If music is passion, then colour me happily spent. Throughout my life, music has been partner to my creativity and emotions. As I write this I listen to music. My constant need for it was amplified in jobs when I couldn’t spend my work day enjoying it. Voices, instruments, and choruses have soothed my soul from as far back as I can remember.
As it is my 28th birthday today I decided the challenge myself by writing a blog about 28 female artists that inspired me and an album of theirs. These artists moved me not just because of their music, but due to their strength, feminist undertones (or overtones), and talent. So without further ado.
1983: Cyndi Lauper – ‘She’s So Unusual.’
She really is so unusual, and still is. Lauper not only has had a magnificent musical career, she’s been an activist for LGBTQ+ rights for decades. Her debut album is particularly special with a song from Prince, a cover of ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun,’ and one I listened to on repeat, ‘She Bop.’ What a she bop it is! The album art was by none other than Annie Leibowitz. The album is Grammy winning and if you’ve never listened to this album, treat yourself! It’s pure fun.
1986: Kate Bush – ‘The Whole Story.’
Kate Bush’s voice is big. Her song writing is exceptional, and her best loved song is the opening for this album, ‘Wuthering Heights.’ This album was played throughout my childhood by my Mother who is a huge fan of Kate Bush. Listening to it now, it’s marching rhythms, quiet whispers, and misty landscapes transport me. My favorite track is ‘Running Up That Hill,’ and I find myself singing it long after the album end.
1993: Martina McBride – ‘Who I Am.’
My family are a big fans of the American country and western genre, and my Father especially loves it. Martina McBride has a huge voice for such a little frame. This was one of the albums I knew off by heart as a child. Every word, every lyric, and every note. My favorite track, “Where I used To Have A Heart,” was so dear to me, that I sang it in a competition. This album reminds me of singing to my granny Patricia as I practiced, and her admiration gave me the confidence to do it. The track, ‘My Baby Loves Me The Way I Am,’ has never meant more to me than it does now. (Winks at Boo).
1993: Björk – ‘Post.’
Ughhhhhh this album is phenomenal. Björk never fails to entertain me. She is crazy, she is beautiful and she is concentrated talent. I’ve been to Iceland and her landscape informed her musical style. This album is a dynamic and energetic adventure. She bursts onto the scene with ‘Army Of Me,’ and throughout the album we are treated to a mixture of styles and stories. The popular ‘Oh So Quiet,’ would give no indication what the rest of the album would be like, and she confounds expectations with tracks like ‘Possibly Maybe,’ and ‘Cover Me.’ I love you Björk, your energy is addictive.
1994: Madonna – ‘Bedtime Stories.’
Only recently a Madonna convert, I understand why she seems to be so divisive. She does everything a male artist of her age might do, and because she’s a woman that’s not ok. Female voices have been shamed for centuries. “Opps, I Didn’t know I couldn’t talk about sex.” She has shown no signs of slowing down although she turns 60 in August of this year, and what do I have to say about that? Slay. Queen. There are no rules, you are hurting no one, in fact your music has healed many for decades. You are the master of reinvention, of female empowerment, and pop. This album in particular is a favorite of mine, and I have a special love for, ‘Human Nature,’ and ‘Bedtime Stories.’ The latter of which was written by Madonna and Björk.
1994: Sarah McLachlan – “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy.”
Although she is well known for her hit ‘Angel,’ the Sarah McLachlan I fell in love with was featured in Buffy The Vampire Slaye. I was drawn in by the beautifully melancholy of ‘Full Of Grace,’ off her album Surfacing. It was her album ‘Fumbling Towards Ecstasy,’ however, that hooked me. While this came out in 1994 I didn’t get my copy until well into the 2000’s. I actually ended up buying it twice when I thought I lost it (this was when CDs were still a thing). This album is ethereal, large, and gothic. McLachlan lyrics expose an alternate view into female sexuality, which for a young teenage girl is important. When then mass media provides a very bleak offering of the female sometimes you need a Sarah McLachlan to show differing female sexualities. You just have to look at the art work on the album and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Highlights for me from the album are ‘Fear,’ and the cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue.’
1995: Alanis Morrissette – ‘Jagged Little Pill.’
