Be they rockers or be they rappers, we can all learn a life lesson or two from these female singer-songwriters.
All of the women that will feature in this post have this in common: they are all beautiful (in different ways). They are all slightly odd. They are all rule-breakers. They are unapologetically different, and that is why they are diamonds. They shine, radiating an aura of self-assured magic that we can all aspire to. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it includes are fair few of the ladies that, in my humble opinion, are the ultimate babes with the power.
Debbie Harry: I have to start this post with a love letter to Debbie Harry. My love, my darling. The face of an angel, she’s hotter than hell with a bad-ass attitude to match. She could punch me in the face and I would thank her. 43 years on from the formation of Blondie in 1974 and seven albums later, she’s still one of the coolest women in the music industry today and continues to make credible music. I am as guilty as anyone for waxing lyrical about Harry’s obvious level of goddess like beauty. However, she is so, so much more than a pretty face. Her amused acceptance that her own face has become a world wide cultural icon is evidence of a talented woman acknowledging that she is stunning, and then saying; ‘Great. So what, though?’ She’s played the industry since day one, defying any reductive stereotypes that try to cast her as a pouty, singstar Barbie with matching mini-microphone. She’s been a Playboy Bunny, she’s been a go-go dancer. She’s been blonde, she’s been a brunette, she’s been a redhead. She refuses to conform to any ideal of what a woman should be. Whatever comes for Harry in the future, I have no doubts that she will continue to live life on her own terms. She’ll forever be an emalgamation of the best bits of rockstar, punk queen and pop princess. She will doubtless remain a timeless inspiration for musicians and music fans alike, and will certainly forever be a personal hero of mine. Atomic.
Top Quotes from everyone’s favorite X-offender:
- ‘How can one be a woman and not be a feminist? That’s my question.’
- ‘The only person I really believe in is me.’
- ‘My face seems to sell. I can’t help that.’
- ‘I do know the effect that music still has on me – I’m completely vulnerable to it. I’m seduced by it.’
- ‘I could be a housewife… I guess I’ve vacuumed a couple of times.’
- ‘I have a lot of regrets, but I’m not going to think of them as regrets.’
Kate Bush: KATE BUSH. She’s mad and she’s magic. Unlike some of the other women I admire, Kate is notoriously shy. She’s a pardox in that she’s reserved in terms of courting the media and yet also simultaneously an incredible performer. She has a subtle but intense power. Kate shows us shy girls that being quiet and having an amazingly hard-hitting stage presence and impact is possible. Kate doesn’t shout to be heard. We just listen with baited breath. She has a quiet strength and a dreamy quality to her work that’s completely irresistible to me. Full disclosure: When I first heard ‘Wuthering Heights’, I was aged around eleven. I loathed it. I thought it was shrieky and annoying and frankly just downright painful to listen to. I am able to reflect, nine years later, that Kate’s voice is indeed pretty high on the octave scale.It’s also incredibly expressive, tonally rich and her lyricism is just absolute poetry. No-one can prance around in a red dress better than she can, and I can’t think of another performer who could enunciate the word ‘Wow’ for 3:41 seconds and turn it into art. Long live the enigma that is Cathy.
Top Quotes from the Queen of the Mountain:
- ‘I think quotes are very dangerous things.’
- ‘I was spending a great deal of my time alone and for me that was vital because there’s an awful lot you learn about yourself when you’re alone.’
- I’m a very strong person and I think that’s why actually I find it really infuriating when I read, ‘She had a nervous breakdown’ or ‘She’s not very mentally stable, just a weak, frail little creature.’
- ‘What’s important to me is to be a human being who has a soul, and who hopefully has a sense of who they are, not who everybody else thinks you are.’
Stevie Nicks: Stevie Nicks sings heartbreak like no other can. She weaves stories through her songs, and I think you’d be hard pushed to find a songwriter that creates more relatable and simultaneously dreamy songs. Personal favourites of mine and highlights of Nicks’ lyricism include ‘Dreams’, ‘Rhiannon’, ‘Landslide’, ‘Sara’, ‘Edge of Seventeen’, and the vastly underrated ‘Planets Of The Universe’. The original Gold Dust woman, Stevie Nicks is unquestionably a cultural icon. Her life has been unapologetically messy, as the most interesting ones tend to be. Complicated relationships with fellow Fleetwood Mac stars Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood have vastly impacted Nicks’ songwriting, and Stevie makes sense of the dysfunction through her art, creating perhaps one of the most relatable break-up albums in history in the shape of Rumours. Like Debbie Harry, Nicks has been open with her struggles with drug addiction and substance abuse, along with her conscious decision not to go down the route of motherhood. This woman has lived it all, and I privately like to think of her as a kind incredibly wise, beautiful, witchy aunt. Throw on a tasseled shawl, grab a tambourine, put on a crescent moon necklace, and get ready to hear some words of wisdom from the Gypsy queen.
- ‘When you grow up as a girl, the world tells you the things that you are supposed to be: emotional, loving, beautiful, wanted. And then when you are those things, the world tells you they are inferior: illogical, weak, vain, empty.’
- ‘Do you want to be an artist and a writer, or a wife and a lover? With kids, your focus changes. I don’t want to go to PTA meetings.’
- ‘I have my own life. And I am stronger than you know.’ – Landslide
- ‘I said,’Instead of going in the direction that a lot of the women singers are going in [revealing], I’ll be very, very sexy under 18 pounds of chiffon and lace and velvet…I will have mystique.’
- ‘There is always magic to be summoned at any point…we all really basically have a lot of magic… It’s only those of us who choose to accept it, that really understand it. It’s there for everyone.’
Nicki Minaj: A controversial one. All of her music may not be to my taste, but when she proclaims “a hundred motherf****s can’t tell me nothin'” in ‘Beez In The Trap’ damn, you believe her. I find this level of IDGAF highly inspirational. Every interview in which I’ve come across Minaj I’ve also been impressed with her eloquence on issues of gender inequality and the racism within pervading the music industry. Her brains are as large as her enviable booty, and she is highly undeserving of the ‘bimbo’ stereotype perpetuated in the media. In fact, I would go as far as saying Minaj openly uses and owns the bimbo look. She’s a woman confident in her own sexuality, and that she is demonised within the media for that self-assurance is blatant indication that there is something deeply problematic about the representation of female artists. Female artists must be sexy, but not too sexy. There’s a complete paradox in the ‘marketing’ of female artists. So, she may take inspiration from Troll Dolls in the creation of her aesthetic, but in my eyes there ain’t nothing wrong with that. As Dolly Parton once so fabulously said; “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Nicki has worked hard for success, is the Queen of her own empire, and ultimately rocks her look with a ballsy attitude.
- ‘Your victory is right around the corner. Never give up.’
- ‘Maybe your weird is my normal. Who’s to say?’
- ‘My advice to women in general: Even if you’re doing a nine-to-five job, treat yourself like a boss. Not arrogant, but be sure of what you want – and don’t allow people to run anything for you without your knowledge.’
- ‘When you’re a girl you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do but you have to be super-sweet. And you have to be sexy, and you have to be this and you have to be that, and you have to be nice. It’s like, I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being.’
Cher: Music legend or not, Cher is deserving of inclusion on this list for her Twitter account alone. Her use of emoji’s deserves awards. She’s a style icon, an actually pretty excellent actress, and for decades she’s been a strong ally of the LGBTQ+ community. Suffice it to say that Cher has done everything, can do anything, and is in my eyes immortal. I will sing along to ‘Believe’ at the top of my voice for as long as I draw breath. I feel that the only person that can explain Cher is herself, and so without further ado, I present you my favourite quotes from the most glamorous matriarch of pop.
- ‘Until you’re ready to look foolish, you’ll never have the possibility of being great.’
- ‘I only answer to two people, myself and God.’
- ‘If grass can grow through cement, love can find you at every time in your life.’
- ‘Some guy said to me: Don’t you think you’re too old to sing rock n’ roll? I said: ‘You’d better check with Mick Jagger.’
- ‘My mom said to me, “One day, you should settle down and marry a rich man.” I said, “Mom, I am a rich man.”‘
Björk: An alien. A poet. A seemingly very, very strange lady. I can’t help feeling that those who hail David Bowie’s oddity and unapologetic weirdness as genius (which it undoubtedly is), are often quick to deride Björk as a freaky woman-child. I had to include Björk in this list purely because I do not think there is another female artist comparable to her in terms of fearless creativity. The image of Björk as a kind of crazy forest nymph is deeply misogynistic, and just plain old unfair to Björk and her exceptional artistic potency. Björk herself appears to hold some very iffy views on feminism, but I am a firm proponent of the idea that you absolutely do not have to agree with everything a person says in order to admire some aspects of their outlook. The ideals of the Icelandic venus that I’ve distilled from her interviews over the years range from the insightful to the odd, but are all equally fascinating. Below are some of the musings I found most striking.
- ‘Find your own voice.’
- ‘Singing is like a celebration of oxygen.’
- ‘People think that I’m too eccentric…my record company thought that Debut wasn’t going to sell. I said: I don’t care. I really have to do this or I’ll go insane. You’ve just got to do what you do.’
- ‘I have this utopian view that the common person – like your gran, or the guy who works in the sandwich shop – actually wants an adventure, to hear something they’ve never heard before. I might seem left-field, but I’m really not trying to be weird, you know.’
