Most inspiring women in music
Celebrating International Women’s Day by recognising music's pioneers, radicals and role models
This week we're celebrating International Women’s Day by recognising inspiring female role models across the arts world. Here we look at women in music – who stands out and why they deserve recognition as we approach IWD 2015...
Not only did she have a number two album in her native New Zealand under her belt at the age of 16, she's also unafraid to speak out against issues that affect women her age. She won our hearts after calling out some shady use of Photoshop, tweeting a link to two images of her performing at Lollapalooza, one of which was digitally altered to reduce blemishes. Her comment: 'Flaws are okay'. Strong, body confident, and writer of smashing dream pop – Lorde can stick around.
In an industry that's still primarily lad-centric, Annie Mac holds her ground against some of the biggest DJ names out there. And while other longstanding BBC DJs have fizzled out to take 'new directions', there are no such moves from Mac. Indeed, with Alex Zane leaving for pastures more American, Mac is taking over his Radio 1 evening show, mentoring new DJ names and still leading the way as one of the frontrunners in UK dance.
It's hard to think of a musician as well known as Madonna who has had to dodge as much acrimony. But mega fame comes with mega judgement. From her beginnings when she married sex positivism with her Hispanic and Catholic upbringing, until recent years, where she's dealt with sexism and ageism, she has continued to pave her own way, ignoring detractors in her wake.
Renowned for toying with ideas of identity, Peaches' music blurs the line between male and female with sharp lyrics and aesthetic – on one of her album covers she appears with a full beard. Her flamboyant style and disregard for conformity reflects a desire for both men and women to be allowed to freely shock. Another successful woman who refuses to grow old gracefully: 'I'm going to make ageing cool', she maintains.
Widely regarded as a politically and socially active musician, Chapman's music is renowned for getting to the nitty gritty of society's injustice. Her two best-known songs 'Talkin' Bout a Revolution' and 'Fast Car' tackle poverty and inequality in plain terms. As well as weaving important themes into her music, Chapman has performed in honour of Amnesty International, South Africa's Anti-Apartheid Movement, AIDSLifeCycle and Make Poverty History.
Pussy Riot fought their way into public conscience in 2012 after staging a performance in a church in Moscow in protest of Orthodox church leaders' support for Putin. Three members were arrested for 'hooliganism promoted by religious hatred', which sparked global outrage and support from human rights groups and performers. Not swayed/perturbed by this, the group continue to stand up for their beliefs, still no mean fight in Russia, and fight policies that discriminate against women.
An important part of the riot grrrl movement, Sleater-Kinney make no bones about their feminist stylings and left-leaning beliefs. Meshing harsh, punk aesthetics with personal topics – gender roles, war and consumerism – they easily nicked rock music from the laurels of men – at their peak they were described as 'America's best rock band' by Time Magazine, while Rolling Stone gushed: 'America's best punk band. EVER.'
Of Eurythmics – and solo – success, Lennox is a strong figure in pop music, charity ambassador and gay icon simultaneously. Early in her career, she embraced androgyny, helping to shape the fluid gender landscape of the 1980s. As well as an active AIDS awareness campaigner, Lennox also backs Greenpeace and Amnesty International, donating all the profits from Eurythmics' 1999 tour to the two charities.
Originally a peddler of harmless country pop, Swift has found herself an easy target for criticism, thanks to her supposed promiscuous personal life and songs about relationships – doomed or otherwise. However, Swift's strength shines in her ability to rise above negativity and develop a sense of humour. About 'Shake it Off', Swift said she wanted to 'take back the narrative', turning a blind eye to haters and continuing to do T-Swiz in the way only she can.
Not only a groundbreaking hip hop artist, MIA is wildly political in her lyrics and stage presence. What set her apart from other artists at her debut were her lyrics, which touch on politics, sexual stereotypes, poverty and class. These themes run throughout her whole oeuvre, from cover album to clothing range, successfully creating danceable, intriguing pieces of work which speak of something much more.