In fairness young Jenni should probably not have been listening to this, but I just adored it. I remember as a 10 or 11 year old playing it for my then 14 or 15 year old cousin. “This is one of my favourite albums it’s amazing!” To which she giggled at the lyrics, “And every time I scratch my nails down someone else’s back I hope you feel it. Well, can you feel it?”
“Jenni,” She offered, “This is very grown up, should you be listening to this…?”
Regardless of whether I should have been or not, Morrissette got me through my teenage angsty years. While this isn’t my favourite album of hers, it was certainly impactful on young Jenni. Maybe she’s why I was so precocious?
1997: Celine Dion – ‘Let’s Talk About Love.’
No one will tell me that listening to Celine Dion is lame. This Lady is an unbelievable artist, her voice is a fairy-tale and I fell in love. The year this album came out, a gift from my parents, I listened to it over and over. Listening to it now in 2018 it’s still as persuasive and beautiful all these years later. As if Celine’s own voice wasn’t enough we get the gift of a duet between her and Barbara Streisand, ‘Tell Him.’ I learned this on keyboard so I could sing it to my grandmother as she adored both these ladies. I think I was bought this album because ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ is on it, however there is nuance to the rest of the album because of the collaborations. Just look at the list of writers and you’ll understand. I love Celine Dion, and she loves us back.
2001: Alicia Keys – ‘Songs In The Key Of A Minor.’
I only recently discovered this album. I’ve always been a fan of Alicia Keys, especially when she recently got fed up of make-up and stopped using it. Since then she looks as beautiful as she always has. Make-up is great, it’s a way to express yourself, and it’s no longer just for females, there are plenty of males posting make-up tutorials. It should be a choice, not a necessity, so thank you Alicia. This girl has chops and it’s an extraordinary debut. Her ability on the piano alone earns her praise. Her voice creeps down your back. The reimaging of Prince’s ‘How Come You Don’t Call Me?” is a gift. Her lead single ‘Fallin,’ is still perfect. This neo soul, RnB, and at times jazzy offering is ambitious for a young woman vying for chart success. In the end, she triumphs.
2001: Destiny’s Child – ‘Survivor.’
I like to joke that Solange was my favourite member of Destiny’s Child, (She would fill in if any of the girls were sick). Still all the same, I love Kelly, Michelle, and Beyoncé. The single ‘Bootylicious’ uses a sample of Stevie Nick’s ‘Edge of Seventeenth.’ So as tribute, Nick’s is in the video, which I just love. This album delivers female empowerment. Between the singles ‘Bootylicious,’ and ‘Survivor,’ another track ‘Independent Woman Part I,’ was featured on the soundtrack of 2000 film Charlie’s Angels. (Which I also have). Destiny’s Child is a girl band I go back to over and over again. This is a multiple platinum selling album for a reason. Now go watch the ‘Survivor’ music video on YouTube, I know you want to!
2001: P!nk – ‘Mizzundastood.’
P!nk is weird, like really weird. It was such a godsend for awkward teen Jenni who was also extremely weird, and hadn’t yet realised that this is actually, well, normal. ‘Don’t Let Me Get Me,’ made me cry with joy as she sang:
“I’m my own worst enemy
It’s bad when you annoy yourself
Don’t wanna be my friend no more
I wanna be somebody else”
I was always trying to escape my own head, I was so cruel to myself, I never had compassion. I wish I could hug myself, all I can do is look back and feel glad of the learning curve. I appreciate the album more and more as I get older, and own every record P!nk has released. The music business needed someone edgy like P!nk to balance out the Christinas and Britneys. One of my favourite tracks is ‘Misery,’ a duet with Steven Tyler. I couldn’t pick one as an absolute favorite, because the whole album has such a special place in my history.
2002: Christina Aguilera – ‘Stripped.’
“So, what am I not ‘supposed to have an opinion?
Should I be quiet just because I’m a woman?
Call me a bitch because I speak what’s on my mind
Guess it’s easy for you to swallow if I say and smiled.”
Gurl, you got it. Another female artist that played as the background soundtrack to my formative years. Whether or not it had an effect on me can be argued, but no one can deny I am not one for being forced into a box. Or being told how to act because of my sexual organs. My clothes are a mixture of male and female, my ideals are neutral and reasoned, and I am not hysterical when I am passionate. My behaviour has been shaped by a society that told me, ‘girls should be seen, and never heard,’ to which I responded. “Fuck that, you know how loud I am, and my friend told me it was charming.”
Critics argued against it’s unwillingness to settle on a genre, I think this is one of it’s biggest strengths. You go from RnB on ‘Can’t Keep Us Down,’ to gospel on, ‘Cruz,’ Rock on, ‘Fighter,’ and pop on ‘Beautiful.’ Alicia Keys is featured on the track, ‘Impossible’ and Lil Kym on ‘Can’t Keep Us Down.’ The production launches it’s promotion with her talk track ‘Stripped Intro,’ and keeps up the theme until the final track, ‘Keep On Singin’ My Song.’ This album has aged well.
2003: Dido – ‘Life For Rent.’
Dido, where have you gone? I have her first 3 albums, and only realised recently that she released another album in 2013. ‘Life For Rent’ was written mostly between herself and her brother Rollo. This multi-platinum selling album was a gift from my godmother. It was all I wanted that Christmas. I loved her so much, from her debut album to her new release. Although I thought I was so grown up at 13 when I got this album, most of it went over my head. When I revisited it as a 28 year old, I noticed how much I’d missed of its subtle nuances. Dido’s voice is not strong like Christina’s, or celestial like Björk’s but it was whispered in my ear like a pray. Highlight track for me is, ‘Mary’s In India.’
2004: Norah Jones – ‘Feels Like Home.’
I think most people have Norah Jones’s 2002 album, ‘Come Away With Me,’ but somehow ‘Feels Like Home,’ made it’s way into my possession first. Any album that features Dolly Parton is a win in my opinion, and ‘Creepin In,’ was a duet with her. It seems Jones had more creative control on this album and spoiler alert, that usually makes an album better! For me, this album gave me peace when I needed it, Jones’ voice was one among many that year but hers captured me, and gave me sanctuary.
2004: Sam Philips – ‘A Boot & A Shoe.’
Have you ever watched the Gilmore Girls? What a show that was, and still is. One of the best things about the show is the accompanying soundtrack, which was mostly composed by none other than Sam Philips. I discovered this album through Gilmore Girls, and fell deeply in love with the sardonic lyrics sang in such as soft voice, that you are surprised by the undertones. The song that was featured in the final episode of the latest Gilmore Girls offering is Philip’s, ‘Reflecting Light.’ This song needs more attention. I think the album, heck Sam Philips, needs more attention overall.
2005: Kelly Clarkson – ‘Breakaway.’
Clarkson’s ‘Breakaway’ was featured in the 2004 film ‘Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.’ Although the film was a let down for me, (as a huge fan of the books by Meg Cabot), it led me to the album by Kelly Clarkson, which is a plus. I’ve seen Clarkson live, and yes, she doesn’t need a studio to hit those notes from ‘Behind These Hazel Eyes,’ and ‘Since You’ve Been Gone.’ It’s even more spine tingling in person, when it’s just her, in her jeans, wandering around stage. There are a lot of over produced singers out there, and trust me, Clarkson is not one of them. ‘Where is your heart,’ and ‘Beautiful Disaster,’ are excellent examples of her versatility on this album. The success of this album, and of Clarkson herself, comes not from the exceptional voice she was given, but the way she uses it.
2006: Nelly Furtado – ‘Loose.’
I had started college, in 2007, and I was 17. I was struggling (you can read about it here: https://thinkingaheadblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/27/my-anxiety-my-magic/). Losing myself in music was a good way to cope. At the time Nelly Furtado was dominating the charts with singles, ‘Maneater,’ ‘Promiscuous,’ & ‘Say It Right.’ These swam around my head until one day, when I was feeling particularly low, I wandered into a music shop in Maynooth. I bought this album, and it ended up on my playlist for over a year. The production on the track, ‘Say It Right,’ reverberated through my bones. Furtado is another female artist that broke out of her record company’s mould. Something nearly all the female artists on this list have struggled with. To be in control of your own music, image and power is something women still struggle with. Give us choice and fuck off.
2007: Imelda May – ‘Love Tattoo.’
“Johnny got a boom boom, Johnny got a bam, he got a!”
