As of 2017, the ever-changing world of rock and roll music is going through a drastic, welcomed change. In a genre dominated by white males, a new generation of female rockers are storming their way into the forefront slowly but surely. There was once a time where it was a rarity for a rock and roll artist to be female. By 80s standards alone, it would be hard to pull out a handful of rock names that belonged to women or bands headlined by women. Nowadays, women in rock and roll is steadily becoming the norm. Women are taking the genre by storm in both the underground scene and the mainstream. There is something hardcore about knowing that so many more female artists are taking the rock and roll genre head on in the modern era. So hardcore that it embraces the very spirit that rock and roll embodies. History tells us that the origin of rock and roll is very much rooted in rebelling against the norm and against what is generally accepted by a mass population. For a genre mostly helmed by males and more often than not associated with the male demographic, women are taking over the music scene and making it theirs. It is both revolutionary and inspiring to see the current change in motion.
As previously stated, women are taking over the rock and roll scene in mainstream and underground culture. There is a special brand of female led rock and roll that is being directed towards a wide range of demographics. Everyone from the mainstream to the hipster culture to the alternative sub-culture has a female heavy rock artist that is right up their alley. For anyone curious as to where to find some of these artists, read on down this list. As with all current female rockers, these women have fresh, unique voices that deserve to be heard and demand to be heard.
15. Skinny Girl Diet
With an on-the-nose band name that openly critiques the politics revolving around female diet expectations, Skinny Girl Diet is a young trio of women attempting to speak volumes to the world by way of their music. Hailing all the way from London, England, the trio of Amelia Cutler and Ursula and Delilah Holiday aspire to cover global topics by way of social commentary. With a wide compilation of influences from the likes of David Bowie to Japanese metal to classic punk, much of Skinny Girl Diet’s material happens to be experimental in the most abstract way possible. The bulk of their songs aim to promote a feminist agenda against unfair social constructs towards women. This kind of approach to music making risks dividing their fanbase, which it has in many ways, but Skinny Girl Diet doesn’t care. Their trio is all about getting their message out to as many people willing to listen. All while demanding the attention of those unwilling to listen. It seems like they don’t care if people love them or hate them. As long as their message is heard loud and clear and as long as they can spread some impactful change along the way.
14. Alexis Krauss (Sleigh Bells)
Alexis Krauss is best known as the lead singer for Sleigh Bells. Sleigh Bells has been cited in the past as both a rock band and a noise pop band. Whichever genre one applies to the band doesn’t matter as both titles seem accurate to Sleigh Bells, but the overall vibe that Krauss herself gives off is reminiscent of the classic punk rock scene. Not just in her leather clad look, but also her vocal skills. There’s something Joan Jett-lite about Krauss’ presentation. Perhaps it is due to the unrelenting emotion that she brings to every track accompanied by a disarming subtlety to her tone that can be easily missed at times. Regardless, this idea of combining pop with rock and a little bit of punk may sound like a strange combination, but it works. It works mainly due to how Krauss executes the style through her voice in a more than exceptional manner.
13. Taylor Momsen (The Pretty Reckless)
Taylor Momsen has come a long way from playing Cindy Lou Who from the live action version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. After gaining some critical acclaim with her role as Jenny Humphrey on Gossip Girl, Momsen retired from acting in 2011 to focus solely on her music. Since then, she has dedicated all of her hard work to being the lead singer of post-grunge hard rock band, The Pretty Reckless. All of that hard work has paid off with some kickass music. Momsen’s voice hints at enough angst and debauchery in her songs that it brings a special kind of moxie to every track that The Pretty Reckless has to offer. If the style she brings to her music doesn’t convince anyone she’s a badass, maybe they’ll come around if they saw Momsen parkour away from a horde of paparazzi. Go ahead, look it up. It is an unreal sight to see and is quite the noteworthy example that exhibits the punk devil-may-care mentality.
12. Lzzy Hale (Halestorm)
As the frontwoman of Halestorm, Lzzy Hale is one of the leading, dominant voices in hard rock today. Hale carries a thunderous howl with her on stage that makes every Halestorm performance feel like battle cries rather than songs. More often than not, that’s exactly what these songs are. One of Halestorm’s more recent singles, “I Am The Fire,” is a song made to inspire audiences to essentially be their own hero, as Hale herself explained in a 2016 interview with The Aquarian. “I Am The Fire” has already been noted as a modern hymn for the hardcore crowd as well as an incredible female empowerment song. Hale’s voice brings a tremendous strength and atmosphere to Halestorm that can only be described as powerful. Powerful enough to demand an entire room’s attention and then leave them awestruck within moments. Hale has one of the strongest, commanding voices in music today and she wisely utilizes it to tell gripping messages to her audience.
11. Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine)
As the lead of Florence and the Machine, Florence Welch is one of the most enigmatic names that we have in the music industry today. Not only is the aesthetic and lyrical sound which she brings to the table incredibly compelling, but she’s able to create music video visuals which feel absolutely original. The visual presentation for her music feels unconditionally unique in a way that rivals that of icons like Michael Jackson. As for the sound itself, words cannot properly describe the multi-layered lyrics that match her symphonic melodies. By combining genres like indie rock, neo soul, and art pop, Welch is capable of creating a sound that can cater to everyone without being forced to conform to mainstream appeal. As an artist, Welch captures the androgyny that rivals that of David Bowie and a charisma which belongs in a league of her own. She’s an artist we all need to cherish and give her the dues which she deserves.
10. Juliette Lewis (Juliette and the Licks)
Juliette Lewis is best recognized as an Oscar-nominated actress who gave tremendous performances in films like Cape Fear and Natural Born Killers, but she also remains an underseen gem among the underground rock scene. Her band has been around since 2003 to little attention, but much critical acclaim. Not many even know that Lewis has a band, but those who have heard them in action can attest to Lewis’ vocal talents. From the moment her sound is heard, it is clear from the get-go exactly which artists influence her music and which rockers echo prevalently through her sound, but she’s able to twist those influences in a way that makes them her own. As lead singer, Lewis embodies the essence of classic rockers like Mick Jagger, yet her raw energy allows her to take old tropes set by guys like Jagger and present them for her band in a way that feels one of a kind.
9. Joan Jett
Perhaps this is cheating for the fact that Joan Jett is more of an artist associated with the 70s and 80s than anything “current,” but the fact she still remains an active rocker just adds to her badassery. At age 58, Jett is still rocking and rolling on tour and in the recording studio with her most recent album, Unvarnished, being both a critical and financial success. After all these years, she still doesn’t give a damn about her bad reputation. As the definition of rock and roll, Jett has led a career based around rebelling against the norm and trucking to the beat of her own drum. From her humble beginnings with The Runaways to where she stands now as a solo legend, Jett has been a major influence for many of the artists on this list as well as an enduring, fervent presence in the rock world. These reasons and more are why she still remains the Godmother of Punk.
8. Kim Schifino (Matt and Kim)
A sublime blend of indie rock and dance pop, the stupendous duo that is Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino are all about expressing fearlessness in their music. One key example is when the two were brave enough to strip naked and parade around Times Square for their music video for “Lessons Learned.” Schifino especially deserves so much credit for the work she puts in given everything she does to make the pair’s music. In addition to working vocals, drums, and keyboards, she sets the mood during live concerts where she is an absolute riot. Her raucous energy gets the crowd on their feet before music even gets played. It goes without saying that without Kim Schifino, there would be no Matt and Kim. Sure, we’d still have Matt Johnson to look forward to, who is fine in his own right, but the two add to each other’s strengths and weaknesses in a way that is undeniable. The two add so much to each other’s act routine and is why it is in their best interest to remain inseparable as a unit.
7. Angel Olsen
As an artist, Angel Olsen does more than just write infectious tunes or tell meaningful stories to her listeners. Olsen often finds herself challenging the very music industry which she works in. She boldly, subtly, and frequently challenges the conventions and ideas of the music industry in her latest album, My Woman. As she told The Guardian in 2016, My Woman is about the “complicated mess of being a woman.” Tracks on the album like “Woman” and “Pops” directly challenge the music industry’s pre-conceived notions for what a female musician like herself should look and act. Both songs seem to challenge the very idea of what womanhood is supposed to be not just in music, but life in general. She also manages to showcase a pro-feminist message that not every woman shares the same idea of what a woman is and the very notion of a woman having to “be” anything is ludicrous. Through her album, Olsen is expressing that women should not conform to the societal idea of women, but instead should present themselves to the world as they are, and society can either take it or leave. That is a ballsy statement for Olsen to make, but she does so barefaced and valiant for the world to see. That is truly badass.
6. Dead Sara
As a unit with half of its members being female—Emily Armstrong on lead vocals and rhythm guitar while Siouxsie Medley riffs on lead guitar and backing vocals—both ladies come off as the most significant highlights for hard rock band Dead Sara. No offense to their fellow members Sean Friday (drums) and Chris Null (bass guitar), but there would literally be no Dead Sara without Armstrong and Medley. Not only because the two founded the band, but their style together fully personify the grunge culture popularized by Nirvana. Ironically enough, much of Dead Sara’s relatively recent acclaim has come from their cover of Heart Shaped Box featured in the Infamous Second Son video game trailer. They are also best known for their anti-government anthem, “Weatherman,” as well as their expeditiously rowdy “Lemon Scent.” Tracks like these by Dead Sara have a naturally aggressive vibe which feels both perfectly punk and, at times, oddly poignant. Much of that is thanks to the unrelenting atmosphere set by Armstrong’s voice and Medley’s, well, guitar medleys.
5. Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett is a badass in the unique sense of the word. She is badass in that her music embodies a persona that is fearless enough to unveil herself to the world without caring who sees. She reveals herself, insecurities and all, whenever the opportunity presents itself on stage or in her music without feeling the urge to conform to mainstream expectations. It is a mentality that encapsulates exactly what rock music should be about, but so few artists are willing to make that leap in this day and age. Barnett is brave enough to pole vault in front of the world rather than leap in order to showcase her anxieties. The bulk of her music tends to be about vulnerability and is able to relate to the modern new generation of young audiences still struggling with such inhibitions. The fact that Barnett can be so open about her internal diffidence on a large platform and be afforded some Grammy nominated success really puts into perspective just how much rock has positively evolved over the years.
4. Carrie Brownstein
Some readers may be confused as to why we included Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein on this list. Not many people know that in addition to being a comedic writer and actor, Brownstein has her roots in being a punk rocker. For the last two decades, she’s been a member of the punk trio Sleater-Kinney alongside Corin Rucker and Janet Weiss. The band was established in 1994 right when the riot grrrl movement kicked into high gear and the trio took full advantage of it by sprouting numerous songs integrating radical topics like commercialized society, beauty standards, and love at first betrayal. Initially, after recording seven albums together, the band broke up in 2006. For a short time from 2010-2014, back when Sleater-Kinney were on hiatus, Brownstein was the frontwoman for another band called Wild Flag. Much of the vicious energy which Brownstein brought to Sleater-Kinney made a smooth, delightful transition into Wild Flag. Now that Sleater-Kinney is back together, Brownstein is trying to balance her comedy career with her music career. She seems to be doing so tremendously given how Sleater-Kinney’s most recent album, No Cities to Love, has been universally loved all while recently earning another Emmy nomination for her writing work for Portlandia.
3. Mish Barber-Way (White Lung)
White Lung is filled with women worth admiring—including new bass player Caroline Doyle and their tremendous drummer Anne-Marie Vassiliou—but lead singer Mish Barber-Way gets the spotlight for now because she is able to incorporate a journalistic perspective into her songs, something so few rock stars can attest to. Barber-Way has been writing professionally since “longer before anyone cared about the band,” so she said in a 2015 Fuse interview on Youtube. That sort of experience allows her to bring to her band a radical voice that encompasses a worldly view on complicated topics like cultural appropriation, sexual assault, and overcoming physical/mental obstacles. When she isn’t researching and writing for prestigious publications like Los Angeles Times and VICE, she is dedicating her well researched journalistic viewpoint to the stage as an outlet to rant about major issues in the world. Accompanied by a classic grunge sound, the intense voice which she brings to White Lung is utterly captivating and a key example of both female empowerment and unapologetic new wave feminism.
2. Brittany Howard (Alabama Shakes)
Brittany Howard brings the vocal tenacity to the three time Grammy winning rock band, Alabama Shakes. A combination of both classic blues and modern rock, Alabama Shakes has managed to take the world by storm in just a brief amount of time. Despite being active as a group for just under 8 years, Alabama Shakes have been cited as inspiration for current popular artists like Drake, Beyoncé, and Childish Gambino. Of course, Brittany Howard is no one-woman act and therefore could not have achieved this much success without her bandmates by her side. However, the vociferous talents of Ms. Howard are what make Alabama Shakes so indelible to the music industry. Alabama Shakes haven’t been together for a decade and have already become a staple of rock music. The formidable voice which Howard oozes through her soul on stage is a key anecdote to the success of Alabama Shakes.
1. Pussy Riot
The members of Pussy Riot are no strangers to controversy, and it isn’t just because of their band name. As punk rockers from Russia, Pussy Riot use their music oppose the injustices they see not only in their country, but the world as a whole. Through their music, Pussy Riot have openly criticized political injustices, mistreatment towards the LGBTQ community, and even their own Russian President Vladimir Putin. Punk rock is just a part of their act. The other part happens to be protest performance art. That other part is what has placed the group’s members in prison after a 2012 public performance at a cathedral in Moscow. In addition to their arrest, the group’s divisive audience has led to some very vocal critics, including citizens who have attacked Pussy Riot members on sight. What makes Pussy Riot so badass is the fact that they risk physical harm and imprisonment every time they do their schtick, and yet they continue to do it. It’s rather brave of them to continue this movement because they think it is the right way to get their message across instead of fearing the consequences.
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