International Women’s Day is March 8th and it is time to celebrate the amazing women in music. So, check these albums out and hear some wonderful music.
Dolly Parton: Hello, I’m Dolly
Dolly Parton sang about being a single mother, domestic violence, gender inequalities and how men need to be held accountable for their behaviour against women. Radio stations refused to play some of her music due to these messages. This is her first studio record that puts her on her path of music / cultural icon. The one song to focus on is the opening track Dumb Blonde where she sings about the hollowness of gender stereotypes and how she wasn’t going to take shit from any man. I love Dolly.
Betty Davis: They Say I’m Different
Betty Davis was a funk pioneer who brought themes of gender, race and pride as a black woman to music. This record specifically references pride in being a black woman with tracks like Don’t Call Her No Tramp and They Say I’m Different. Betty Davis was putting out some fire music in a largely male dominated patriarchal genre, which was a political statement in and of itself.
Aretha Franklin: I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You
The record is required for any International Women’s Day. The entire records is amazing, but the main track I will focus on is Respect. Aretha talks about respecting her as a woman and respecting her as a black woman. Themes of gender and race run throughout Aretha’s music and Respect is the track that transcended music and became a feminist rallying cry for decades to come.
Madonna: Like A Virgin
Ok, I love Madonna. Love, love, love Madonna. For fun, my wife and I played duelling Madonna tracks on a road trip and it lasted 2 hours…2 glorious hours. Like A Virgin is not her most complete record, but the cultural impact of that title track alone has it on this list. Her willingness to subvert gender stereotypes about sex and sexual agency with that track was amazing and paved the way for women artists to come. A tremendous track that still has impact today.
Ani DiFranco: Not A Pretty Girl
Ani DiFranco is an indie icon with her Righteous Babe records and incredibly prolific career. She is probably the foremost modern feminist artist who often sings about gender, violence towards women and sexuality. This record showcases her hard hitting and passionate writing style on tracks like 32 Flavours, Cradle and All and the title track. DiFranco will spearhead the woman singer songwriter movement in the 90s and still puts out politically charged music to this day.
Bikini Kill: The Singles
Girls to the front! Bikini Kill ushered in the Riot Grrrl movement with an aggressive style and bravery seldom seen in music. They were often threatened with violence at shows as they took on the male dominated genre of punk. Iconic tracks like New Radio and Rebel Girl took on toxic masculinity and homophobia head on. Much like women artists in the past, Bikini Kill performing at a club was a political act in and of itself. Kathleen Hanna, Billy Karren and Kathi Wilcox set the standard for women in music and paved a new way for women in punk and grunge.
Missy Elliott: Respect M.E.
Missy Elliott will lay the groundwork for the next few artists on this list. She took on the largely male dominated / misogynist world of hip hop and turned it on its head. With her aggressive and sexually explicit style she took agency and called out men who only saw women as objects. Her power as a rapper and lyrical mastery paved the way for Lizzo, Stallion and Doja Cat. Tracks like Get UR Freak On, I’m Really Hot and Pass the Dutch are fire and shows how Missy can hold a mic with anyone.
Saying Lemonade is a good record is like saying the Mona Lisa is a nice painting…a severe understatement. This record is a tour de force that ushered in an era of modern artists calling out men’s behaviour and expressing their power. You can see links between Missy Elliott, this record, Lizzo, Rhianna on the track Lemon and records by The Chicks and Taylor Swift. The through line is that women are not going to make you read between the lines, they are going to call men out directly. A tremendous record that gets better each time you listen to it.
The Chicks: Gaslighter
My record of the year when it came out, Gaslighter is a powerful record that not only holds men accountable for their violence, but gives voice to millions of women who survive DV themselves. As a society, we usually only pay attention to domestic violence when there is a death or a celebrity video doing the rounds online. Gaslighter shows the trauma of domestic violence that largely goes unseen and impacts millions of women worldwide. The most inspirational track is Julianna Calm Down, which gives hope to women who are currently surviving DV and looking for a way out. This track highlights women’s inner strength and gives them hope for the future. I adore this record. “Put on your best shoes and strut the fuck around.”
I cheated on this one. It is difficult to talk about folklore without talking about Evermore, so I decided to include both of them. In my opinion these are Swift’s two best written and produced records by a wide margin. She follows The Chick’s lead and overtly talks about domestic violence, child abuse, gender and the inside perspective of a woman in a DV relationship. Tracks like Exile with Justin Vernon shows what it is like to be trapped in a DV relationship as a man takes ownership of a woman, even after the relationship has ended…in one of the best written songs of the past few years. Tracks like Seven talks about the impact of violence on children as they make sense of a friend’s father’s violence. Finally, Evermore taps into the Dolly Parton tradition of a murder ballad where Swift sings with HAIM on No Body No Crime. On a side note, I need a Taylor Swift murder ballad record. Two excellent records that compliment each other and tackle some heavy social issues.
What records would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments.