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The Contrast Between Mainstream and Emerging Female Solo Artists

Female musicians are as prevalent today as they have ever been. Today’s radio charts are littered with female vocals of all kinds — singer/songwriters, pop stars, country sweethearts. But female pop stars found on today’s top charts have in some way all molded themselves after the same icon, whether they know it or not: the female Pop equivalent to Michael Jackson — Madonna.

Madonna began branding pop music as her own in the mid 80s, morphing it into a tool used to appeal to an audience by expressing her sexuality very openly and explicitly. Since then, the likes of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera have followed in her wake, which has cast an overbearing shadow of sexual deviance upon today’s radio-ready music.

Today, artists like Rihanna, Ke$ha and P!nk all use (in their own way) sexuality to sell records. This has misled the focus of music in general greatly. Where the marketing of these artists’ images thrives, their tactical approach to creating music suffers. Often the music by female artists found on mainstream radio stations throughout the nation are indistinguishable from one another. This is the case for a couple of reasons: (1) These artists are more focused on their image and fail to get thoroughly involved in the production of their own music and (2) many of these artists rely on “ghost writers” to write lyrics for them.

A lot of artists who have yet to hit the mainstream (thankfully) don’t have the kind of access to these luxuries as artists like Gaga and others. This forces these artists’ thought process throughout the creation of their music to be much more consistent and fluid overall than that found on the major charts around the U.S.

Artists like the Brooklyn electronic songstress MNDR are involved heavily in the writing and production of their music. Along with that  kind of consistency that can be found within her music, MNDR also focuses on her image in the way that Gaga and Ke$ha do. But the overall sound found on the radio today lacks more than just songwriting prowess, it heavily lacks diversity of influence.

Female artists who have just barely grazed Top 40 like M.I.A. were quickly forgotten after she failed to produce a radio-ready hit similar to her 2008 groundbreaker, “Paper Planes.” But what’s truly admirable about M.I.A. is her decision to keep creating music from a list of influences that are important to her and her original audience.

This also brings up the point of how meaningless entire albums have become. Much of this is due to the radio’s relentless thirst for hit singles, causing the majority of the people who “listen” to Lady Gaga or Ke$ha or whoever to only know what’s played over the airwaves and not what is on the rest of these artists’ albums.

But the art of the album is still very much alive, just in a different place. Janelle Monae [the video I’ve linked this to is enough of a testament on its own] is a performer who debuted with an album constructed around a Suite Overture theme, presenting her Motown-inspired sound in a structural and meaningful manner. And even while her music is formatted this way, her live performances are what she is renowned for. Grimes is another artist who is focusing on that balance and relationship between album and live performance, as well as developing her own unique image.

Thankfully, artists like this can still be found in more popular areas of music, too. Artists like Beyonce and Florence Welch use sheer talent to express emotion and energy throughout their music.

This creative process that is supposed to be the crux of the music we listen to is more underwhelming on the radio today than it’s ever been. And while this in and of itself is a disappointment, the fact that there is also music out there that is more unique and more creative and diverse than anything that’s ever been listened to before is something that ought to get your ears’ attention.

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