As an Xennial born on the Gen X and Millennial cusp, I still remember when covering a song was taboo, frowned upon and seen as much ‘less than’ the original. Now, it would seem that the way for younger generations of musicians to be noticed and be relevant is not simply to make original music, but to pay homage and reimagine the musical legacy of Gen X and some Boomer licks thrown in there too (Mr. Sandman by SYML!) . You’re not going to be privvy to the mind-blowing art taking place if you don’t tear yourself away from mainstream radio, folks. It’s taking over music apps like Spotify, which is why I put Zella Day’s cover as #1, because yeah, a white woman can find empowerment in black soul in the era of hyper-canceling when it feels like there’s too much dividing, when instead, we should be focused on unifying the human race.
And for my #9 pick, I have epic respect for Clare Maguire for creating this glamorous power ballad bowing down to one of our most notorious female baby boomers, Elizabeth Taylor. Did you know Liz threw her first cuss word at her film manager when she was a teenager because she was letting this man know, whom she described as a monster– that nobody yells at her mother? What a force she was, even in youth. As an adult, it was that same fiery strength unique to her, that got Washington D.C. to give a damn about the AIDS epidemic during neglectful reaganomics, because too many were dying without a care and two people close to Liz contracted the virus.The rest of the female artists on this list are also creating meaningful, explosively gorgeous music not being played on the radio. Or landing on most people’s playlists. I know because when I talk about some of these musicians to people, they have never heard of them or they change the music back to reggae when I try to play them at a party. It blows my mind that an extremely talented band like Milk & Bone only has 179,000 listeners? Say what? How is this possible? These female and black artists go largely ignored by the top music blogs that so many music lovers flock to in order to guide them on what is new, hip and cool. So, they need exposure to get the word out on what is crazy dope right now, and how are you even living without these artists in your life? Make sure you and your friends aren’t missing out on these rare gems spanning Canada to Australia and both the east and west coast of the U.S.:
- “You Sexy Thing” by Zella Day (Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona). Zella Day took a 1975 sensual hit by British soul band, Hot Chocolate and only improved upon it. She showed us how deeply sexy this song really is with her raspy intonation that evokes all the emotion I never knew this song had in it. She also showed us that it works as a love ballad or a self-love anthem when she dances so freely enjoying her body as a strong woman lifting weights with a joint in her mouth. But, I also see Zella Day getting labeled as a ‘Karen’ (yeah, I see you in the you tube comments). Let me remind you that a Karen is a white woman inventing racially-charged offenses where there is none– not a white woman gettin’ down to some timeless soul…and finding a sh*t ton of empowerment in it. When you misappropriate ‘Karen’, you create more divisiveness instead of unifying the black and white race. Music is a magical connector that brings people together and Zella Day does exactly that paying homage to Gen X with so much relatable down to earth bad assery just oozing here.
2. ‘Jane’ by Girlpool (Montreal, Canada). Girlpool is direct and blunt. Their lyrics are powerful because they are simple, empowering and matter-of-fact. There is nothing to decode here. The conviction in their feminist spirit is felt in their strong, female voices. I especially enjoy the way they experiment with various vocal sounds, one of them being the high-pitched screams of a little girl that lands as punctuation in the song,‘Jane’: “Girls and boys if you are listening/ Don’t ever feel imprisoned/ Feeling like your mouth, is glued tight shut/ You were born for a reason/ Share all your feelings/ If you are a Jane put your fist up too”.
3. ‘House Key’ & ‘Drive’ by Lolawolf (Brooklyn, NY). I first heard this Zoe Kravitz fronted band when I was watching an incredible film about teenage, female bullying called, ‘Before I Fall’. You’re most likely to discover Lalowolf in a movie, as ‘Drive’, a sensual lick about meeting a lover, was also featured in a film as well. ‘House Key’ just might be the best angsty-break-up song ever about a girl who is calling a guy she dated replaceable because he did not act irreplaceable. She knows her worth and she wants her house key back from him. Pronto.: “Give me back my house key/ You can leave it with my new boyfriend/ You can leave it on the back, back, back porch/ I don’t care when you leave it, leave a message/ You used to never get the message.”
4. ‘Pressure’ & ‘Peaches’ by Milk & Bone (Montreal/Quebec, Canada). Milk & Bone has been my favorite band for the last couple of years. When I first wake up, they are who I put on. Their silky-voiced duet over chill, hazy melodies is addictive like a drug. Theirs is the vibration I want to live on. They do a couple phenomenal things. First, the layering of sounds in their synth pop is a mood and it’s mellow, intriguing, catchy, and subtly sexy. Second, they are musical activists evolving intimacy, in that, they sing about sensation and how things feel vs continually singing about how things look. They do this in many songs.The listener can drop out of their head and down into their body and meditate on their songs with lyrics echoing: “You’re like good water pressure/ In a cold rainy summer/ All that you can deliver/ I want it bad”.
5. ‘F**k You’ by Kailee Morgue (Phoenix, AZ). Kailee’s lyrics paired with her soft, feminine bad-assery made me fall in love with her instantly. Who is she saying “F You” to? To the guy that is gaslighting her. Duh. When her love interest tells her, “You’re only as good as you are, when you are with me/ So I hope you no better, no better than to leave”– Kailee responds in a very empowering way that let’s him know that her entire worth does not reside in a man.
