By: Nicole Pajer for Grammy
“From stretching the definition of identity and innovative musical approaches to tackling overt themes of female empowerment, these women are taking an outside-the-box approach to their careers.”
“Music may be largely male dominated but there is plenty of room for women to break through. The industry is filled with women who possess a keen ability to go outside of the box, shake things up and set a new example for their colleagues.
Whether it’s developing an alter ego and letting their music speak over their image, not being afraid to take a risk onstage or championing the work of other females, these 11 women know what it takes to stand out. Get to know some of the industry’s most notorious female mavericks.”
“After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, political science and women’s studies from Georgetown University, Madame Gandhi landed a job at Interscope Records as the company’s premiere digital analyst. During her tenure, she analyzed patterns in Spotify streams and YouTube views, advising brands like Bonnaroo, D’Addario and Eleven Seven Music on artist release strategies.
In 2012 the multifaceted artist came into prominence when she began drumming for M.I.A. Three years later she earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and shifted her focus toward creating her own music.
Her debut EP, 2016’s Voices, featured ‘The Future Is Female,’ which hit the Spotify U.S. Viral Charts Top 50. The tune is very much in line with the trailblazing musician’s motto, ‘To elevate and celebrate the female voice.’ In addition to crafting her own tunes, Gandhi prides herself on her keen ability to bring out the best in those she produces, the majority of whom are females.
‘I tend to like using my skillset to only produce for other female artists,’ she reveals. ‘If I’m producing for somebody else’s art, I tend to really dial into their energy in that moment and create based on what they are hearing and feeling instead of asserting my own intuition.’
And the only critic that Gandhi is interested in satisfying? ‘I’m not seeking the validation or the approval of a male-dominated industry; I’m seeking the approval and validation of myself.'”
“Solange may be Beyoncé‘s sister, but the 31-year-old songstress has more than proven herself worthy of owning her title as a music industry staple. The performer got her start as a backup dancer for Destiny’s Child before signing her own deal with Music World Entertainment at age 16. She released her debut, Solo Star, in 2002 and began writing songs for the members of Destiny’s Child. Solange followed up with 2008’s Sol-Angel And The Hadley St. Dreams, 2012’s True EP and A Seat At The Table, which dropped in 2016.
In an industry that thrives on originality, Solange has never been afraid to take a risk with her tunes, often honoring her passion for Motown and pulling from past eras like the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s to infuse into her albums. She launched her own record label, Saint Records, in 2013. And in 2015, she made waves with her anthem ‘Rise,’ a track inspired by the Baltimore and Ferguson police killings.
Complementing her music, Solange is a style icon and revels in the opportunity to express herself onstage. With her sultry voice and raw lyrics, the artist is refreshingly willing to tap deep into her emotions evidenced by her anthemic ‘F.U.B.U.’ Her entrepreneurial spirit has also brought a variety of ventures into the world, such as Baby Jamz, a hip-hop inspired toy line inspired by her son, and designing performances for museums and galleries, such as her Tate Museum digital interactive dossier, ‘Seventy States.’ She is, in every sense of the word, an innovator.”
“Annie Erin Clark, aka St. Vincent, began playing guitar at the age of 12. As a teen, she joined her uncle Tuck Andress’ jazz duo, Tuck & Patti, before attending Berklee School of Music. She toured as a guitarist and vocalist with the Polyphonic Spree and backed up Sufjan Stevens, during which she recorded a three-song EP to sell at the shows under her newfound moniker of St. Vincent.
In 2007 St. Vincent released her debut album, Marry Me, which caught the attention of the critics. From there she was off, rising through the ranks of the indie rocker genre with her sophomore endeavor, Actor. She’s since released four additional albums, including a collaborative endeavor with David Byrne (Talking Heads), Love This Giant.
Clark is known for her punchy vocals, polysemous lyrics and ability to play a plethora of instruments, including guitar, piano, bass, and theremin. At the 57th GRAMMY Awards, she earned the GRAMMY for Best Alternative Music Album for her self-titled LP. And she now has her own signature guitar via Ernie Ball Music Man.
