Celebrating Women’s Contributions to Pop Music
Women in pop music have used their platform to push boundaries, break barriers, and inspire generations of women around the world. Here are some notable contributions they have made throughout different eras.
By bonneville on March 23, 2023
We look back at women’s contributions to pop music over the decades to celebrate Women’s History Month.
Women’s History Month originated as a week-long celebration in March 1981 under Ronald Reagan. After petitions from the National Women’s History Project, it extended into a month-long celebration in 1987.
Pop music artists have played a significant role in women’s empowerment, and countless artists throughout the decades have contributed substantially to the genre and pop culture throughout music history. From current artists like Beyonce and Taylor Swift to groundbreaking artists like Madonna and Donna Summer, we look at women’s role in advancing pop culture and women’s issues.
Pop Origins in the ’50s and ’60s
Connie Francis was a famous artist in the late ’50s and has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions. She broke through in 1957 with her hit “Who’s Sorry Now” about having the upper hand after a breakup.
“It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore was released in 1963 and spoke to the experience of teenage girls. Produced by then-up-and-coming producer Quincy Jones, the song still gets sung to this day. And Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” used her powerful voice and lyrics to empower women and challenge gender roles. Her hit song “Respect” still inspires women to demand the credit they deserve.
Branching into Disco in the ’70s
The Queen of Disco, Donna Summer, broke through with hits like “I Feel Love” and “Hot Stuff.” “I Feel Love,” produced by the legendary artist Giorgio Moroder, is considered a groundbreaking track that influenced the development of electronic dance music. Summer was a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, performing at several benefit concerts and supporting HIV/AIDS charities.
In addition, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” released in 1978, became an anthem of female empowerment. The timeless lyrics touch on several situations, be it a breakup or losing a job, to let you know that despite difficulties, you can still succeed.
New-Wave and the ’80s
Madonna revolutionized the pop music industry in the 1980s with provocative lyrics and performances pushing industry boundaries. She challenged societal norms around female sexuality, started trends with her unique style, and blended various musical genres throughout her career. Current pop musicians such as Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga cite her as a strong influence on their work.
Kate Bush also rose in popularity from the late ’70s to the ’80s, with hits like “Wuthering Heights” and “Running Up That Hill” resurging in vogue today. Bush was known for complex musical arrangements, combining pop music with prog-rock, classical music, and folk. Her deeply personal and emotional music inspired artists like St. Vincent, Björk, and Florence and the Machine. She has been vocal about gender inequality and sexism in the music industry, giving power to women to achieve success and freedom.
Rising Popularity of Girl Groups in the ’90s
In the 1990s, female groups like Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child dominated pop music. These groups empowered women worldwide with their messages of friendship, girl power, and independence. Other girl groups, like TLC, All Saints, and 3LW, inspired female solidarity and strength. They often covered serious issues in their lyrics, such as domestic violence, body image, self-esteem, and how to develop safe relationships or let go of toxic ones.
The ’90s also saw Shania Twain release “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” a song about appreciating being a woman. It won her a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, and Billboard ranks this as the #1 for the “Greatest Karaoke Songs of All Time.” And Whitney Houston popularized the original song by Chaka Khan, “I’m Every Woman,” released in 1993, about uplifting others around them.
Turn of the Century: Y2K and the Early 2000s
Y2K saw many artists emerge that are still popular today, such as Britney Spears, Pink, Hilary Duff, and Rihanna. Each in their own journeys has promoted the power of women and being true to themselves despite the obstacles they face.
Many power ballads were released in the 2010s, including Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” in 2011, inspired by Nietzsche’s quote: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, released in 2013, is said to be inspired by a friend’s journey in coming out.
Beyoncé emerged as a solo artist during this time after splitting from Destiny’s Child and remains one of the most influential pop artists of our time. “Girls,” released in 2011, is an anthem that celebrates the strength and resilience of women. Though relatively quiet about her personal life, she has been vocal about supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, uplifting feminism (including sampling a recitation from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay “We Should All Be Feminists“), and has a number of foundations and charitable giving.
Women’s Influence on Pop Music Today
Lady Gaga has used her public image to challenge gender norms and promote acceptance and inclusivity, and she often advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and women’s equality. Kim Petras has helped to raise awareness and representation of the trans community in pop music, breaking through with her hit “I Don’t Want it At All” in 2017 and contributing to “Unholy” with Sam Smith last year.
One of the most popular artists of all time, Taylor Swift is a role model for young women around the world, flexing her songwriting prowess and live performances. Her popularity is so strong that she nearly broke the internet for her “Eras” tour, prompting lawsuits against Ticketmaster and their policies. She’s also been a vocal advocate for the #MeToo movement, advocates better pay for musicians, and has used her platform to promote social causes such as March for Our Lives.
While we couldn’t possibly include all of them, we hope this article has inspired you to appreciate the contributions to pop music many women have made throughout the eras. Women in pop music continue pushing boundaries, breaking barriers, and inspiring generations of fans. They challenge gender stereotypes and encourage women to take control of their own lives. Using their public platform to raise awareness of women’s issues, they continue to shape and empower future generations.