IWD 2020 | Ten influential Women who have changed music for me

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By Cheryl Ong, First Year Law

In celebration of International Women's Day this year, Cheryl Ong shares ten Women in music who have inspired and influenced her growing up.

Powerful women have shaped the music industry over the decades and their weight as artists have not only shifted the playing field, but more remarkably, created bigger waves. Their style and influence do not fall under the typical umbrella of pop-stars; they are prominently authentic and memorable. What remains significant to me, is how these women command of their personas and talent. Their dedication, inventiveness around genre and ability to be honest in their song-writing makes them forever timeless in my eyes. There is an exhaustive list of influential women, and it was no easy feat, but I will be sharing ten female musicians who have helped shaped me.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse has a special way of making people believe in what she sings, wearing her heart on her sleeves without hiding anything, and always ensuring she was true to herself. She has that vintage evergreen classic about her that I adore.  Her spin on Valerie has inspired me immensely, alongside her gems like “Back to Black”, “Rehab” and “Tears Dry On Their Own”. Her inspiration from a mix of jazz, soul, R&B, and gospel are apparent in her music, and she has blazed a trail for female artists in those various genres. She embodied decades of genres and styles, yet retained an irreplaceable image with a striking personality. Not to forget, no one can nail her iconic winged liner better than she can. Albeit the struggles she faced in her personal life, she has made her mark in this world – being a critically acclaimed artist, winning awards like the Mercury Prize and Grammys, and breaking world records.

Stevie Nicks

Known for her distinctive sound, symbolic lyrics and mystical stage persona, Stevie Nicks has proven people wrong and taught me so much. She never lets people dictate her creativity, braving her way through a male-dominated rock scene of the 70s while refusing to settle for anything less than the best.

She never lets people dictate her creativity, braving her way through a male-dominated rock scene of the 70s while refusing to settle for anything less than the best.

She showed strength, intelligence and kindness, and knew exactly what she was doing, making her respected, laudable and heard. She’s an open book with ample of self-knowledge, not worrying about oversharing and owning up to her mistakes, which I find so incredibly human. I am also greatly inspired by her charity project (the Stevie Nicks Soldier’s Angel Foundation), aiming to use music to help wounded soldiers recover by providing them iPods filled with music. “The Dealer” and “Leather and Lace”, alongside her classics from Fleetwood Mac like “Go Your Own Way”, “Dreams”, “Everywhere” and “Landslide” have shed a new light to music for me. Not only is she one of the best-selling acts of all time who gained multiple awards in Fleetwood Mac and as a solo artist, but she also paved the way for women in rock music – you don’t land in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice for no reason.

Carole King

Carole King is the queen of composing and definition of songwriting in my heart. Her songs “It’s Too Late”, “Bitter with the Sweet”, “I Feel the Earth Move” and practically the rest of her song catalogue are exceptionally well-crafted, encompassing captivating melodies, chord progressions and lyrics. She is one of the most successful female songwriters, writing hits for artists like Aretha Franklin and The Beatles, as well as inspiring other female singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and remains a defining music figure of the 60s. By the 70s, she successfully broke out as an artist of her own, which I find extremely noteworthy.

Bonnie Tyler

Growing up listening to an abundance of older music ranging from 60s to 80s music, Bonnie Tyler was one of my absolute favourites. She made me wish that I lived through the 80s! I used to dance to “Holding Out for a Hero” which made me feel like I was starring in an 80s music video. “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, “It’s a Heartache” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” are songs I gravitate towards when I feel blue – they instantly put me in a better mood. I distinctively remember listening to her and hearing that Janis Joplin and Tina Turner influence; I remain wonderstruck by the rasp, husk and grit in her voice. Her soft rock and pop tunes never fail to bring on a good time. Listening to her music brings back familiar, and possibly some of my favourite feelings – I think that is when you know how special an artist is to you.

Listening to her music brings back familiar, and possibly some of my favourite feelings – I think that is when you know how special an artist is to you.

Florence Welch

I first heard “Shake It Out” by Florence + The Machines when I was nine, and it instantly made me cry. It was as if the song was written for me; listening to it felt like being wrapped in a figurative blanket. “Dogs Days Are Over”, “Cosmic Love”, “Hunger”, and “Sky Full of Song” are also pivotal pieces in my life. I truly love her voice and the uniqueness that comes with it – a little bit of indie, a touch of neo-soul. She is also the first British female artist this century to headline Glastonbury Festival, and to say that’s extraordinary is an understatement. The band’s sound is renowned for their various combination of genres, dramatic production, and Florence’s powerful vocals, thus making them incredibly distinguished in British music as well as the rest of the world.

