Behind every music genre is a dynamic female artist who is further developing the genre’s sound. Check out four female musicians challenging the status quo.
1) Brittany Howard
Looking back on Brittany Howard’s brief but impressive career as the lead singer of blues-rock band Alabama Shakes, it’s almost comedic the song that made her famous featured the lyrics “I don’t know where I’m gonna go / Don’t know what I’m gonna do.” Howard’s career might have seemed uncertain in 2012 — the year she released the Alabama Shakes’ first album, Boys & Girls — but, three years later, the Alabama Shakes has three Grammy nominations, spots on the “Silver Linings Playbook” and “12 Years a Slave” sound tracks, and two Saturday Night Live performances under its belt.
Howard’s beautifully androgynous voice serves as the foundation of the band’s deep blues-rock sound. She effortlessly explores octaves most female artists can’t reach and certainly can’t maintain without strain. The band’s April 21 release of its sophomore album, Sound & Color, relies on her vocal abilities more than Boys & Girls did. Howard, an Alabama native, takes listeners on a loud, emotional ride through issues of desire, loneliness and the struggle for power.
Artist you might like — Nina Simone, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones
Listen to Alabama Shakes' "Sound & Color" here:
2) Florence Welch
Florence + the Machine is arguably the most commercially successful female-led band to emerge from the U.K. since the Spice Girls. By age 28, lead singer Florence Welch will have recorded three full-length indie-rock albums with the band. The festival-favorite’s third album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, will be released June 2.
Welch’s dark, daring sound successfully revitalizes the rock subgenre baroque pop that emphasizes the use of string instruments not common to popular music, including violins and cellos.
The three singles the English singer-songwriter prereleased — “What Kind of Man,” “Ship to Wreck” and “St Jude” — reflect her brooding style, spooky vocals and affinity for dance music. If the singles are any indication, this album will be performance ready, making this tour a must-see.
Artist you might like — Lykke Li, Annie Lennox, Belle and Sebastian, Regina Spektor
Listen to Florence + the Machine's "What Kind of Man" now:
3) Niia Bertino
Niia Bertino, 26, may be the least commercially accomplished artist on the list, but she certainly has the most musical training. The classically trained pianist, who goes by “Niia,” learned from a number of Juilliard vocalists, attended The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and won a National Foundation for Advancements in the Arts award for her jazz vocals.
Bertino’s appeared on the scene in 2007 when her vocals were featured on Wyclef Jean’s hip-hop single “Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill).” Seven years later, Bertino released her first and only solo record, Generation Blue. The six-track EP is short but sweet. Her jazzy vocals and expert piano skills shine on the track “Body.”
Bertino is an emerging artist who speaks for her generation. The single “Telephone” is a beautiful ode to the role communication plays in a modern relationship with lyrics such as “I love it when you text me first / I love it a little too much” and “Yeah my line’s wide open / You just keep me holding.”
Artist you might like — Fiona Apple, Björk, Nina Simone
Listen to Niia's "Body" here:
4) Mackenzie Scott
A decade from now, Mackenzie Scott, the singer-songwriter behind Torres, might be the poster-child for southern rock. Born in Macon, Georgia, Scott moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend Belmont University, where she graduated from in 2012. After graduating, the 24 year old recorded her debut, self-titled album, which nails the indie-rock-meets-folk sound so many southern artists attempt to achieve. Music publication site Pitchfork named her debut single, “Honey,” best new track and gave her album 8.1 out of 10.
A master of pacing and clever lyricism, Scott writes and records songs that are guitar heavy with minimal production. Whether she’s performing a solo acoustic set or with her band during South By Southwest, Scott commands listeners’ attention thanks to her deep, raspy vocals, quintessential to southern rock.
Scott’s second album, Sprinter, comes out Monday. Torres will perform at The Mohawk on Saturday. Tickets are $10 and doors open at 9 p.m.
Artist you might like — Sharon Van Etten, Cat Power, Waxahatchee
Listen to Torres' "Honey" now: