International Women’s Day takes place today (Sunday 8 March) and is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Here at The Indiependent we want to take the opportunity to celebrate some of the inspirational female artists who are actively working to make women across the world feel more empowered, and who are doing their bit to change some of the problems women in the music industry encounter – including sexual harassment and abuse, pay inequality, body shaming and male-dominated festival lineups.
While some people may see Kpop as aggravatingly formulaic, if there’s one group who should transgress that preconception, it’s the twelve-piece girl group, Loona. With the creation of their own universe, dubbed the Loonaverse, and their focus on lore that incorporates aspects of colour theory, biblical references and quantum physics, Loona not only shatter expectations of Kpop and of girl groups, but of young woman in general.
So frequently the interests of young girls and women are put down and diminished, but by containing this expansive and complex universe within their fun and entertaining music, Loona exemplifies just how unjust these sexist attitudes are making them the perfect pick for our feature about inspirational female artists.
But their boundary-pushing and innovative tendencies don’t stop there as within these fun and catchy songs several progressive and self-empowering messages are communicated for young girls all over the world to learn from and internalise.
Whether it’s showing that the most important love is self-love in ‘One & Only’, the importance of consent in ‘Kiss Later’ or simply that you, no matter your race, weight, age or religion, can achieve great things and pursue your dreams in ‘Butterfly’ (which has one of the most inclusive music videos in Kpop history), Loona have always strived to empower women by not only telling us to be empowered but by inspiring us to be.
Personally, one of the most empowering aspects of Loona for me has been their depiction of complex and multi-layered femininity through the variety of concepts and aesthetics they have adopted and showcased through the years.
From their use of hyper-feminine, cute concepts to “girl crush” concepts which show a more rebellious and tough side of the girls, Loona shows that women are not monolithic, that there is no one way to be a woman and that no matter how you present your femininity, you are valid.
And that’s the main message that Loona want to communicate: validity and the worth that comes from that. In every aspect, Loona illustrate to young women that no matter who you are, you can do and be anything, because “we are Loona”.
Words by Emma Reilly
I was a Swiftie before watching the Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana on Netflix, and so watching it only compounded my obsession with the star who has held a special place in my heart since the release of her self-titled country album in 2006.
The documentary tackles a number of hugely important subjects, from body image to sexual assault, LGBTQ+ rights, online trolling and politics, as well as celebrity feuds.
After years of speculation, with journalists inferring meaning from Swift’s lyrics and countless headlines written on the back of secretly recorded calls, Taylor comments on Kanye West’s interruption of her acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs. It hits home that she was only seventeen years old when this happened to her.
This is not the most traumatic ordeal Swift has had to endure in her career. In the documentary, she goes into detail about her feelings and mental health state surrounding her 2017 lawsuit against DJ David Mueller, who Swift accused of groping her before her Denver concert in 2013.
She won the case, with symbolic damages of $1. But her experiences during the case, being cross-examined as if she had done something wrong, made her furious on behalf of victims everywhere. In her words:
“I was angry that this happens to women. I was angry that people are paid to antagonise victims. I was angry that all the details had been twisted. You don’t feel a sense of any victory when you win because the process is so dehumanising. This is with seven witnesses and a photo – what happens when you get raped and it’s your word against his?“Taylor Swift
The trial clearly took its toll on Taylor and she resolved to speak out against injustices, reversing her notable silence on matters of politics from earlier in her career. In one of the most poignant scenes in the documentary, Swift can be seen crying in frustration as she tries to explain her new standpoint to label bosses who joke, saying, “Here’s an idea, how about we get half as many people to come to your next stadium tour”.
Yes, she might lose a handful of republican fans – Trump included – but for Taylor this is a small price to pay for feeling like she has made a difference and stood up for some of her fans for whom these policies are potentially life-changing.
The accompanying song to the documentary, ‘Only The Young’ is a rallying cry for the despondent to regroup and reorganise and try once again to effect the change they want to see, even if at first, they don’t succeed.
I think it’s the perfect anthem for anyone feeling a bit put out this International Women’s Day – whether you live in Brexit Britain or Trump’s America, we are capable of great things – don’t let the bastards get you down!
