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Artist of the Month: Women's History Month

In honor of Women’s History Month, several of Byte’s feature writers have compiled a group of groundbreaking female artists that have impacted the music scene in profound and exciting ways. These artists push the envelope and dare to create within a traditionally male dominated-industry.  

Sydni Wiseman: Lucy Dacus

Photo by NPR

The artist I've discovered most recently is Lucy Dacus, a queer female artist from Richmond, Virginia. The adopted daughter of a music teacher and a graphic designer, she grew up surrounded by the arts and bought her first guitar off of Craigslist in middle school. Dacus broke into the mainstream indie scene in 2016 with a personal favorite, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” a single from her debut album, No Burden. That year, she also performed at Lollapalooza in Chicago. She eventually released her sophomore album, Historian, in 2018, which includes her most popular single, “Night Shift.” In addition to her success as a solo artist, she joined a super-group formed in 2018 called boygenius and released an album of the same name, with Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker. Dacus released her third album, Home Video, in 2021, and most recently, she released a single called “Kissing Lessons'' this February. Dacus has used her success as an artist to advocate for women’s reproductive rights after a Texas bill was passed in 2021 that outlined regulation of bodily autonomy. She pledged all the profits from her Texas shows to funds that help Texans receive reproductive care.

Mesgana Waiss: Ravyn Lenae 

Photo by Spin

Ravyn Lenae’s four-year hiatus officially ended in February with the release of two stellar singles “Skin Tight,” featuring Steve Lacy, and “Light Me Up.” Before graduating high school in 2017, she had already scored features on Noname’s Telefone, Mick Jenkins’ The Healing Component, and Zero Fatigue founder Smino’s blkswn. The Chicago native’s previous EPs: Moon Shoes, Midnight Moonlight, and Crush effortlessly blend alternative R&B and experimental acoustic pop. A standout track, “Sticky,” showcases her eccentric high soprano voice that possesses a honeyed and subtle quality reminiscent of Solange and Deniece Williams. “4 Leaf Clover” is my personal favorite because of Lacy’s cardinal '50s era chord progression and Lenae’s daring harmonies during a key change in the song’s bridge. Her visuals are equally as enticing, often centering an accent of her scarlet red aesthetic. I sense this could be the start of a rollout for her debut album that fans are patiently awaiting. If you are looking for new music from a female artist during Women’s History Month, she should be in your rotation. I cannot wait to see what Ravyn Lenae has in store for the music world in 2022.

Emma Fullen: Aly and AJ 

Photo by Out.com

Having a sister five years older than myself is a blessing (and a curse, but I digress). The blessings are bountiful, especially when she introduced me to the sister singing duo, Aly and AJ. Aly and AJ were on Disney, they had several popular albums in the early 2000s, and were super popular. But unlike many artists we feature for this series, they had a wild timeline that warrants a shoutout. Aly and AJ signed with Hollywood Records in 2005 and proceeded to release some of the most important music of my lifetime. Insomniac, released in 2007, includes absolute bangers including, but certainly not limited to, "Potential Breakup Song," "Division (÷)," and "Like Whoa"; all of which completely rocked my little 6-year-old world. After a few years of influential music, they suddenly disappeared. But in 2018, they released another album, Ten Years, to commemorate their last decade of no music. In 2020, they re-released “Potential Breakup Song,” but this time—with curse words. Of course, we substituted them in ourselves during our youth, but this was validation that the duo was back. Since then, a steady flow of releases and tours has graced our lives. They have achieved the comeback of a lifetime. My sister and I can’t wait to see them live in April to not only celebrate their new music, but the last decade and a half of our lives that were made so much sweeter by Aly and AJ. 

Rosie Mitchell: Zella Day

Photo by Apple Music

One of my favorite female artists, who many people haven’t heard of, is Zella Day. Zella Day is a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter most known for her vintage indie sound. In 2009, she self-released her debut album Powered by Love; however, Zella got her big break in 2015 when she released her first official album, Kicker, which won her recognition from critics and allowed her to perform sets at Coachella, Hangout Music Fest, and more. With millions of streams on Spotify alone, Zella released a duet with Weyes Blood called “Holocene,” and she appeared on Lana Del Rey’s Chemtrails Over the Country Club. Out of her entire discography, Zella’s song “Man on the Moon” is the one I love to listen to the most. The rich multi-part harmony of the ballad mixed with folk harmonica and guitar create a complete listening experience. The background synths bring the lyrics, “I'm just a man on the moon, feet off the ground, I'm in your dreams now,” to life through a dream-like resonance. Zella Day isn’t just a musician though, she recently spearheaded the Headstrong Mama campaign, which is a positive feminist movement that serves to highlight the exemplary women in people’s lives. The campaign works on the premise of asking fans and followers to submit photos of “headstrong mamas” in their lives, as well as that person’s story.

