Music History

Be Prepared for New Tsunami of Rebel Female Singers

If you pay attention to long-term cyclical trends in music, you could have predicted this was going to happen. When Lorde became a left-field hit, it was only a matter of time before every record label in the world start releasing their versions of Lorde. Not clones, mind you, but strong female performers–mostly of an alt-rock persuasion–who seem wise beyond their years. We’re now being introduced to Alessia Cara, Halsey, Melanie Martinez and Meg Myers, to name a few.

This will seem awfully familiar to 90s kids who recall the fallout from Courtney Love and Alanis Morissette. In short order, we were exposed to Tracy Bonham, Meredith Brooks, Holly McNarland, Liz Phair, Poe, Joan Osborne, Fiona Apple and many others. (We can go back another decade or two for godmothers like Patti Smith, Poly Styrene, Siouxsie Sioux, everyone in The Slits–but that’s for another time.)

The New York Times takes a look at this new crop of anti-pop female singers.

From a distance, this seems like a great moment for female friendship in pop. Look at Taylor Swift’s current tour, which includes appearances from people she admires, often women: Serena Williams, Selena Gomez, Mary J. Blige, Ellen DeGeneres, Lisa Kudrow (hmmm), Joan Baez (what?).

Ms. Swift’s alliances are numerous, and strategic, but complicated, too. Take the video for “Bad Blood,” which includes a who’s who of female guests, yet is about a squabble with Katy Perry.

And, after all, open-armed embrace isn’t for everybody. Ms. Swift’s phalanx of good cheer is one way to do pop, sure, but one of the most significant pop arrivals of the 2010s was someone who embodied the opposite approach. In 2013, Lorde’s nu-trip-hop anthem “Royals” became a slow-burn smash, locating the outsider squarely at pop’s center, making her the latest in a line of anti-pop rebels who find their message more widely welcome than they might have anticipated.

Industry attempts to construct another Taylor Swift generally fizzled, but that’s no obstacle to attempts to build another Lorde. And so unsurprisingly, a wave of female rebellion is swelling anew, most notably in the pseudo-goth pop of Halsey and the shy soul of Alessia Cara, but also among teen and just-post-teen singers finding glossy ways to express unglossy feelings. It’s even there in the noble anti-bro resistance of Maddie & Tae, a country duo.

Of these, Halsey feels the most mindful of the legacy she’s inheriting, and hoping to insert herself into. “New Americana,” her recent single, is a careful study of the “Royals” mentality: underscoring the falseness of celebrity culture, advocating self-reliance through youth and good taste (and, in this case, drugs). “We are the new Americana,” she sings, “High on legal marijuana/Raised on Biggie and Nirvana.”

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38051 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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