Singer-songwriter Imelda May is my hero. She worked incredibly hard to get where she is. She wrote, recorded, and performed until Ireland listened, and then the world. She’s one hell of a woman, and she is unapologetically herself. This is her second album, and although I love all her offerings, this one has a special place in my heart.
2010: Rihanna – ‘Loud.’
Now here is a lady who gives no fucks. She does not apologise for her sexually contentious attitude, her drug use, or flexing. She dresses how she wants and she stopped taking herself or the industry seriously a long time ago (proven by her swigging from a hip flask at an awards ceremony in which she was front row). Her album was LOUD and it screamed. Featured is the collaboration with Eminem where she owned and highlighted domestic abuse. Nearly all the tracks on this album are hit singles, and she is so blasé about her success. Her line of Fenty Cosmetics offer 40 different foundation, to cover all skin types and types. She is now in the process of releasing a line of lingerie for woman of all sizes and shapes, so they can find something to make themselves feel good. I’ve listened to this album many times, and cannot help myself, I love, ‘Cheers (Drink To That).’ When she sings, ‘Let the Jameson sink in,’ I smile, nod, and lift my glass.
2011: Adele – ’21.’
Of course Adele is on this list. This breakup album came out when I was going through a breakup. Coincidence? Yes. These things just happen. When I needed to mope, Adele was there for me. When I needed to feel legitimized in my feelings, I blasted, ‘Set Fire To The Rain,’ when I needed to cry, I listened to ‘Someone Like You,’ and when I needed to feel acrimony, ‘Rumor Has It,’ had my back. Adele is another hero of mine. When she accepted her Grammy Award for ’25’ she used her speech time to air her grievance about Beyoncé’s failure to win. I applauded, not because I thought Adele didn’t deserve the Grammy, but because she isn’t afraid to say what everyone else is thinking. This is probably a reason why her music is so compelling.
2013: Beyoncé – ‘Beyoncé.’
When Beyoncé drops an album, you sit down and listen to it. Now I loved ‘Lemonade’, but ‘Beyoncé’ had so much more to say about femininity, feminism and the struggle of the female. I rank it higher than ‘Lemonade.’ You only have to listen to the first track, ‘Pretty Hurts,’ to understand where the album is going. Beyoncé voiced a concern for many females who fear they are compromising their feminism because they love their man, and still want to be a feminist. Beyoncé became a mainstream example of feminism. There isn’t a format for feminism, and this is the theme throughout this album. The track, ‘Flawless,’ featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is spectacular. It’s a hit song, but it also offers a side to Beyoncé I’m glad she finally let out. This is my favorite Yoncé album.
2014: Warpaint – ‘Warpaint.’
I can’t remember how I found Warpaint, but I remember what got me enthralled. It was their music video for, ‘Disco//Very – Keep It Healthy.’ These LA girls, in their messy clothes, with a devil may care attitude, crawled under my skin and I couldn’t stop listening. Part of me loved the fact it was an all-girl band, the other part of me loved the musical style, the mixed voices, and the grim atmosphere. These ladies have been a staple of my music collection since then and I cannot recommend them enough. They are the modern skater, punk, indie rock girl band we’ve been waiting for. Our patience has been rewarded and we deserve this.
2016: Lady Gaga – ‘Joanne.’
I’ve had a wonderful and outlandish journey with Lady Gaga. She burst onto the scene when I was in my first year of college, and my college gang fell in love with her. Now she’s gotten this far, she’s given us this gem of an album, ‘Joanne.’ Named for her dead Aunt, this finally allows an insight into her musical influences which before seemed nothing but superficial, (and according to Madonna, “Reductive… Look it up.”). This spectacular offering has the hit singles, ‘Perfect Illusion,’ ‘Million Reasons,’ and, ‘John Wayne,’ and these are songs to be reckoned with. However, what is vastly superior are the themes she deals with on the album tracks. These include her sexual assault in, ‘Diamond Heart,’ self-pleasure in, ‘Dancin’ In Circles,’ and the healing power of your female friends in ‘Grigio Girls.’ I recently watched her documentary “Five Foot Two,” and it just showed me how powerful a person she is. She is our generation’s Madonna.
2016: Laura Mvula – ‘The Dreaming Room.’
