Punching the glass ceiling, one song at a time
Written by Lynn Nichols & Audrey Stratton
Women have always been icons and innovators in every sphere of rock. As far back as the wide-ranging genre’s origins in blues and soul, Black women including Big Mama Thornton (who sang “Hound Dog” first) and the legendary Aretha Franklin pioneered rhythms, styles and ornamentations recognizable in the music of today. Later in the 20th century, figures like Patti Smith and Tina Turner left their mark on pop culture. Riot grrrl, the feminist punk rock movement fronted by bands including Bikini Kill and Team Dresch, followed in the 90s. Contemporary frontwomen like Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! and Lzzy Hale of Halestorm raise their voices in punk and metal, smashing the unfounded yet persistent perception that rock and its subgenres are a masculine scene. Women have fought to create their own spaces in rock, but do not always receive the same visibility and recognition as male performers. This list includes 10 female-fronted rock acts from all over the world for you to support today — only the beginning of the hundreds you can discover.
Listen while you read!
Amelia Tan, better known as Amelia Arsenic, effortlessly fuses elements of electronica, hyperpop, and hip-hop with grungy punk and industrial metal. As her stage name suggests, she’s always had a flair for the macabre. Before focusing on her solo work, Tan was an integral part of Australian cybergoth group Angelspit from 2003 to 2013. Under the moniker DestroyX, she and frontman Zoog Von Rock would often release songs with themes of horror, medical procedures and capitalism. Amelia Arsenic entered a new chapter in her career in 2014 when she parted ways with Angelspit and released her first EP, “Carbon Black,” featuring a poisonously delicious title track with dark lyrics and a strong bass. Tan returned to her Angelspit roots on 2018’s “Queen of Risk,” an album which sees lyrics about real life set over a backdrop of blistering guitars and synths (“Live Slow Die Old”). Two years later, after a health scare, Tan released her latest effort to date, “Deathless,” in which she proved to the world that even during tough times, both her love for art and fighting spirit will prevail. Amelia Arsenic has come back even stronger and, with her one-of-a-kind charms, it certainly looks like she’s here to stay.
They may look submissive, but don’t judge a book by its cover — Band-Maid know how to make some noise. Despite wearing French maid outfits, the five-member Japanese group have far more in common sonically with Metallica than with classical music. What was the inspiration behind this unique combination of concepts, you may ask? Just ask the group’s founder, main guitarist and second vocalist, Kobato Miku. After several stints waitressing at maid cafes around Tokyo, Kobato wanted to pursue a career in the music industry. So, she did something that had never been done before — she combined the elegance and softness of maid fashion with her favorite genre of music, hard rock. Band-Maid’s inventive style isn’t their only calling card. Thanks to brazen riffs and Atsumi Saiki’s fiery belt on tracks such as “Warning!” and “Thrill,” their music packs a fierce punch. With the release of their new EP “Unleash” on Sept. 21 and a tour of the U.S. forthcoming, Band-Maid will continue shattering stereotypes, not just of Asian women, but of women all around the world.
If there’s one thing about Diamante Azzura Bovelli that sets her apart (other than her fabulous name and her fiery hairstyles, of course), it’s her passion for power. Ever since her debut at the young age of 16, the Mexican Italian American artist has showcased her astonishing vocal range over impactful alternative and hard rock instrumentals. And, despite two record label changes, she’s successfully retained her signature sound over the years. Diamante’s unique style isn’t only confined to traditional rock, however. She’s excellent at blending sweeping orchestral ballads (“Unlovable”) and even country (“Coming In Hot”) with girl-power lyrics. The singer proudly embraces her Mexican heritage as well, with amazing Spanish versions of her music (“Lo Siento”). Just like her name, Diamante will continue to shine in the industry as a new icon of rock.
Ever the trailblazers, Korean-Chinese septet Dreamcatcher have always done things their own way. Since their 2017 debut, the group have combined the standard elements of K-pop — bright colors and synchronized choreographies — with bold rock riffs and dark and mysterious lyrics. While other acts in the scene sing of love and relationships, Dreamcatcher explore themes of nightmares, reality and climate change. They even had the opportunity to attend Spain’s prestigious Primavera Sound Festival this year, performing a 1-hour setlist. Rock isn’t all Dreamcatcher does, however. Dubstep, R&B and jazz influences all make great add-ins to their well-rounded discography. While waiting for more news regarding their recently announced October comeback, take a listen to fan favorites “Deja Vu,” “Good Night” and “Piri” and take a step into the darkness.
