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Pop music has experienced a boom in diversity lately, and we have the female pioneers of pop music to thank for that. Women have not only been a vital force for inclusion in pop music, but have also helped to shape and define the very genre. As a result, we owe a lot to these women for their strength, courage, and talent. Let’s celebrate their accomplishments with this guide to the female pioneers of pop music.
One of the biggest names of all time in pop music, Aretha Franklin is known as The Queen of Soul for a reason. She started singing at a young age in her father’s church before moving on to become one of the most recognizable figures in music history. She is most noted for her song “Respect” as well as for the classic “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” As a result she is considered by many to be the paragon of the female pop star. Although she does not tour much anymore, she still shows off her pipes for special occasions like Super Bowl XL as well as President Obama’s 2009 inauguration. She is also still active in the studio, becoming the first woman to have 100 songs appear on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart. It is no exaggeration to say that without Aretha the sound and feel of pop music would not be what it is today.
Madonna may be the archetype for the female pop star. Bursting on to the scene with a combination of tremendous sex appeal as well as talent, Madonna blew open many doors with her pop success. She has almost too many songs to name, but is most recognized for “Like a Virgin,” “Vogue,” and many others. Madonna has had incredible staying power in the pop music scene, with songs showing up in every decade since she first debuted. She is still active in performing and in recording. She holds a Guinness Book of World Records entry for being the best-selling female recording artist of all time, with more than 300 million albums sold to date. She is also the highest grossing solo touring artist, bringing in over $1 billion throughout the course of her career.
Gwen Stefani helped bring a much needed female touch to the pop-punk trend of the early and middle 90s. Whether as a solo artist or performing with her group No Doubt, Gwen has been one of the most influential female pioneers of pop music. With No Doubt she obtained commercial and critical success with the album Tragic Kingdom, which featured hits like “Just a Girl” and “Don’t Speak.” As a solo artist she was the first artist to receive 1 million downloads with her hit song “Hollaback Girl.” Gwen helped show that women in music don’t have to fit the stereotype of the girl singing longingly about love. Instead she helped revive feminism in the music world and proved that girls can do any kind of music, and do it well.
Mariah Carey has had an insanely long career in the pop music industry. Her collaboration with Boys II Men, “One Sweet Day,” holds the record for the longest time spent at number one in US chart history. She has received numerous awards for her talent and is easily one of the most recognizable faces in pop music today. She still records and gives performances, and recently has been blowing up the television screen with her own reality shows, as well as special holiday performances where she is a fixture for her hit song “All I want for Christmas is You.” Mariah is cited as an influence by a number of today’s female pop stars, especially those hailing from Latin and South America, and she helped pave the way for greater inclusion of Latin and South American musical influences in the world of pop.
In fairness this isn’t just one of the female pioneers of pop music, but a whole collection of them. The five Spice Girls, Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger, and Posh, established themselves as a force to be reckoned with when they launched their debut album, Spice. It went on to sell 31 million copies around the world and solidified the Spice Girls as a force in pop music. They went on a reunion tour in 2007-8, and all of the girls have gone on to successful careers both within the music industry and outside of it. Their rallying cry of “Girl Power!” helped fuel the dreams of many young women in the 90s, and remains a huge influence on culture to this day.
Perhaps the oldest female pioneer of pop music on this list, Tina Turner was born in 1939 and has been wowing audiences since she began her musical career in the mid-50s. Tina is referred to by many as “The Queen of Rock n Roll.” Given her 11 Grammy awards it is not hard to see why this is an appropriate title. Her hits include such famous songs as “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” She was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, and has appeared in a number of movies, including her co-staring role in Mad Max.
Starting with her breakout success as a member of The Supremes, Diana Ross has been an outsized influence on the world of pop music. She was named as the Guinness Book of World Records most successful female music artist in history for having more hits in the US and UK than any other female artist, and, in 2016, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is credited with helping introduce America to funk and soul music, both of which continue to shape the pop genre to this day. With all of these credits to her name and more, it is easy to see why Diana Ross is among the best female pioneers of pop music.
Amy Winehouse is frequently painted as a tragic figure due to her premature death from substance abuse. However she is also one of the greatest pioneers and will likely go down in pop history as such. Her vocal abilities were nearly unparalleled and she helped re-introduce a whole new generation of artists to soul music. Amy is notable for her blunt honesty, and the pain she expressed in her music found a home in many hearts. She is sorely missed. Her life, career, and death have been the subject of a number of different documentaries, which serves to demonstrate the respect the world has for her.
Cyndi Lauper is the girl that everyone thinks of when they think of 80s pop musicians, and for good reason. She was the first female artist to have 4 of the top 5 hits on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and is a Grammy and Tony award winner. Her most recognized hit, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” made her the center of many conversations in the 1980s and showed young women everywhere that they can control their own destinies and decisions. Since her debut Cyndi has had a number of successful projects including soundtracks, plays, musicals, and more. She is also noted for her humanitarian work and activism for the LGBTQ community.
Cher is another of the very first successful female pop musicians in American history, and a worthy way to end this list of female pioneers of pop music. She began her career with her husband Sunny with the hit song “I Got You Babe.” She later went on to star on TV with him on one of the most popular TV shows of the 1970s. She has starred in a number of plays and movies in addition to her singing career and eventually had a resident performance in Las Vegas. Cher is the only artist to have a number one Billboard single in each decade from the 1960s to the present.
As you can see, there are a number of women we should be thankful for. Without these talented artists the world of pop music would likely be much different. Because of their contributions and those of many others, pop music benefits from a diversity of voices, styles, influences, and materials. Given the influence that music has on culture, these female pioneers of pop music have helped make the world in to what it is today.