Women in the music industry have revolutionized every genre. They have defined their careers, shattering records and perceptions of how to propel their career. Britney Spears is an iconic and legendary pop star. The two descriptors are thrown around like a frisbee in a rainstorm. However, she has been the moment for over two decades. Her name is consistently in the news in part of her fight against her egregious conservatorship. The news has leached onto her private life once again for public opinion and clicks, devising rumors to generate content at her expense.
Robyn Rihanna Fenty is of another world. She has catapulted herself from a gyrating cropped topped emerging artist to a bonafide star, advocate, and stadium queen. She has also not released a new album in five years. ANTI, which should have been Album Of The Year in 2017, was her last album. It is still pound cake served fresh from the oven. The album is ambitious and exquisite in tone and growth for Rihanna as an artist. Rihanna is asked when she is releasing new music as though being a singer is the only job she has. She is a billionaire now from her coveted beauty and skincare lines, Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin, respectively, as well as Savage X Fenty, the lingerie line which revolutionized how people express their bodies. In addition, Rihanna released an album every year from 2005-2012.
Women are expected to exude sexuality as a selling point. For Britney Spears, two of her MTV Video Music Awards performances are embedded in our pop culture psyche. It is a part of the packaging, particularly for pop stars to align with their catchy songs. They bare their bodies seductively. Sexuality branded as musicianship has implications on how girls view their bodies and is preceded by social media. Many singers have also reclaimed sexuality as a powerful grounding of their body, their choice. It empowers people to thrive in their body.
There are female artists who are churning out music. Some artists are fine cream. Some artists are clumpy, a desperation for public relevance. Still, mediocrity is marketed and prepared with a bright red distracted bow. An artist who is far from desperation and mediocrity, Charli XCX, reminded her audience of her album, how I’m feeling now, at the urging from her record label, showing the push to sell records.
Normani is one of my favorite singers of the new millennium. She was in Fifth Harmony, a pop group, where she endured racist comments as she is a Black woman. She is evolving her confidence as an artist. She released a number of singles, playing with her prowess and showing her range. She is exploring, releasing music at her time. Her dynamic performances shatter the stage. It is an antithesis to the aforementioned churning of women and their music.
Halsey (she/they) is another artist who evolves in their sound. Their latest album, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, is a proclamation as they were pregnant, falling in love, and owning their power as an artist out of expectations. She spoke with Zane Lowe in a wide-ranging conversation about their inspirations for the album. They have taken control of their privacy, declaring that she would not be speaking to the press after their pronouns were disrespected. Their connection to their audience prevails in their terms. Their performances are grounded in exploration and power.
Britney Spears’ audience advocated for her to thrive on her own again through the #FreeBritney movement. Over the course of 2021, she has become closer to that freedom, as recently as her father being suspended from being in charge of the conservatorship. Britney Spears’ personal fight should be private with public support. There should be no speculation on whether or not she would return to the stage. If Britney never performs again, her legacy and happiness need to thrive. It’s her life. (Update! As of November 12, Britney Spears’ conservatorship was ended and all it took was several years of public pressure and massive campaign, there’s still work to be done on behalf of other people who have lost their rights under abusive conservatorship models.)
Rihanna is moving in new spaces, showing her audience how to expand in interests and passions, which also include the Clara Lionel Foundation, “that funds groundbreaking education and emergency preparedness and response programs around the world.” Asking when an artist is making new music is entitled and rude as though their performance is only for us. It is also awful to not let our artists grow sonically, as was seen with the ire of Lady Gaga’s album, Artpop. Stream that album!
There are a number of female singers who have changed how they show their music. From mainstream singers to independent singers, they are pushing against the antiquated record label packaging of how audiences receive female singers. From releasing digital album releases to remastering their work to owning their masters, women in music are embracing their voice and presence.
Rihanna could very well never release an album again. It should be her choice when she wants to release music. She is at the pinnacle of her career to make music when she wants to, which may not be afforded to every singer. In the same vein, female singers over time will own their power and rise, away from the hold of record labels and the machine to sell.
Allow singers to rest in their power as an artist and as a human.
“Book Nerds Dance Too” is Feminist Book Club’s playlist of wonderful artists you may know and song to reminisce on.