Early this year, the results of a study by Dr. Stacy L Smith stated that the representation of women in pop music had decreased over the past six years. By analyzing the Billboard year-end Hot 100 charts from 2012 to 2017, it was found that a mere 22.4% of 1,239 performing artists were women. And this is just in regards to those onstage — a smaller percentage of women work behind the scenes. The study also found that only 2% of 300 of these songs were produced by women.
That being said, there are numerous rising and established women creating electronic pop music who are leading the charge in turning these statistics around. Modern pop music has historically credited male producers for elevating the work of female musicians, diversifying their sound, and pushing their “proteges” to take artistic risks. However, an alternative history rejects that assumption: female vocalists and producers, both veterans of the genre and their young, eclectic mentees, have consistently been at the helm of cutting-edge electronic music. From Kate Bush to Kelela, the following tracks offer a wide selection of the brilliant vocalists, producers, and visual artists who have had a hand in sculpting the world of electronic pop music.
Kate Bush (1985)
The emergence of British artist, Kate Bush, in 1978, a musician who has largely written and produced her own music, in addition to her elaborate visuals (see her self-directorial debut for “Hounds of Love”) set a high artistic standard for the genre. By the time her celebrated 1985 LP, Hounds of Love, was released, Bush had long since retired from touring to focus her efforts on perfecting every aspect of her album releases. “Cloudbusting” serves as an early precursor to elements of Björk’s work — synthesized sounds in combination with strings and drums. Bush’s storytelling lyrics, too, are akin to the approach which Tracey Thorn took in Everything But The Girl, who were already active by this time.
The Other Two (1991)
Gillian Gilbert of New Order led this partnership with her husband and New Order bandmate, Stephen Morris. The Other Two provided an outlet for aspects of Gilbert’s songwriting and vocal abilities, which were seldom featured within her primary gig, where Bernard Sumner was the face of the band. Their debut single, “Tasty Fish,” mixes upbeat club beats with pop sensibility and Gilbert’s slower, confident vocal melody.
Tracey Thorn (1996)
Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn first turned heads in the electronic music world when she featured on Massive Attack’s 1994 track, “Protection,” lending her sultry vocals and earnest lyrics to their slow burning production. Everything But The Girl achieved a surprise hit when their track from the same year, “Missing.” Thorn has since released a series of solo albums, the latest being 2018’s Record. There is a club focus to the album’s sound, with an emphasis on shorter, danceable tracks which engage with Thorn’s lived experiences of womanhood. It’s centrepiece, “Sister,” is an eight minute long blend of dark synths and heavy hitting rhythms from Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint. Corinne Bailey Rae fills out the vocal, backing Thorn’s voice.
The ever innovative Icelander, Björk, needs no introduction. When the Sugarcubes disbanded in 1992, Bjork rooted her solo career in the UK’s trip hop scene, culminating with 1993’s Debut. Following her eclectic and daring album Post (1995), 1997’s Homogenic found her writing impassionately of heartbreak, which she would later revisit on Vulnicura (2015) and Utopia (2017), often using strings and flourishes from uncommon instruments, such as the glass harmonica and accordion, to crystallize her sound.
Róisín Murphy (2005)
After rising to critical acclaim as one half of the duo Moloko, Róisín Murphy’s highly anticipated debut as a solo artist found her pushing boundaries on her own terms, free to work with producers of her choosing, experiment with different genres and arrangements, as well as new languages (see Mi Senti —her 2014 EP covering classic Italian pop songs, wrapped in intimate production). She continued her forays into the fashion world as well, creating the tour wardrobe of ever changing costumes which she alters live onstage and developing visual themes around each one of her records. Her debut album, 2005’s Ruby Blue, shows her experimenting with skittering synths, clever lyricism, and layered vocal harmonies – “Sow Into You” is a standout. For those who are intrigued, fast forward to 2018 and listen to the progression evident in Murphy’s current project: the deep funk and house inflected singles she has been releasing with producer, Maurice Fulton. “All My Dreams” is just that.
