When you think about the biggest musicians in the world right now, chances are there are at least a few women on the list. Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, BLACKPINK, and Billie Eilish are just a few of the incredible women making waves in the music industry. With this in mind, you might be as surprised as I was to hear that the impact of women in music isn’t necessarily reflected in the statistics of what people are listening to. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative—a diversity think tank based out of the University of Southern California at Annenberg—releases reports on the demographics of several industries every year, and their report on music for 2021 found that in 2020, only 22.1% of the artists who made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 were women.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a new problem. The project Every Noise at Once, which aims to catalog trends in music as they appear on Spotify, found that although 44.1% of Spotify listeners are women, only 23% of the music that is streamed on Spotify is credited to female artists, or even groups that include female members.
I find myself shocked every time I encounter these statistics. So in honor of Women’s History Month, I am going to point you in the direction of just a few of the incredible female musicians out there that you can listen to for free with your library card through Freegal. And be sure to stick around to the end so you don't miss my free playlist of some of these incredible women in music!
It’s impossible to overstate the impact that Kate Bush has had and continues to have on music, but I think a good example of her legacy is that “Babooshka,” the lead single off of her 1980 album Never For Ever, is currently trending as a meme on bite-sized video streaming service TikTok, propelled almost exclusively by kids who were not alive when this song was released. Bush’s music is ambitious, relentlessly catchy, and has paved the way for offbeat women in music like Bjork, Fiona Apple, and FKA Twigs.
Spotify has popularized listening to music meant to evoke certain feelings or vibes. And although Spotify has only existed since 2006, Sade has been blessing us with good vibes since the 80’s. Although she mainly worked in the now largely defunct subgenre of sophisti-pop—a sound that brought soul and R&B influences into the ultra-glitzy world of new wave—Sade’s music manages to sound just as fresh now as it did when it was released. If you ever are in the mood to feel effortlessly cool, the music of Sade is waiting for you.
It is a crime that we don’t have a Buffy Sainte-Marie biopic yet, but for the time being we are lucky enough to have her music. In addition to being the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar, being the first person shown breastfeeding on television, and being the first artist to release an album in quadrophonic sound, Sainte-Marie was an early adopter of the synthesizer as far back as the 1960’s. Her music has the witchy vibes of Stevie Nicks, the psychedelic rock sensibilities of early Jefferson Airplane, and a timeless sense of style that is pure Buffy Sainte-Marie.
This is just a brief sampler of the many incredible women who have made music what it is today, so if you want more, check out the playlist I made on Freegal of some of the incredible female musicians we have access to. Your ears will thank you.