Graphic by K8 Strassman

Why Gen Z Womxn are Disrupting Pop Music

Momentum for “women in music” is on the UP driven by a new generation of Gen Z female artists who are completely disrupting the male-dominated pop music industry. K-pop boy band BTS aside… Gen Z women are dominating the music industry and pop culture at large.

Gen Z women in music are the voice of their generation. Because they can be DTC with their community via social media, they are having a significant impact as they interact with their followers openly, honestly, and frequently. They engage with them as friends (not fans) and use their voice & platform to weigh in on topics important to their community: mental health, body positivity, sexuality, multiculturalism, politics, work ethic, drugs, alcohol, and fashion.

Last week’s Grammys was a clear indication of their impact. Beyoncé and Taylor Swift broke records and Gen Z’s Billie Eilish, Megan Thee Stallion, H.E.R., and Dua Lipa swept the most coveted award categories.

It’s more than just a stellar showing for Women’s History Month.

ON THE UP: The MFactor for “Women in Music” is up from 44 March 2020 to 56 March 2021.

There’s always been iconic women in music pushing boundaries: Aretha Franklin, Madonna, Selena, the Dixie Chicks, Lady Gaga, Rihanna… but there’s typically only been a few disrupters per generation. It is very rare that a generation comes together in an effort to disrupt norms at the same time like Gen Z is.

Women in music like Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Megan Thee Stallion, and Doja Cat are already becoming household names (even if you didn’t know how to spell them). A few you might not know yet: H.E.R, Tate McRae, Noname, Olivia Rodrigo, and Chika.

Why is this something to pay attention to NOW? The #FreeBritney Movement and NYT’s recent documentary Framing Britney Spears shone a light on the plight of women in music. To make it in a boy band world, women like Britney Spears and Mariah Carrey had to surrender control over their music, style, and career paths. Taylor Swift’s documentary Miss Americana showed us just how hard it was for her to be herself, speak to topics she cares about (like politics & gender equality) and maintain momentum. She highlighted the pressure women feel to constantly reinvent themselves.

Gen Z artists are changing the narrative (in fact, they are writing it themselves) and showcasing their authentic, unfiltered lives. Thanks to Tiktok, Instagram, SoundCloud, and Youtube, young musicians connect with their generation “DTC”. Because they can circumvent the typical system, they don’t have to conform. The power of social media has empowered them to communicate the messages they want, build their platform & personal brand their own way, and form a direct relationship with their audience.

The takeaway for those of us outside the music industry? If you want to connect with Gen Z on the issues they care about, collab with the rising stars they listen to.

THE DECODE

DISRUPTION: Gen Z as a generation openly challenges double standards, stereotypes, and conventional norms. Women in music are amplifying the discussion, using their music to talk about the topics & issues they care about.

Billie Eilish is a 19-year-old, 7 time Grammy Award winning singer / songwriter. She first gained attention in 2015 at age 13 when she uploaded her first song “Ocean Eyes” to SoundCloud. Now she is best known for her song “Bad Guy” and her latest documentary: The World’s a Little Blurry.

In addition to her music, Billie is known for challenging conventional stereotypes of how women need to dress, act and speak. Like many of her generation, she does what she wants. On her Where Do We Go? World Tour, she appeared in a video interlude where she discussed the double standard she can’t escape. “The body I was born with, is it not what you wanted? If what I wear is comfortable, I am not a woman. If I shed the layers, I am a slut … If I wear more, if I wear less, who decides what that makes me? What that means? Is my value based only on your perception? Or is your opinion of me not my responsibility?”

Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, better known by stage name H.E.R. (short for “Having Everything Revealed”) is a 23 years old 3 time Grammy winner and was just recently nominated for an Oscar. As her stage name suggests, H.E.R. is willing to talk transparently about sensitive and taboo topics.

At last week’s Grammy awards, H.E.R. took home a Grammy for song “I Can’t Breathe. “I Can’t Breathe” took its title from an activist slogan adopted after the death of Eric Garner, who was killed by an NYPD officer using a banned chokehold. This song was one of several 2020 singles, like Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture,” that spoke directly to the protests over the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.

INNOVATION: Gen Z artists are DTC. Social media (online chat rooms, TikTok, YouTube, Soundcloud) enable them to gain feedback from followers, co-create / collaborate on new music, and build connections with their community — make it feel like they are friends, not fans.

Amala Ratna Zadile Dlamini, better known by stage name Doja Cat, is a 25-year-old rapper from Los Angeles. She became more widely known when her song, “Say So,” became part of a TikTok dance challenge. Now she’s featured on the Birds of Prey soundtrack, starting a new tour, and performing on late night shows like Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show.