6. ‘Your Revolution’ by Sarah Jones (Queens, NY). Sarah Jones will forever be on my Feminst Anthem Playlist. She is always relevant. But, I get tired of her being relevant though and wish she would just become historic….like I wish black women did not have to keep telling their brothers that their revolution is not going to arrive by oppressing black women the way white men oppress all women. In an age where rappers and musicians get to sample other people’s songs– and get featured on the radio for it, Sarah Jones’ lyrical-sampling-manifesta was not. A lawsuit ensued when a radio did play it. I think omitting it from mainstream radio is a purposeful, misogynistic act and I challenge every radio station to play it. I challenge readers to call up radio stations and ask them to play it. Activism comes in many forms of protest, including art and entertainment such as: “Your revolution will not happen between these thighs/ The real revolution ain’t about booty size/ The Versaces you buys or the Lexis you drives/ And though we’ve lost Biggie Smalls/ Baby, your notorious revolution/ Will never allow you to lace no lyrical douche, in my bush”.
7. ‘Undo” by Transviolet (San Diego, Ca). My list would not be complete without a San Diego band. As an Aztec, the music was such a huge part of my college experience. How thrilled was I to learn that this new song that made my ears perk up was from the Whale’s Vagina? Maybe you already have Transviolet featured in a Tim Legend song (Telescope) on a workout playlist? I do. ‘Undo’ is a sexy love letter to a guy you may be dating, telling him to check himself as he tries to put all that toxic, archaic, patriarchal, bull-s*** conditioning on you and you’re like, “Whoa buddy, I’m not the kind of girl you can do that to”. I’m convinced that the band went with the short title of ‘Undo” because it’s original title of: “It’s 2018, how in God’s name are you still flinching at my feminism, for f***k’s sake’, was simply too long: “You’re so shocked when I catch on fire/ So surprised when I have an answer/ Guess no one told you, now I told you/ We’re not living in the forties/ Ain’t it weird when I’m thinkin’ stuff?”
8. ‘Tea, Milk & Honey’ by Oh Pep! (Melbourne, Australia) When Oh Pep! sings in such a serious tone, it just makes me love them more. They have mastered the delicate balance between strength and tenderness in this swoon-worthy ballad with a long and beautiful build up to an exquisite climax. The lyrics are so poignant and spot with the music the entire song. To me, I feel like this song is about a friend consoling another friend on really strong love, empathizing with that third party who knows what they’ve got at stake. I also really love the way she pays homage, almost marveling, at how incredible the subject of the song is: “My baby runs ten miles to win it/ She moves like her body’s got a fire in it/ She makes me swoon when she walks in the room/ She wakes up early and she leaves too soon”.
9. ‘Elizabeth Taylor’ by Clare Maguire (UK). Clare strikes a timeless chord on this melancholy ballad. She really did something here, channeling the resilient spirit of a beloved, twentieth century screen queen. Did you ever wonder, why Liz was so addicted to the altar getting married eight times? I think maybe Clare answers that at the end of her tribute when she belts out repeatedly, “No one could tame me, no one could tame me”. F*ckgirls that can go through several lovers, do so because they have high standards of how they are treated. Liz and Richard Burton loved each other so insanely, that I believe they would have been wed a third time, had he not died so young. The video, worth viewing, is like stepping into a time machine with crimson hues and low piano keys, then Clare’s sultry voice echoes: “I’ve loved, I’ve lost and loved again/ But here I am, on my own/ I feel like Elizabeth Taylor/ Do I make you nervous?/ I feel like Elizabeth Taylor/ And not just on the surface.”.
10. ‘Rich Boyz’ by The Aquadolls (Southern California). The Aquadolls are a trio of punky-mermaid-rock-n-roll on a self-published label, Aqua Babe. They’re a feisty opening act and they pack a punch! I was most taken by Melissa Brooks’ verbal punching in the song ‘Rich Boyz’ where she describes how a young girl handles unwanted sexual advances. Her female subject is drunk and getting a ride home from a guy that tries to grope her while she is unable to hold her liquor. The climax of the song is when our fiesty, inebriated heroine fights back and fends off a sexual assault: “She starts to laugh and opens his trunk/ And she gets an umbrella/ Smashes on the windshield/ And it goes kerplunk/ Oh oh/ And that’s why you don’t mess with a bad bitch when she’s drunk”.
Honorable Mention: ‘I’m Not Stupid’ by Tori Amos (Cornwall, UK). In sassy, lyrical poetry the way only Tori Amos can do, she performs this commentary piece at her piano about famous, female, Millennials– depicting how foolish and stupid their behavior is compared to how she acted when she was young and famous. It’s not that Tori wasn’t being naughty, it’s that she was not incompetent and reckless about it and kept her bad behavior secret and hidden inside her ‘mmm mmm’, so there’s no record or no fingerprints on it. And no tabloid stories distracting from her iconic and artistic catalogue and career. Thank you for the reminder Tori, of how contraband fun and questionable thrills are supposed to be had: “What would I have done?/ Many naughty things/ Many, many naughty things/ But I would have had a driver/Cuz I’m not stupid.”