in New York. Propelled by an internship I shacked up with friends in Bushwick for what became my own version of studying abroad. It was that June that I turned twenty-one, but more relevant to this it was the summer that The Idler Wheel came out.
While I was far too young to be aware of it while it was going on - Fiona's turmoil with her record label, the public eye, etc. has been documented ad nauseum. Wading through those stories now, it's hard to wrap my head around the incredible pressure she was under and has been under since her debut. With all of that intense scrutiny it's no surprise that her follow up to Extraordinary Machine took seven years to get out the door. What is surprising is the record itself.
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
It's emotionally raw and sonically engaging - not the easiest listen but absolutely rewarding. I remember listening to it while learning to navigate the subway and simultaneously attempting to follow Fiona's fluid delivery of slippery, clever lyrics (See "Left Alone"). Then you reach a track like "Regret" which shamelessly smacks you in the face. I don't think anyone was expecting the phrase "I ran out of white doves' feathers to soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth every time you address me," let alone the guttural wail it reaches. Shortly thereafter you're on "Hot Knife" and you can practically see Fiona's smirk.
To avoid doing a track by track review I'll leave it at this. I find it completely inspirational and down right badass that despite the media's negative hounding, people's opinions on her music/ body image, and countless other factors - she crafted this wickedly smart, challenging record. Rough, sweet, sad, elated, honest - The Idler Wheel doesn't fit into a box. It's unapologetically Fiona.