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Female fronted bands have traditionally been in the minority in popular music. Men have comprised the most legendary bands in rock and roll history; The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, the list goes on and on. But that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. There are plenty of female fronted bands rocking the clubs and auditoriums currently, and they’re only getting bigger.
Sleater-Kinney started out in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1990s. Guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein came from other influential Riot Grrl bands in the area, Heavens to Betsy and Excuse 17 respectively. They decided to collaborate, and eventually, Sleater-Kinney became their main focus. The addition of thunderous drummer Janet Weiss solidified the unit, and their sparse yet heavy sound came to be one of the defining characteristics of independent music in the 1990s. Later albums expanded on their success, eventually granting them rockstar status. After a hiatus in the mid-2000s, with Tucker and Weiss moving on to other music projects and Brownstein joining Saturday Night Live alum Fred Armisen on the hit television show Portlandia, the group reformed in 2015 for a new album.
Siouxsie and the Banshees
One of the original and most notorious female fronted bands, Siouxsie and the Banshees broke down doors for women in rock in the 1980s. Initially stemming from the British punk rock scene of the mid-1970s, Siouxsie Sioux and her bandmates went on to dominate the sometimes intense, sometimes bizarre, always impressively unique post-punk scene. Pop hooks blended with original recording techniques and inimitable skill to make some of the best goth/punk/pop music ever created. Never shying away from progress, the band began to utilize unusual instrumentation for rock, including cello and accordion. Though they disbanded in the mid 90s, Siouxsie continues to play solo shows, and the rest of the band continues with other projects.
Formed in 2004 in Tennessee, Paramore is one of the most recent, and popular, female fronted bands that rock. The band is made up of drummer Zac Farro, guitarist Taylor York, and Hayley Williams on the mic. Meeting little success in the beginning of their careers, their second album, Riot! launched them into the spotlight. Stealing the hearts of angsty Millennials all over, they launched another album two years later in 2009. Their most recent album, the self titled, Paramore, was released in 2013.
One of the most successful rock ensembles of the 90s, The Cranberries are definitely a female fronted band that rocks. Hailing from Limerick, The Cranberries, made up of guitarist Noel Hogan, drummer Fergal Lawler, bassist Mike Hogan, and leading lady Dolores O’Riordan formed in 1989. Their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? was an instant success, launching them to international fame. They went on to put out five more successful albums, four of which were on the top 20 albums on the Billboard 200.
In the late 1970s, Akron Ohio’s Chrissie Hynde had big rock and roll dreams. She moved from the Midwest to London, where she took a job writing for legendary rock rag N.M.E. Not long after, she became involved with early incarnations of The Clash and The Damned. With her feet placed staunchly in punk rock, she started The Pretenders with Mal Hart and Phil Taylor. They signed to Real Records and saw almost immediate success. The band expanded and their upward trajectory continued, with hits such as "Brass In Pocket," "2000 Miles," and their biggest hit "Back On The Chain Gang."
It’s possible that no female fronted band on this list, or anywhere, is as iconic and influential as The Slits. Forming out of the remains of several other primarily female punk bands, The Slits played and toured with some of the biggest bands of the movement, including The Clash and The Buzzcocks, before releasing their debut album, Cut, in 1978. They drew instant respect from their peers, and the album has gone down in history as one of the best and most innovative albums of all time. Bridging punk and post-punk, The Slits made music like no one had ever heard before, and influenced countless other’s after.
Possibly the most popular band on the list, No Doubt and front-woman Gwen Stefani have been dominating the charts since the mid-90s. Their ska-influenced SoCal sound caught on with fans over the course of the decade, and their high energy shows were legendary. The hits "Just A Girl," "Spiderwebs," and "Don’t Speak" chronicled Stefani’s relationship with bass player Tony Kanal and catapulted the band to international stardom. Following the album, the band faced a lull in success. They bounced back in the early 2000s, however, and their popularity remains strong to this day, though they’re not nearly as active as they were in their heyday.
UK band Savages hit the scene in 2012, gigging around London, drawing influence from post-punk heroes such as Wire and Siouxsie and the Banshees. It’s spastic, intense music, at the same time danceable and angry. Lead singer and lyricist Jehnny Beth has a serenely hushed voice, which leads menacingly into a reverb-drenched plea. The band’s first single, "Husbands," released in 2013, is a frantic, driven affair, one which haunts the listener with swells of distorted and reverb-heavy guitars and vocals dissolving into the madness. Both of the band’s albums, 2013’s Silence Yourself and 2016’s Adore Life, have been nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize.
Fearless Debbie Harry took Blondie from the punk rock trenches to the glam of new wave synthesizers, to mainstream popularity all in less than a decade. The band survived as an underground phenomenon before the success of their landmark album Parallel Lines in 1978. The album catapulted them to pop superstardom, where they continued to experiment and branch out into new and unconventional styles for the time. They embraced everything from punk rock to disco to hip hop. After a nearly twenty year hiatus, the band came together in the late 90s for new music and tours. They continue to work together to this day.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were an unexpected hit in the early 2000s. Their aggressive post-punk sound couldn’t overwhelm their penchant for pop hooks, and lead singer Karen O led the group to a series of popular songs. O has become synonymous with the youthful throwback movement of the time, with stark songs and aching delivery. Their shows can only be described as intense, as they bring an all-out assault through their brash sound. Especially on their debut "Fever To Tell," O and the band innovated indie rock, marking a stark shift from the dreamy pop-oriented sounds of the late 90s to a more aggressive sound that simply couldn’t be ignored. As far as female fronted bands are concerned, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have left their mark for years to come.
There’s a pretty big difference between most of the bands on this list and the quaint, sugary melodies of soft rock staples The Carpenters. Siblings Karen and Richard started the band in 1968 after the dissolution of a couple of other groups they were performing with. They had a number of classic hits on adult contemporary radio, and are remembered for their soft rock sound and ear-worm melodies. It was Karen’s sweet and unusual voice that carried them to superstardom in the 1970s, however. She sang lower than most stars of the day and didn’t carry an apparent power, but the delicate subtleties made their songs stand out. Karen died tragically in 1983 due to anorexia and stands today as a warning symbol of the dangers of the disease.