Words by Beth Kirkbride
One of the themes for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘collective individualism’. This is the idea that individual actions affect society as a whole. If there’s someone who embodies wilful individualism that mobilized political change through their very existence, it’s Miriam Makeba. She was a South African singer, songwriter, and activist who released some thirty studio albums, including the all-time classic Pata Pata. Her music, a sumptuous mix of jazz, soul, mbaqanga, and marabi, became prominent in the anti-apartheid movement and eventually led to her exile in 1960.
Makeba often made plain statements such as “what I sing is not politics”. This refusal to indulge pure politics speaks to how she felt that causes should take up music and not the other way round. She also said “the message I try to give to my audience is not [a message], I am just trying to make them understand me as a person”. It was her actions that were taken up as political, she just sought empathy. Her music spoke for itself and that’s why it was such a beacon of light in the fight against apartheid.
‘Mama Africa’, as she was sometimes known, also provoked change by more immediate aspects of her art and personality. She refused to pander to preconceived notions of race and gender. Makeba sometimes sang in the Xhosa language and spoke out about how it was unfairly thought of as a noisy and aggressive tongue. Pata Pata was the first album released in the USA that contained Swahili, Sotho, and Zulu languages.
She became a beauty icon because she embraced the black African tradition in a time when this was initially unpopular. In the 1960s she let her hair grow naturally into an afro (as opposed to straightening it, which was the Eurocentric fashion in Africa at the time). She also often went make-up free. Makeba’s staunch integrity meant she became a role model for young African girls. I mention these cosmetic details because she herself once said “I see other black women imitate my style, which is no style at all, but just letting our hair be itself”. I think this quotation is a neat analogue for the way Makeba lived her whole life, with her resolute individualism changing the views of wider society. People just seemed to collect around Makeba.
In 1985, Alan Cowell for the New York Times wrote “women against apartheid appear to be putting the struggle for racial liberation ahead of that for sexual equality.” This was clearly not the case for Makeba. Ruth Feldstein writes that Makeba “drew attention to the fact” that she was a woman and black, and that she “insisted that the liberation [she] desired could not separate race from sex”. Makeba would say “your education is your husband”. Despite the difficulty of fighting a war like this on both fronts, Mama Africa continued to be a voice for change as a UN goodwill ambassador right up until her death in 2008.
In the face of genuine hardship (being born in a jail, exile, racism, death of her daughter, illness), Makeba continued to make art and fight the power. I can think of nobody else who embodies the spirit of individualism better.
Words by Will Ainsley
Picture this: A young Jack in 2014, who spends too much time listening to Nirvana while walking to and from college, finding out that Courtney Love is coming to Birmingham during a brief and very rare tour of the UK. Nirvana was my gateway to Hole. I started off with Nevermind, branching out to find artists around Nirvana and of course, in hindsight unavoidably, discovered Hole. But Hole was so much more interesting to me.
Of course, Nirvana were the poster-boys of Gen Z angst against the socio-political malaise of the time, but Hole’s comparatively underground reputation intrigued me, especially given Love’s reputation for poking the media hornet’s nest.
Their first album, Pretty on the Inside, was dirty, angry, unpolished and raw, merging poetry and rock together to ingratiate the band’s name in the grunge genre and, by proxy, establishing Love with kinderwhore fashion and Riot Grrrl music-based feminist movement. So by the time the gig rolled around, I was more than ready to see Courtney Love myself.
Read more: The Indiependent’s Top 10 Hole Songs
Hole and controversy court each other like old lovers, right down to the double-entendre of their name (an allusion to Euripides’ Medea in addition to the obvious sexual connotations). But for all of the reported antics of Courtney Love, she has done nothing different than the male rockers that came before her.
The drugs, the stage diving, the vocal journey from snarling on her first to reflecting on her last. Her persona and Hole’s genre-defining approach has gone on to influence the likes of Father John Misty, Lana Del Rey and Sky Ferreira, among so many others.