Bernadette Harding: Japanese Breakfast 

Photo by Yahoo

This past month I began reading Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast’s autobiography, Crying in H Mart and, as the title suggests, many tears were shed. The book details the heartbreaking loss of Zauner’s mother, as well as the early stages of her musical influence and career; citing music as “the only comfort for (her) existential dread.” Upon reading Zauner’s book, I found myself revisiting her critically acclaimed album, Jubilee, along with her newest single “Nobody Sees Me Like You Do,” featured on the collaborative album, Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono. Both works share a similar intensity that is rare in today’s pop music. Zauner’s cover of “Nobody Sees Me Like You Do” sits perfectly on her. Written by Yoko Ono after the death of her husband John Lennon, the song touches on grief and loss, a subject familiar to Zauner and heavily explored in Jubilee. The album’s bold-faced honesty joyously spits into the face of an often unforgiving and cruel world. One can’t help but lose themselves in the driving '80s synths of “Be Sweet” or the catchy guitar loop in “Slide Tackle”—a standout track that looks grief in the face and grants the listener permission to feel joy after irreversible loss: “I want to be good. I want to navigate this hate in my heart somewhere better. I want to feel it. But with the feel, there is an ache I meet to desire living.” It’s rare to find such a brave and vulnerable musical analysis of grief. 

Zauner valiantly forges a path toward a new era of pop, defined by a musical explosion of genre complete with horns, driving guitar, and classic synths. Zauner provides an alternative to the white male-dominated industry, bringing fresh experiences to the forefront of pop. 

Arianna Sergio: Lennon Stella 

Photo by Now Playing Nashville

I was first blessed by the ethereal voice that is Lennon Stella back in 2018. Her debut EP, Love me, had just been released and it had been recommended to me through Spotify. This five song EP included, “Bad,” “Breakaway,” “Feelings,” “La Da Di,” and “Fortress.” After its initial release, every song began to garner attention—with “La Da Di” gaining the most traction. I was enticed by the EP’s rising popularity so I figured, "Why not? What do I have to lose? Might as well investigate what a chunk of other people are listening to now." Little did I know, I had much to gain: A new favorite artist. The pop songstress’ slightly raspy, yet delicate hushed tone details the trials and tribulations of love and loss. The standout track from Love, me that I found myself listening to on a loop was “Feelings.” At the time, this song reflected everything I was experiencing but didn’t know how to frame into words. It was my go-to track and I swore by it. Ever since that moment, I was enamored. A few months previous to this, Stella released smash hit “Polaroid,” which featured the likes of Jonas Blue and Liam Payne. This one flew under my radar, but collected a whopping 345 million streams. 

After Love, me she was featured—with ILLENIUM—on the smash hit, “Takeaway,” from The Chainsmokers. This song showcases her strong range and holds some of her best vocals. The empowering and iconic standalone ballad, “B*TCH (takes one to know one)” was the first song released after this collaboration. Soon after, Stella’s first two singles—“Kissing Other People” and “Golf on TV” featuring JP Saxe—dropped from her critically acclaimed debut album, Three. Two. One. Achieving even more success, she was featured on a track with Charlie Puth, “Summer Feelings," from the soundtrack SCOOB! In 2021, she released two singles—“Fancy” and “Bubble”—from her upcoming untitled album as well as being featured on Adam Melchor’s single, “Light Year.” Even though it’s only March, she has already dropped “Hey Beautiful”—the theme song from the sitcom How I Met Your Father—and her latest single, “Thank You.” The 22-year-old artist sure does keep her fans on their toes with surely more angel-like music to come as 2022 progresses. 

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, these trailblazing artists mark a future for the music industry: one of inclusion and innovation. These women offer an alternative to mainstream pop, showcasing their passions and experiences through cutting and earnest examinations of life and culture. So this March, consider adding these women to your musical roster, not just for Women’s History Month, but all year long.

Featured Image: Bernadette Harding

Sources: Rolling Stones, New York Times, Vanity Fair, New York Times, Spotify, Spotify, Pitchfork, Spotify, Spotify, New York Times, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Texas.gov, Billboard, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Instagram, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, IMDB, Apple Music, Spotify, AlyandAj.com, Hollywood Mask, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, YouTube, Spotify, Cultured Vultures, YouTube, YouTube, YouTube, YouTube, YouTube, Hollywood Records, Spotify, New Yorker, Spotify Spotify, Spotify MOMA, Spotify, Spotify, Instagram, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, Spotify, IMDB, Spotify

Contact Bernadette Harding with comments at baharding2@bsu.edu or @bernadette.harding on Instagram.

Contact Emma Fullen at erfullen@bsu.edu or @FullenEmma on Twitter.

Contact Arianna Sergio with comments at at afsergio@bsu.edu or @ariannasergio on Instagram.

Contact Rosie Mitchell with comments at rosalita.mitchell@bsu.edu or @rivetin_rosie on Instagram.

Contact Mesgana Waiss with comments at awaiss@bsu.edu or @theganarhea on Twitter.

Contact Sydni Wiseman with comments at snwiseman@bsu.edu or @sydni.wiseman on Instagram.