2015 A Year of Great Music Played, Sung, and Written by Women

by Joshua B. Hoe It is only late June, but when I look at my list of the albums that have stood out to me this year, virtually all of them share one characteristic, they are helmed by a woman (often helmed, sang, played, and written by a woman/women).

I cannot imagine any of these albums not making it into my end of year top albums of 2015 list:

The throwback 70s R and B love letter ‘Sound and Color’ by the Alabama Shakes (Brittanny Howard - vocals and guitar)

The Throwing Muses and Blake Babiesesque awesomeness of ‘Feels Like’ by Bully (Alicia Bognanno - vocals and guitar)

The crafty lyrical wordplay and song construction of ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think Sometimes I Just Sit’ by Courtney Barnett (vocals and guitar)

The reflexive honesty of ‘Ivy Tripp” by Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield - vocals and guitar)

And the DIY Punk amazing ‘Before the World Was Big’ by Girlpool (Cleo Tucker - vocals and guitar, Harmony Dividad - vocals and bass)

All of these albums are standouts in any year, but the concentration of great albums written, sung, and played by strong, talented, and thoughtful women is a pleasant surprise. Let me just put it this way, I am having a hard time remembering many albums this year that were not helmed by women (Vince Staples?).

Why is it a surprise?  

When I was growing up, it was rare to have women helming bands or playing instruments in bands at all. I could never understand why, before The Velvet Underground (Maureen Tucker), B-52’s (Kate Pierson - Organ, Bass, Vocals and Cindy Wlson - vocals and guitar), Talking Heads (Tina Weymouth - Bass), and Sonic Youth (Kim Gordon, Bass) had women prominently featured as singers or players (or both) women seemed only to sing with musicians not be part of the generation of the music (often more Nico than Maureen Tucker).  I never understood why women were mostly erased from the dominant narrative whenever instruments were in play.  Why could women play in every orchestra in the world, but playing popular music was apparently impossible for them?

The only answer I could come up with was that he music industry head honchos formed a kind of gatekeeper function that just did not visualize women as part of bands or as players of music as opposed to as just vocalists.

Obviously this is an over-generalization (but not a huge one), but usually the exception to this ‘rule’ was in country music where pioneers like Wanda Jackson and Dolly Parton wrote, played, and sang or folk music where great artists like Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell wrote, played, and sang.  As I grew older, there was briefly a woman playing drums in The Germs (Belinda Carlyle who went on to be the lead singer of The Go Go’s), and I loved X-Ray Specs Polly Styrene, Exene Cervenka from X was another bright light. The Beastie Boys had a girl briefly during the punk period (Kate Schellenbach - drums). Rap became another area of exception with MC Lyte and Queen Latifa.  Of course there was the brief short-lived rise of The Go Go’s and The Bangles and a few years later Throwing Muses, Blake Babies (and Juliana Hatfield Three), The Pixies (Kim Deal - vocals and bass) and Liz Phair. But rarely was a woman the story in the dominant coverage of music.  We could all collaborate and make a long list but there are 1000s of visible men for every woman we could list.

I guess maybe I am saying that 2015 seems to me like the beginnings of a post-sexist possibility.  I realize post-racial politics have not been exactly what we hoped for after the election of Barack Obama eight years ago (understatement of the year), but maybe things are changing, I mean Taylor Swift did just stare down Spotify and Apple (while I am mystified by her music, I respect that she actually writes her own songs and physically sings them in a manner that dominates the popular charts). Part of this might also be the collapse of the formal record industry. Metric, another band with a great female singer and keyboard player (Emily Haines), was one of many bands that pioneered a record-label free path to success over the last decade.

My point (I would think obviously) is not that women were not playing great music before 2015. My point is that it is really cool to see so much great music played by women celebrated visibly and readily available to everyone. Maybe the unmooring of music from male gatekeepers at the labels, has had some bad monetary effects on bands, but it has also started to allowed female talent to produce their own path to success. Maybe because the music business is becoming more of a meritocracy, it is becoming less of a barrier to women’s success?

One can only hope :)  But, if 2015 is any indication so far, it is a brave new world.

I may be totally crazy about this, but whatever the story, you should check out all of the albums and artists above ASAP.

If you love the music or if I left out any great women from 2015, please feel free to share. We would love to hear from you, leave a comment!