It will be no surprise to readers that Live Through This, Hole’s sophomore album following the suicide of Love’s husband Kurt Cobain, is my favourite of all time. Given the unfettered anger that came with the grunge territory, it offers an entirely unique perspective. Laying pure, unfiltered emotion on the table.
Courtney’s voice breaking at times, reaching its decibel peak is the definition of dedication to her craft and something that has influence an entire flux of contemporary artists.
Words by Jack Roberts
It is easy to see the impact of third wave feminism on modern women songwriters in the emotionally nuanced lyricism of their music. Whilst there is still great importance in the “badass woman” archetype in this male dominated industry, it is also refreshing to see lyricists examine the complexities of female emotions.
Women in music are becoming less afraid to show vulnerability in their songs as well as showing that there is healing in doing so. With the help of high-quality production and inventive lyrics woven into each verse, female artists have found great success in baring their souls.
But what if these emotions weren’t polished with clever metaphorical lyrics and optimistic endings? What if the typical narratives of heartbreak and sadness were abandoned? What if there was no fulfilling emotional arc for the songwriter?
Mitski Miyawaki is a Japanese-American singer-songwriter who has garnered a large following on the indie scene due to her distinct writing style. She is more of a poet than a lyricist in my eyes, often not adhering to the traditional song structure. This is what makes her lyrics so raw and intimate.
To be honest, when I first heard Mitski’s music I wasn’t a fan of it. I had never heard anyone write the way she did. Her lyrics convey such a painful loneliness and longing for love. It tapped into my deepest insecurities and emotions and it made me uncomfortable.
Songs such as ‘Francis Forever’ and ‘Nobody’ were intense and messy, the lyrics don’t attempt to hide Mitski’s desperation and anguish. ‘Last Words of a Shooting Star’ and ‘Happy’ convey the quiet hopelessness of her depression. Mitski’s music is not easy, she doesn’t find resolution and she doesn’t stay strong for you. She is heartbroken. She is depressed. Her words are open wounds that have yet to heal.
For many women, their sorrow does not fade by the end of an album, no matter how uplifting. They feel the uncomfortable emotions that Mitski sings about and are made to feel shame and embarrassment for it. In a world where women are still told every day to “calm down” and “get a grip” by men, there is something very empowering in how Mitski defies them.
Words by Gemma Hope
In this day and age, there’s a lot for women to be angry about: harassment, gender roles, casual sexism, overt sexism, trashy men, the threat of our rights being taken away, the general state of the world…this list could go on and on for pages and is far from exhaustive. What is most frustrating about this, however, is that we are told to be quiet about the grievances and hardships we face. After all, nobody wants to be seen as an over-emotional psycho, or, god forbid, unlikable. No, in order to communicate these issues and actually make people listen, we are told we need to be “nice” when doing so. But niceness only gets you so much and being told to be nice and polite when you feel rage burn inside only creates a raging forest fire within, ready to spread to the surface. Otoboke Beaver is what happens when the flames of that forest fire are finally allowed to burn freely.
A four-piece punk band hailing from Kyoto, Japan, Otoboke Beaver don’t give a fuck if they are seen as intimidating, impolite or crazy. They know all of these fears and labels are just a way that society tries to silence women and confine them.
When society wants them to shut up, they scream. They scream and rage and shout about the pressures to be a mother (“I am not maternal”), the harassment they face from creepy men (“Dirty old fart is waiting for my reaction”), body image and social expectations of female bodies (“Binge-eating binge-drinking bulimia”) and more universal topics like the woes of modern romance (“Love is short”). But despite this well-earned and raw rage, they undeniably have fun.
Listening to them is pure catharsis. You can feel angry, relieved, exhausted and oddly happy within the span of a sixty second song. Otoboke Beaver display, with all the energy of a raging fire, that women and other marginalised groups have a right to rage and should not be afraid to express it. Furthermore, by doing so, they exemplify that maybe the most defiant type of rage is when you have fun expressing it.
Words by Emma Reilly
We hope you’ve enjoyed this list of inspiring female artists! You can find out more about International Women’s Day 2020 here.
Feature compiled by Beth Kirkbride