Yukimi Nagano (2009)
Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon possesses a soulful voice, which is combined with the varying production utilized in her band’s songs: downtempo numbers that are equally synth heavy and oriented for the club. Machine Dreams, their 2009 album, preceded Nagano’s high profile collaborations with Gorillaz (on 2010’s Plastic Beach), and grew their fan base via it’s off kilter electronic pop. Like Murphy, Nagano stretches her voice to shape her songs. “Blinking Pigs” is classic Little Dragon, electronic embellishments adding magic to its bass and drum led verses. Nagano’s assured vocal holds it all together.
Enter Jessy Lanza, Hamilton’s minimalist, breathy vocalist and producer. Lanza worked with Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan on her debut album, 2013’s Pull My Hair Back, which cites dance, house, and techno influences. Signing to London based electronic label, Hyperdub, expanded Lanza’s audience, allowing her to reach the UK and European scenes which gave rise to the careers of ex-pat Caribou, as well as Four Tet and Modeselektor. Pull My Hair Back was shortlisted for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize, which is awarded annually to the best Canadian record – a decision based off of artistic merit alone. The album features “Keep Moving,” an infectious blur of synths, beats, and Lanza’s insistent voice. She combines jazz, pop, and r&b influences to add a sense of warmth to her stripped back production.
Empress Of (2015)
Jazz vocal training and her discovery of Björk at age 11 set the stage for Lorely Rodriguez, aka Empress Of, to begin producing her own music. Her writing is deeply personal, as is exhibited on 2015’s Me, a refreshing feat of challenging production and gliding vocal melodies. “Need Myself” is a textured ode to empowerment, Rodriguez’s piercing vocals floating above it’s production.
When, Anohni, formerly the lead vocalist of the influential avant-garde Antony and the Johnsons, emerged in 2016 with her apocalyptic synth driven record, Hopelessness, she filled the album with messages about the disturbing state political and social climate of western nations in particular. Co-produced with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, the upfront essence of the record is distilled in “Drone Bomb Me,” a devastating track in which Anohni criticizes the Obama administration’s engagement in drone warfare.
Holly Lapsley Fletcher, stage name Låpsley, is a member of the “Soundcloud generation.” She began recording in her Merseyside bedroom as a teenager, releasing her debut EP – featuring a cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday” – in 2013. Three years later, her debut record for XL was released, Long Way Home. “Heartless” centres her clear and full voice, cascading synths and a strong backbeat juxtaposing the lyrics’ pain with upbeat energy.
R&B songstress, Kelela, “grew up in the ‘burbs listening to R&B, jazz and Björk,” influences which shine through on her debut full-length album, 2017’s Take Me Apart. On this album, Kelela melded her striking vocal runs and revealing lyrics – which followed the course of a relationship through many stages – with exquisite production. “Enough” has shared Björk collaborator Arca in its production credits – a gorgeous, tumbling sea of beats and synths amidst Kelela’s vocals. Kelela has elevated the electronic genre in her pursuit of dreamlike songscapes which allow her voice to lead.
Rae Morris (2018)
English singer-songwriter and producer, Rae Morris, released her second album this February, entitled Someone Out There. It chronicles her relationship with producer, Fryars, Morris and past collaborator Ariel Rechtshaid co-producing the project. Morris too is influenced by Björk, the elasticity of her voice and experimental takes on pop production expanding the genre. “Do It” exhibits her playful vocal phrasing and bouncy synths, a curiosity and breadth of emotion communicated.
The above artists are but a fraction of the women who have shaped electronic music and who continue to create today, individuals who are making the form a more accessible genre and mode of expression for topics ranging from personal relationships to political strife. Go beyond Spotify playlists to engage with female vocalists and producers in your local music scene – they are subverting the algorithm.