Florence Welch: Yet another ethereal queen to grace this list, Florence Welch of Florence & The Machine seems to be permanently captured looking as though she’s just wandered from the frame of a pre-Raphealite Waterhouse painting. I had the pleasure of seeing Florence & The Machine live back in 2014 on the Ceremonials Tour. She was magnificent. She twirled in a stunning cape like a demented ballerina, whipping her red hair manically. She was a force of nature, and we were captivated. It’s somewhat unnerving to hear such a powerful, rich voice being projected from such a tiny, bird-like vessel, and I think it’s party this apparent paradox of vulnerability and power that makes Welch so unforgettable. Open about the difficulties of grappling depression whilst in the generally unforgiving public eye, Welch reminds us that there is no shame in struggle. Highly interested in culture, literature and other creative pursuits, Welch currently runs a ‘Between Two Books’ club through her Twitter account, giving fans all over the world recommendations for books ranging from the poetry of Ted Hughes to Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch.’ This engagement with her fans is incredibly refreshing, and it’s admittedly a breath of fresh air to see celebs advocating something other than diet teas and multi-vitamins. Dropping out of Camberwell College of Art mid-degree in order to focus on her music, the red-haired lion-heart is living proof that if you have a passion, it’s worth pursuing, even if following your heart sometimes takes so much more courage than continuing down the path you feel you ‘should’ be on.
- ‘If you do something with your whole heart and it’s a mistake, you can live with that.’
- ‘It’s always darkest before the dawn’ – Shake It Out.
- ‘I try to maintain a healthy dose of daydreaming, to remain sane.’
- ‘When you’re heartbroken, you’re at your most creative – you have to channel all your energies into something else to not think about it.’
- ‘Excitable, easily distracted, sometimes vacant, prone to gloominess and also extreme euphoria; I can’t be generous with time, but I try to be generous with affection.’
Amy MacDonald: I will forever have a place in my heart for this Scottish songstress. I have seen Amy live on multiple occasions, and from the age of about eleven, was of the pretty firm opinion that MacDonald was just about the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. And she was so cool. She played guitar. And had the most powerful, rich voice. And she had a Scottish accent. To this day, I am still the proud owner of a flattering red and black striped Denace The Menace style t-shirt purchased at one of Amy’s ‘This Is The Life’ era gigs. On it is s slogan that optimistically proclaims my status as ‘rock chick of the century.’ While that’s still a work in progress and said t-shirt may be currently crumpled at the bottom of my wardrobe, I am still a huge fan of MacDonald. I feel that I’ve grown up with her, in a sense. I feel genuinely happy when I read of her successes. Just through following her interviews, I can see she’s changed a lot in terms of personal aesthetic and grown in life experience, despite staying pretty much the same in terms of her musical output. Although her last couple of albums have been, for me, a tad samey, she’s an excellent singer with solid songwriting skills. You can’t say much fairer than that. She is one of those rare musicians that is incredibly talented without being arrogant, assured without being boorish. She comes across as a down-to-earth gal that you could easily sink a pint with, and it’s nice to have a musical hero that you feel you might not be too frightened to approach on the street. Paradoxically, she also collects sports cars. From reading interviews, you get the sense that Amy isn’t afraid to voice her opinions, and whether or not you agree with all of them, I think it’s fantastic to have a young female artist in the industry who is unafraid to make her voice heard. I also admire her decision to resolutely make a point of distancing herself from the trappings of celebrity lifestyle.
- ‘I’m very happy to be able to blend in with the crowd. I never got into this business to be famous; for me it’s always been about the music.’
- ‘I’m so sensible about so many things…I’ve put my money into property and I’ve bought homes for my family. My aim is to pay off all my friends’ mortgages because if you are lucky enough to earn it, the best thing you can do is share it with the people who are closest to you. But I do love cars. To me, a car is an absolute luxury. I love driving a great car, listening to music – that to me is heaven.’
- ‘We are the youth of today. Change your hair in every way. And we are the youth of today. We’ll say what we wanna say. And we are the youth of today. Don’t care what you have to say at all.’ – Youth Of Today.
- ‘I’m always told to be the dreamer kind; wake up one morning and your dreams are life. Never let them bring you down. Never let them tear me down.’ – L.A.
- ‘If you are anxious, if you doubt yourself, if you stress over everything, it ultimately means you really care about what you do.’
This list is by no means all encompassing – there is so much female talent present in the music industry today, and the artists out there are showing us clearly that there is no right way to be a woman and to be a human being.
A common theme in the advice that I’ve noticed from compiling this ode to my singing sisters is this:
Be yourself, please yourself, do no harm but take no sh*t. If you’re shy, own it. If you arrived fresh out of the womb tap dancing and wearing a feather boa, own that too. You do you. There is a magic in your uniqueness. Never let anybody tell you who you are or what you are capable of. In this life we are responsible for creating ourselves, and the only limits we have are the limits we place upon ourselves. Pain can serve you, and something wonderful can sometimes be created from difficult times. I feel that Debbie, Stevie, Kate, Nicki, Cher, Björk and Amy are, in different ways, each telling us that we must let go of the fear of being judged and do what makes us happy. And that is where the magic begins. Rock on.