You’ll remember Laura Mvula from her 2013 hit single ‘Green Garden.’ I was a fan then, and I’m a fan now. Her most recent album, ‘The Dreaming Room,’ is packed full of gorgeous lyrically pertinent songs, and a collaboration with Nile Rogers, on ‘Overcome.’ My favorite track is ‘Phenomenal Woman.’ Her song writing suits her voice, her messages are graceful, and her rhythm is intelligent. You will thoroughly enjoy every inch of this album it is a tasty snack.
2016: Sia – ‘This Is Acting.’
If you know me you know I love Sia. Sia Furler was the singer on several Zero 7 albums which is a band I’m particularly fond of. Between this and her own solo career Sia has written music for Rihanna (‘Diamonds),’ Beyoncé (‘Pretty Hurts,’) Kylie Minogue (‘Kiss Me Once,’) Britney Spears (‘Perfume,’) Celine Dion (‘Loved Me Back To Life,’) Katy Perry (‘Chained To The Rhythm,’)…and so forth.
Furler’s ‘This Is Acting,’ is a combination of new songs and those that had been rejected by other musicians. Her raspy soulful voice invigorates me every time. The album offers an anthem for everyone. From “Cheap Trills,” which reminds me of those good old days in the pubs, was produced by God’s mouthpiece himself, Kayne West. (I know he’s a complete twat, but damn the man can produce). She proves her dance tune skills with, ‘Move Your Body,’ which is impossible to sit still to. Her song “Alive,” is very Adele-esque. That’s because it’s co-written by the megastar Adele herself. Her voice makes each second of every song feel epic, and props to the lady because she’s got more writing credits than I could list here. Her first number one was ‘Cheap Trills,’ and she was the oldest female to get her first number one single at the age of 40. Much respect for this.
2016: Solange Knowledge – ‘A Seat At The Table.’
This album should have won the “Best Urban Contemporary,” Grammy instead of Beyoncé ‘Lemonade.’ It did win for her single, ‘Cranes In the Sky’ at Least so that’s something. It is a much more coherent album than ‘Lemonade.’ There are interludes where her Mother and Father speak about their experiences of being African American. She sings about her hair, she sings about being mad, she sings about being mistreated:
“I ran my credit card up
Thought a new dress make it better
I tried to work it away
But that just made me even sadder
I tried to keep myself busy
I ran around circles
Think I made myself dizzy
I slept it away, I sexed it away
I read it away.”
It’s controversial but I’ve always felt Solange is the superior Knowles, but there is enough room in the music world for both. Although ‘A Seat At The Table,’ was realeased the same year as ‘Lemonade,’ it didn’t get the attention it deserved. From start to finish the story of this album sold through Solange’s earthy tones speaks to her audience. Her persuasion lies not in aggression but elegance.
2017: Miley Cyrus – ‘Younger Now.’
Miley Cyrus has got a lot of attention lately hasn’t she? Her transition from child star to woman was viewed as tentative and people are quick to say she did it wrong. Poor Miley, she’s pawn for her father used her to make money. What about, you have done a phenomenal job well done. Although I may not have been a big fan of the ‘Bangerz,’ and ‘Miley And All Her Dead Petz,’ era, her combination of all her musical past in ‘Younger Now,’ gave me pause. She talks about her bisexuality, her growth and regrets. The influences are country, rock, pop and electronic. Her song, ‘Love Someone,’ screams Fleetwood Mac (Stevie Nicks / Fleetwood Mac). Also there is a duet with her Godmother Dolly Parton. I’ve always said an album with a duet with Dolly Parton is a good album.
Also she just collaborated with Converse All Stars. I got myself an early birthday present:
2018: Janelle Monáe – ‘Dirty Computer.’
Everyone, put down what you’re doing, right now, and listen to this album. It is unbelievable, it’s fun, it’s inclusive, it’s reaching everyone, it’s… just go listen!
Watch Tessa Thompson strut around with Janelle in the videos for ‘Make Me Feel,’ and ‘Pynk.’ Understand that the LGBTQ+ community are in mainstream media to stay, and expressions of sexuality is not controversial, it’s prevailing. Monáe questions beauty standards, uncontrolled jingoism, and terrible fear. Monáe pushes back at a society that tried to block her light out. She came from an impoverished background economically, but her rich inner life results in a cerebral masterpiece.
We are not worthy, but she went ahead and gave it to us anyways. Thank you Janelle. xxx
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