Are you Team Nicki or Team Cardi? Or how about Madonna or Gaga? Despite there being HUNDREDS of men in the music industry, it can seem like when a groundbreaking woman comes into the limelight, people make it seem like there isn’t enough room for the others. Even though this year has been great for women in rap and other genres, we still have a long way to go before women and nonbinary artists are given the same respect as men by the media. We don’t have to choose- you can like Cardi AND Nicki (or neither!). Women can put out bop after bop and people will STILL pit artists against each other and comment on their bodies. I’m sick of it!
There are so many talented female musicians out there, and they are more than just their bodies and their music. On top of commanding the stage, these women fight for causes that matter to them, whether it be just through drawing awareness to issues using their music or through direct activism outside of their musical career. Though this list spotlights a few, there’s so many more women artists around the world combining music and activism. Here are some incredible ladies who are striving to create a better world through song and more:
Willow Smith and her brother Jaden Smith are truly Renaissance individuals, in my opinion. Willow, even at the young age of 18, has made her mark in many areas of activism and has focused her efforts on racism, feminism (which encompasses racism), and sustainability. She constantly advocates for the empowerment of women and has started a collaboration with Adidas to create and promote a fully recycled shoe. Besides her internet-breaking BOP “Whip My Hair,” she makes dreamy, wispy, almost wildly ethereal R&B songs with complex themes like “9 feat. SZA” and “Marceline.” Stream Willow for clear skin, serotonin, and intersectional feminism with a focus on justice for POC women and environmental activism! Despite your personal music preference for Willow’s music or not, Willow is a force to be reckoned with and you should definitely check her out as an activist.
Fortunately and unfortunately, Mary Lambert became widely known for being the hook sample on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” (honestly, that’s how I found out about her). Along with making music, Lambert writes poetry about her past traumas, drawing attention to not only LGBTQ+ issues but to rape, sexual assault, and abuse as well. I listened to her read poetry from her book, Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across, and it was hauntingly beautiful. Her music feels vulnerable and intimate, and the blood, sweat, tears, and soul that she puts into it shines through in every note. Whether it be talking about her queer identity or trauma, Lambert creates an intimate atmosphere both at her shows and in your headphones. If you just need songs to feel to, Lambert is your go-to.
Laura Jane Grace
The singer of the band Against Me! came out as a transgender woman in 2012 after years of struggling silently with gender dysphoria. She remained as the lead singer of her band and made the 2014 album “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” surrounding transgender discrimination and the experiences that come with transitioning. The record has an album-titled track that I find myself singing (or screaming) a lot in the summer with all my windows rolled down. Some of the songs on the album became my anthem for a couple months, and they helped me get through some tough periods of dysphoria. Aside from drawing awareness to trans issues in her raw, biting, punk-rock music, she has also teamed up with organizations like If You Want It, LTD., an organization that fights for the liberty of gender autonomy and “body sovereignty.” Laura Jane Grace has been vocal (pun not intended) since the start of her transition about her experiences as a trans woman, and she has given trans people a temporary home in our headphones when we feel like we’re being pushed to the fringes of society and wrong for existing.
While her music deserves its own spotlight, Diamond has a history that’s incredible enough for her own biopic. As a child, Diamond always identified as a girl. Since her family did not accept her as a girl and constantly encouraged masculine behavior instead, she ran away from home as a teen. She then became incarcerated in a men’s prison after attempting a robbery in order to fund her gender confirmation surgery. Diamond wrote the song “I Am Her” in prison, and she recounts that inmates would sing along with her even though they were straight, non-allies. After leaving prison, she moved to New York and became a leading trans-activist. She was then discovered at a Trans Lives Matter rally by Justin Tranter, a queer musician and producer. If soulful, rock, and bluesy music is your thing, check out Shea Diamond!
Rina Sawayama is a Japanese pop star who moved to England early in her childhood. She’s a bilingual icon who’s crushing stereotypes and preconceptions about J-Pop. After coming out as pansexual in the wake of her song “Cherry,” where she details the shame she held as a teen when figuring out her queer identity, Rina Sawayama has continued to build a large queer fanbase (including yours truly- I’m a Pixel, too!). At her shows, she gives out wristbands to those who are attending alone, so they’ll be able to make friends with other solo concert-goers. Sawayama aims to smash expectations about East Asian beauty standards and the idea that J-Pop needs to be saccharine and bubblegum through her eccentric style and music. Her visuals for the song “Cherry” are INSANE and “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome” is a bop, so if you like well-written pop songs, stream Rina Sawayama!
Left at London
On top of being a former Vine star (you may know her from “Aha… I do that”) and Super Deluxe contributor, Left at London (a.k.a. /@/ a.k.a. Nat Puff) is a comedian and a talented musician. Extremely active on Twitter, she does everything from post funny, sometimes absurdist skits about things like Gucci socks to determined trans activism, frequently reposting the GoFundMes of trans and gender-nonconforming individuals to her over 100k followers. Her music is mainly alternative but Left at London pulls influences from many different genres, which gives her discography a very diverse feel, transcending genre boundaries. She exemplifies her musical plurality through spot-on impressions of figures like Tyler the Creator. My personal favorite song of hers is “I Split My Ribs Open” which features Open Mike Eagle. Her music is available on most streaming platforms and her Twitter is hilarious, so check her out!
For me, listening to music is a passive activity. I always have my headphones in, acting like my life is part of a much more interesting music video than my humdrum reality. I used to just listen to music for no particular reason, but over the past couple years I’ve started to really look into what the artist is all about and what they stand for. And yes, you can have your guilty pleasures- Ariana Grande is filthy rich, but you could catch me practically at any time of the day streaming her albums. However, I think it’s important that we support artists who are trying to make a change in this world, especially if they’re small queer and/or POC artists who are frequently overlooked by so many. By adding these artists to your playlists, you’re putting money in their pocket to keep making beautiful, wild, controversial, impactful art that you can enjoy right from almost any device!
Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. There are so many other talented women making statements with their music like SZA, Mitski, SOPHIE, Janelle Monáe, and others who have broken the mold and brought attention to issues and inequalities that need to be addressed. Aside from just streaming these artists, you can buy their merch, go to their shows, and look into the causes they support. Even when you’re not actively fighting for a cause, supporting artists that are aiming to make the world a better place is a great, low-effort way to be an activist in your down time.