Hayley Williams

Hayley Williams had a song for every feeling I was feeling – from her Paramore hits like “Rose-Colored Boy” and “Still into You” which are bursts of fun, to songs like “Interlude: I’m Not Angry Anymore”, “Hate to See Your Heart Break” and her solo work like “Nineteen”, which give a painfully realistic depiction of feeling lost and heartbreak. There is a sense of comfort in listening to her utterly relatable music, and she showed me that girls can feel angry, but also conquer the world. She made me want to be in a female-fronted rock band when I was thirteen and continues to be a source of inspiration for young women. She grew up in the music industry at a young age and was constantly under public scrutiny. Facing criticism and her mistakes honestly, she defied sexist stereotypes whilst sharing vulnerable pieces of her diary with the world. I admire how she does things differently, in her own way. She helped me find my identity, showing that I don’t have to only be one thing or have one style.

Lorde

Lorde encapsulates youth and creativity. She has gained well-deserved success at an early age, shown by her various awards, as well as being featured in Time’s most influential teenagers list and Forbes’ 30 under 30. Her music embraces being different, whilst encouraging experimentation and not conforming to boundaries. I particularly like her signature unchoreographed dancing when she performs – it celebrates spontaneity, freedom and expression. Her presence and sound are so distinct, you instantly know it’s Lorde, and her lyrics are so cleverly written. She also sparked my interest in electropop, dream-pop, and indie-electro. Her impact is prominent in her music, with songs like “Ribs” and “Supercut” that give a dancing itch, to delicate pieces like “Liability” and “Hard Feelings/Loveless” that tug on your heartstrings. I am such a fan of her music and the person she is – I believe that she did it right.

Lea Michele

Lea Michele introduced me to the world of musical theatre, something that is very close to my heart. Her performance in Les Misérables and Spring Awakening left my eyes glistening with amusement. When she landed the lead role in the TV show Glee, she further inspired me with her charisma and confidence as a performer. I will forever admire her range and tone, as well as the control in her voice – you can easily tell that it is all about the music for her whenever she sings. Her piano ballads like “Getaway Car” and “Run to You” truly showcase how remarkable her voice is, and are pieces that I will never get tired of.

I will forever admire her range and tone, as well as the control in her voice – you can easily tell that it is all about the music for her whenever she sings.

Norah Jones

Norah Jones was the first singer-songwriter that I was in complete awe of. Listening to her brings back memories of going on drives on Sunday mornings. Her voice is so raw, so pure, and her music is poetry – her smooth tone slides like butter around her lyrics and I find that so admirable. Her sultry sound that fuses several genres like jazz and folk, alongside her magic touch with the piano, are particularly evident in songs like 'Sweet Words', 'Don’t Know Why', 'Seven Years', 'Sunrise' and 'What Am I To You?', which also happen to be some of my all-time favourites. She is a breath of fresh air and is so easy to listen to – if you close your eyes and listen, she drifts you to another world of bliss and tranquillity. With over 40 nominations (including the Grammy, Billboard, BRIT and American Music awards), of which more than half were wins, it is clear that her talent does not go unnoticed.

Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey effortlessly captivates her audience with her expansive contralto voice which she knows how to use gorgeously, along with the help of her unique vocal multi-layering. She hits her feminine high notes and jazzy low notes with such ease, showcasing the beauty of her vocal ability and emotive delivery. She knows who she is, and isn’t afraid to create a sonically cohesive album or experiment with more idiosyncratic styles.

Lana Del Rey effortlessly captivates her audience with her expansive contralto voice which she knows how to use gorgeously, along with the help of her unique vocal multi-layering.

I love how her music has a filmic balladry style and cinematic quality with themes that encompass tragic romance, glamour, melancholia and vintage pop culture. I often catch myself intensively listening to her words and analysing them with detail. They are dense with meaning and prohibitively introspective – its hooks inevitably reveal themselves and her lyrics tell important stories that only fully resonate over time. “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems”, “Looking for America”, “Cherry”, Video Games”, “Music To Watch Boys To”, “Happiness is a butterfly” and “The greatest” are masterpieces to me, with her artistic integrity piercing through. She embodies class and I would hope to see a piece of her in myself.

The list does not end there - from Cher, Donna Summer and Nina Simone showing what it means to be an empowered woman, to Madonna and Olivia Newton-John having influence that continues to grow. Moreover, pop legends like Whitney Houston and Cyndi Lauper to iconic girl groups like The Bangles and The Supremes, redefined the meaning of music. Not to forget today’s female musicians like Jess Glynne, Adele, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, and the array of other strong female musicians who use their platform to stand up for girls everywhere. An inspirational artist is someone who leaves an impact on you, and all these influential women have done that for me, playing a part in making me the person I am today. I have learnt so much from them and am constantly inspired to create genuine art that makes others feel something. Millions of records sold and hundreds of awards won, but most importantly, they have put the spotlight on gender equality at its brightest.

Featured Image: Francesca Frankis/Epigram


Which Women in music inspire you?

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