‘I just wake up with melodies in my head. I just feel like sometimes one of those people in the machine, where they pump dollar bills into it and they let the wind blow it around,’ said Clark. And that’s why they call her the ‘indie rock goddess.'”
“Karen O. came into her own as frontwoman for the band Yeah Yeah Yeahs and has been deemed one of the best female rock vocalists of all time.
She is all about self-expression and has an essence uniquely her own. First, there is the wardrobe. Fans of hers cram as close to the stage as possible for the chance to glimpse her latest ensemble. She frequently dons an array of eclectic outfits, including capes, headpieces and feathers made by her fashion designer friend Christian Joy.
Then there are the moves. You never know quite what you’ll get at a Karen O. performance. She’s a true rock star, a show-woman of the stage — frolicking around in ripped up fishnets, spewing beer on her audience and letting out primal screams in the moment.
In addition to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O. has tackled side projects such as Native Korean Rock And The Fishnets. She’s also cemented her status as an in-demand female vocalist, being featured on the Flaming Lips’ album Embryonic, Santigold’s Master Of My Make-Believe and collaborating with David Lynch on ‘Pinky’s Dream.’
‘[People] care way too much about being liked,’ said Karen O. regarding pushing her way to the top of a male-dominated industry. ‘It wasn’t easy, but I stuck to my guns — I had to rebuild how I thought about myself being in an all-dudes rock world. Trying to be heard in that context was tough, and I had to scream and break things to make people listen to me, but they did. They listened.'”
“When you think of metal, women don’t often come to mind, let alone adolescent girls. But Babymetal have proven that stereotypes are meant to be broken. The Japanese trio released a self-titled album in 2014, which they followed up with Metal Resistance two years later. The girls take the stage in signature red and black outfits and perform choreographic movements to their pop-infused heavy rock.
Members Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal have said they are happy to be seen as role models for other girls. Before they became Babymetal, they admittedly didn’t know much about metal themselves and hoped that people who were never exposed to the genre would be now inclined to listen after seeing them perform.
They’ve opened for Lady Gaga, and have taken home a variety of awards such as the 2015 MTV Video Music Award Japan for Best Metal Artist, giving a new face to their genre. And with songs addressing themes such as body image and bullying, they’re doing so in a refreshing manner.”
“Chilean singer/songwriter Mon Laferte started playing guitar as a child, has been singing for ‘as long as I can remember’ and began writing songs at age 13. Later, in 2003 she released her debut album, La Chica De Rojo, and began to make a name for herself beyond her hometown of Vina del Mar, Chile.
Her career came to a brief halt when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2009 but she didn’t let that hold her down. The songstress rebounded with her sophomore album, Desechable, in 2011 and has been going strong ever since. Laferte was a judge on the Chilean version of ‘The X Factor’ and has gone on to release three additional albums.
Laferte prides herself on bringing her native Tejano sound to the masses and has satiated listeners with her unique theatrical pop style. Aside from her fans, she caught the attention of her peers in winning a 2017 Latin GRAMMY for Best Alternative Song for ‘Amárrame,’ an edgy duet with Juanes.
‘My grandma is my inspiration. She was also a singer/composer. She played guitar. I always wanted to be like her,’ says Laferte.”
“If there’s one facet of the music industry that is male dominated, it’s the world of hip-hop. But that isn’t enough to deter female rappers like Leikeli47 from doing what they love.
‘I don’t identify myself as a female musician,’ says the performer of her strategy for standing out amid a sea of male colleagues. “I’m just a musician and as a musician when I hear, ‘It’s go time,’ that’s just what it is — go time — no matter who’s in the way.’
The rapper got her start releasing mixtapes and followed with her 2017 self-titled debut. On the concert trail, Diplo and Skrillex brought her out to accompany them onstage during their 2014 New Year’s Eve set and she’s since donned stages like Electric Daisy Carnival New York.
Being herself is 100 percent the goal of Leikeli47. ‘My job is to create, protect, and deliver as an individual. Originality is what drives the machine,’ she reveals. ‘I sell out to the moment. I don’t try. I just do; even when I’m afraid. I’ve never been the type to just walk through a door. To reach any destination I must jump out of the window first. That’s my approach.'”
“When I first started playing the guitar at 12 [I was told], ‘Young girls don’t play guitars. …’ And I says, ‘Well I do.’ I looked ’em straight down and says, ‘I do.’ Those words served as the motto of a young Cordell Jackson who, throughout her entire five-decade-plus career, set her sights on pushing through boundaries.
The ‘rock-and-roll-granny’ was an early pioneer of rockabilly. She also became the first woman to write, arrange, engineer, produce, promote, and manufacture her own rock and roll record label. Jackson founded Moon Records in Memphis in 1956 as a means of getting some attention to her own previously unreleased demos. She released ‘Rock And Roll Christmas’/’Beboppers’ Christmas’ and went on to put out tunes by other artists such as Allen Page.
Cordell continued the label through the ’70s and ’80s, eventually realizing her career-defining hit, ‘Football Widow.’
‘You just have to forge your own way, and go to the bank with what you can,’ said Cordell in response to being asked about her strategy for making waves as a female in the early days of rockabilly.”
“Since the early 1990s, Peaches has been a symbol of female empowerment. From her shocking lyrics to racy stage antics, the singer has never been afraid to stay true to her roots, even at the expense of facing censorship from television, venues and radio stations across the globe.
The Toronto native has served as a champion for powerful female voices around her, frequently collaborating with high profile artists such as Karen O. and Yoko Ono. And true to her glamorous look, her songs have tackled topics like gender identity, frequently playing with nontraditional notions of gender roles while her stage shows blur the lines between male and female.
‘I stuck with my own brand of performance art, music and lyrical content that I believed widened the perspective of sexuality and identity, creating a fun, empowering and uplifting dynamic,’ says Peaches. ‘I have seen the effects of my efforts and I have proudly witnessed new fresh perspectives that open up this discussion and make room for creativity.’
And guess what? Peaches will continue to shake things up. ‘It is important for me with my music to question and challenge what has always been presented to me in pop music because I never felt included in its mainstream narrative or believed that it should actually be called main stream. … There is no reason to create music or art that is stifling and non-progressive.'”
“When you get Rihanna‘s stamp of approval early on, you know you’ve got something going on. Such is the case for the sultry R&B singer/songwriter who goes by H.E.R., an acronym for ‘Having Everything Revealed.’
In 2016 the performer made her debut with her seven-song EP, H.E.R. Vol. 1. She followed that up with a volume two EP, a collaboration with Daniel Caesar on ‘Best Part,’ and a tour supporting Bryson Tiller.
Instead of putting herself out there in the vein of her genre-sharing colleagues, H.E.R. prides herself in remaining elusive. Her goal is to let her music speak for itself and to let her velvety vocals and vulnerable lyrics lead the audience to believe whatever they want to about her.
‘The anonymity of H.E.R. came from me wanting this to be about the music — wanting people to hear the message without necessarily attaching an age or a face to it,’ she said. ‘As women, we go through a lot of the same things. We all get hurt. So I just wanted to be that one voice with a message that women and even men can relate to.'”
“Andrea Echeverri fronts and plays guitar in the Colombian rock band Aterciopelados, a Latin GRAMMY-winning act. She’s also an esteemed singer/songwriter with several solo endeavors under her belt.
Lyrically, Echeverri’s songwriting explores an array of personal and political themes such as motherhood, love and femininity. She is also very involved — and takes meticulous care — in her own musical process. Echeverri handled the entire production, composition and vocals on her 2012 solo album, Ruiseñora, which tackled themes like feminism and female empowerment.
In a world riddled with stereotypes, it’s Echeverri’s mission to spread her native Colombia’s music to the masses and crack through the stereotypes associated with being from South America.
‘When we started travelling outside Colombia back in ’95 it was the subject of each and all of the interviews and as a joke they asked, ‘What did you bring in your suitcase?’ said Echeverri. ‘Everything was like on the subject of drugs, but I think that colleagues like Juanes and Shakira already are more famous than drugs and Pablo Escobar.'”