From Girl Power to Chart Domination
Most of the kids listening to pop music today cannot recall the time when hearing female artists on the radio was an anomaly. Even more rare was self-directed independent women in music. Today not only have the ladies bridged the gap but have actually transcended their male counterparts. This year of the top 10 albums were created by female artists. From Fiona Apple’s critical champion, Fetch the Bolt Cutters to Taylor Swift’s intimate Folklore
artists are taking control of their music and have something vital and important to say. There are dance -pop divas like Jessie Ware, Charli XCX, Arianna Grande, Dua Lipa, and Lady Gaga spitting out hits with substance. Country music, one of the few male dominated genres has seen more and more women taken center stage from the comeback story of The Dixie Chicks (now The Chicks) to Maren Morris, Ashley McBride, Gabby Barrett, and Kelsea Ballerini. Even Hip-Hop has made room for female artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, Doja Cat, and Young MA. The quality of some of this new music can vary and is still a matter of taste but more importantly, strides have been made in the industry and the game is now more equitable. One of my personal favorites this year came from Phoebe Bridgers, with her new album Punisher. The record somehow sounds lush and abrasive at the same time. Like Billy Eilish last year, she is able push through the darkest corridors of her life and create something beautiful and engrossing. I also like Kelly Lee Owens sophomore LP, Inner Song. She takes on the electronica genre and builds a soundscape of eerie dream pop, old school techno, and retro 80s video arcade soundtracks (think Stranger Things). Check out the debut from Rina Sawayama. This Japanese artist attacks everything from heavy metal to dance pop and applies her sugar-coated vocals over the mix, to create an entirely new sound. For something more mainstream Dua Lipa and Jessie Ware both has thoroughly enjoyable dance records and Taylor Swift has never sounded more confident and reflective as on Folklore. Check out the new releases from HAIM, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Laura Marling, Grimes, and Lianne La Havas as well.
Celebrating Musical Diversity
Another thematic revelation this year is that we are all immersed in a sea of diversity. Reflecting the multi-colored tapestry that we come from, music is now more varied and wide-ranging then ever before. In the past, we consumed whatever the radio programmers pre-packaged for us and never questioned why. Now thanks to the Internet and apps like Spotify and Youtube, every genre and style of music is available to everyone around the world and that cross pollination has produced an astonishing array of diverse musical styles.
I used to wonder all the time ... Is Rock and Roll finally Dead? The answer is no, it just mutated into everything that you are hearing now. You can hear it in the jangling guitars of the Rose City Band or the retro new wave of The Strokes new album. Soul and Jazz has morphed to the funk of Thunder Cat or fractured verses of Mac Miller, or even the throwback horn section of The James Hunter Six. SAULT released two double albums of uplifting soulful music with Black Is and Rise, creating a soundtrack to these turbulent times. Bad Bunny, J Balvin, and Maluma had huge international success with reggaeton songs this year and K -pop (urgh!) continued to take over the airwaves as well. The bottom line is that no matter if you like Norwegian Death Metal or introspective Neo-Folk, there is plenty of music out there for everyone to hear and more importantly it is all so easily accessible you can find something completely different every day.