When you think of a quintessential “pop star,” artists like Madonna, Britney Spears, and Beyonce come to mind. Most of the biggest pop stars in the world are, in fact, women.Sure, there are the Justins (Bieber and Timberlake) and, of course, the late Michael Jackson, but pop music will always be marked by the famous females who have fought their way to the top.
Every few years, a new crop of young, female artists spring up, and only a select few have what it takes to not only have a hit song, but also manage to last in an ever-changing industry. For every Madonna, Britney, and Lady Gaga — who debuted and blew the pop scene wide open — there are dozens of women that just don’t cut it.
If the past has taught us anything, it’s that when women start taking over the industry, we’re in for a treat.
In the 80s, the world was introduced to a generation of pop stars that changed the music scene forever — and paved the way for many female artists to come. Janet Jackson, the youngest of the famous Jackson family, made her solo debut and carved out her own legacy away from her performing family. The spunky Cyndi Lauper released hits like “Time After Time” and the girl-power anthem “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” solidifying her status as a verifiable pop icon. The late Whitney Houston dominated speakers with hit after hit, dancing between the lines of R&B and pop. And of course, the Material Girl herself, arguably still the reigning “Queen of Pop,” Madonna debuted and took the world by storm.
The 90s saw a move towards groups: The Backstreet Boys, The Spice Girls, N*Sync, Destiny’s Child, and plenty of one hit wonders dominated, until the debut of a certain teenager named Britney Spears ushered in a new generation of female solo acts at the end of the 90s and the early 2000s. The new crop of young, unique artists included Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Nelly Furtado, and Pink.
The next few years weren’t as fortunate for new female pop stars. With the exception of Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga, the mid-2000s were not really defined by new female artists making a huge wave, the way the 80s and 90s were.
One thing is for sure: 2016 has been a great year for women in pop music.
Industry veterans like Rihanna, Beyonce, and Britney all made triumphant returns with their high-profile albums, and Katy Perry and Lady Gaga both dipped their toes in the water with new singles. Ariana Grande dominated the summer with “Into You” from her third studio album Dangerous Woman, and Sia had a huge summer earworm of her own with “Cheap Thrills.” Adele‘s critically-acclaimed album 25 was certified Diamond recently — a feat not many accomplish. Carly Rae Jepsen released a b-side of her album E•MO•TION that drove her loyal Internet fabase wild.
In the 80s, it was all about female-empowerment, about unconventional artists with their own styles. The 90s ushered in the girl-next-door turned sex symbol blonde starlets. It feels like this era of new artists will be the era of the Cool Girls, and we’re pretty damn excited. The standouts in the industry right now, who I think are destined for big things, are Zara Larsson, Dua Lipa, and Tove Lo.
Zara Larsson had her breakout moment in the US in 2015 with her debut single “Lush Life” and a feature on the hit “Never Forget You” by MNEK. In 2016, the 18-year-old had a high-profile collaboration with David Guetta on the UEFA Euro Cup theme song “This One’s For You.” Most recently, Zara dropped the risque, Rihanna-esque single “Ain’t My Fault.” She’s got this badass attitude and soulful voice that you wouldn’t expect from a Swedish teenager, but she makes it work, and that’s what makes me so excited for her American debut.
Another new act that’s stirring up some buzz is Dua Lipa. The British singer released a string of catchy tracks this year, including “Hotter Than Hell” and “Blow Your Mind (Mwah).” Her voice has a deep, distinct tone and if her early singles are any indication of what her debut album (set for a February release) will sound like, critics and fans will eat it up.
Tove Lo has been rising in the industry for a while now, writing and collaborating for major players like Coldplay, Nick Jonas, and Adam Lambert. Her 2014 debut album Queen of the Clouds set the stage for her darker, brooding pop sound. Another Swedish artist, her sophomore album Lady Wood is due out at the end of October, and the lead single is the aptly-named “Cool Girl.”
Zara and Dua are two new artists that I believe have the talent and drive to make it; Tove Lo has already been pumping out hits and is surely not about to slow down. They have their own distinct style that caught my attention, and the attention of many others. In the same vein as Tove Lo’s latest single, they are indeed the Cool Girls. They’re experimenting with new sounds and ideas, but still maintaining that level of radio-friendliness that is oh-so important for an artist seeking mainstream success.
But the question is — will they go the mainstream, pop star, uber-famous route, like a Britney or Katy, or be more of a Marina and The Diamonds or Lily Allen — talented artists spilling with originality, a huge fanbase, some high-charting singles and continued success, but little mainstream recognition? Only time will tell, but if it were up to me, I’d send them straight to superstardom.