“Overnight viral sensation” Doja Cat has actually been at it since she was 13 years old. She got her start by making beats “on live for 10 hours at a time” and would have listeners critique her music. She grew her community from 50 to 500 to the 42+ million monthly listeners she now has on Spotify.

Tate McRae is a 17-year-old Canadian singer, songwriter, and dancer. At the age of thirteen, she gained prominence as the first Canadian finalist on the American reality TV show So You Think You Can Dance. McRae is gaining international recognition with the song “You Broke Me First.” In December 2020, McRae was the youngest musician featured on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list. This month, she was named Apple Music’s Up Next Artist in advance of her first album release on March 26: too young to be sad.

McRae blew up during quarantine by connecting with her global Gen Z community on TikTok and Instagram.With over 1 million TikToks created using “you broke me first,” McRae finds value and inspiration from the way her fans relate to & interpret her music. When asked why she thinks her self-made, iPhone shot music video for “you broke me first” has over 70 million views on YouTube, said: “People want to see things that are relatable and things that they could do themselves right now… that helps create tractions… If I would have over shot something… it would have taken away from the song.”

POLARIZATION: New-age feminism is sparking discussion & debate over whether being provocative and risqué is empowering women to be liberated from gender stereotypes or setting a bad example.

Megan Jovon Ruth Pete, also known as Megan Thee Stallion is an American rapper, singer, and songwriter signed to Roc Nation management. Originally from Houston, she first garnered attention when videos of her freestyling became popular on social media.

Inspired by the likes of Beyoncé, Cardi B and Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion openly speaks about her sexuality. With her hardcore & raunchy lyrics, she is not afraid to speak her mind. She is polarizing because of the often explicit sexual nature of her lyrics.

Her song “WAP” with Cardi B has had everyone talking. Both Cardi and Megan are powerhouses of female sexuality, independence, and dominance. In a male-dominated genre that is often criticized for misogynistic wordplay toward women, the two rappers have never shied away from taking back the narrative of femininity in hip-hop. “WAP” is a prime example of progressive womanhood and modern femininity. The theme of women prioritizing pleasure and joy runs from start to finish. Liberation and power are showcased in the lyrics, placing the track as the duos’ most forward and compelling expression yet.

Their performance at the Grammy’s garnered significant push back. Parents Television Council president Tim Winter criticized the performance as “entirely unfit for a primetime network television broadcast… Artists have every right to confound empowerment with debasement, and sexiness with debauchery, but a broadcast television network carries a higher standard… especially during the times when children are likely to be in the audience. Shame on CBS.”

Why are brands partnering with provocative musicians like Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B? Because consumers are attracted to the fact that these women aren’t afraid to be completely out there and make everything they do their own.

STICKINESS: Confidently turning perceived weaknesses & imperfections into strengths is becoming a signature of Gen Z female artists.

Dua Lipa is a 25-year-old English singer and songwriter signed with Warner Bros Records. She is most recently known for her song “Don’t Start Now” which quickly became a quarantine hit. One of the reasons she is memorable is because she’s carving her own sound.

There are many reasons why Dua Lipa “shouldn’t be a pop star.” When she was young, she was once told she would never make it in music because her voice is too deep. Now that she’s leaned into it, her “imperfect” voice makes her unique.

Fatimah Nyeema Warner, known professionally as Noname, is an American rapper, poet, record producer, and activist from the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago.

Noname is taking a memorable approach to rap & hip hop. In contrast to many rappers that are loud and in your face, Noname is quiet and poetic with lyrics that are hard to forget. She’s modernized protest music to make it catchy and informative. She says the loud parts are quiet, and that isn’t a bad thing that’s just her style.

SOCIAL IMPACT: Artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Chika are bringing a voice to minority groups across race, ethnicity & sexuality.

Olivia Rodrigo is an 18-year-old American actress and singer, who is known as an actress on the Disney Channel and more recently as the breakout star behind the #1 song in the country, Driver’s License. Rodrigo is the “flag-bearer” for a wave of predominantly young women, non-binary and queer songwriters, and singers. Her single is “immersed in heartache and mental health… sad but not melodramatic, more realistic than resilient.”

Jane Chika Oranika, professionally known as Chika, is a 24-year-old American rapper, songwriter, poet, model, and actress. She first garnered attention on social media before signing to Warner Records in 2019. She is a black queer plus-sized woman born to Nigerian parents and grew up in the south.

Chika is willing and open to talk about her atypical upbringing. She is bringing a voice to a group of people who have often felt like they were not represented in popular music. She is showing plus-sized women how to challenge stereotypes and be confident.

ON THE DOWN: Playing it safe…

Momentum Maker, Author of Maximum Momentum, Founder & CEO of Decode_M