Canadian metal band Kittie formed in 1996 when Fallon Bowman, sisters Mercedes and Morgan Lander, and Tanya Candler were twelve to fourteen years old. Through six albums from their 2001 debut “Spit” to 2011’s “I’ve Failed You,” Kittie have been recognized for their unique voice in heavy metal and its subgenres nu metal and death metal, including historical recognition on the Nu Metal branch of Sam Dunn’s Heavy Metal Family Tree. Their songs combine gravelly vocals, harsh screams and wailing melodies (“What I Always Wanted”), with lyrics raging against abuse and injustice (“Choke”). Kittie’s lineup has changed several times since their debut, and former members of the majority-female group include Talena Atfield, Jennifer Arroyo and the late Trish Doan. After 31-year-old Doan passed away in 2017, her bandmates expressed their grief and reluctance to continue Kittie without her. While many members have moved on to other projects, listeners can continue to enjoy their massive history-making discography, honoring Doan’s memory and her contributions to metal. Kittie will reunite at the end of Oct. 2022 for three performances in Las Vegas at the When We Were Young music festival.
Meet Me @ The Altar
While fans compare their sound to the classic guitar-led pop punk of the late 90s and early 00s, Meet Me @ The Altar are a trio that could only come together in today’s social media age. Guitarist Téa Campbell and drummer Ada Juarez met as teenagers through YouTube in 2015, then connected with singer Edith Victoria online, touring for the first time in 2018. Their bright visuals, optimistic lyrics and energetic melodies have attracted audiences of all ages, especially young women of color and queer people who haven’t often seen themselves in pop punk lineups. Songs such as “Hit Like A Girl,” “Garden” and “Brighter Days (Are Before Us)” elevate the importance of community, love between friends and hope for the future. They released their EP “Model Citizen” in 2021 on Fueled by Ramen (home to acts like Twenty One Pilots and Paramore), followed by an all-acoustic version of “Model Citizen” in 2022. Meet Me @ the Altar tour the U.S. through October, ending with a performance at When We Were Young.
Comprising the talents of guitarist and vocalist Amy Love and bassist Georgia South, U.K. duo Nova Twins combine grunge-influenced punk with a no-nonsense attitude. Childhood friends Love and South first joined forces in 2014 as BRAATS, and then began recording as the Nova Twins in 2015. Their first full album “Who Are The Girls?” was released in 2020. Nova Twins’ style incorporates intense hooks and menacing riffs (“Antagonist,” “K.M.B.”), with a distinct, wailing guitar sound enhanced by the duo’s unique pedalboards. Their lyrics draw in part on pride in their heritage and social justice action in the Black Lives Matter movement — Love is of Iranian and Jamaican descent while South is Jamaican-Australian. “Cleopatra” from their second album “Supernova” asserts their confidence and feeling of community as Black women. Released in 2022, “Supernova” has been nominated for the U.K.’s Mercury Awards, making Nova Twins the first Black women nominated in the awards’ Rock and Alt Music category. As part of a large-scale international tour to promote the new album, Nova Twins will perform across the U.S. and Canada through October.
Lifelong guitarist and singer-songwriter Elise Okusami brings striking riffs and thoughtful lyrical imagery to her musical project Oceanator. She draws on her experience as a multi-instrumentalist, along with the grunge, punk and pop punk styles of the 90s. In an interview with Guitar.com, she cites musicians like Elliott Smith and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong as early influences. Oceanator’s first full album, “Things I Never Said” (2020), features moody guitar (“The Sky Is Falling”) and artful, winding outros (“Sunshine”). In 2021, she contributed to “Black Lives Matter: A Punk Compilation” with “I Will Find You,” a track with a wistful melody and lyrics that speak to unconditional love and solidarity. She has also collaborated with ska musician JER for two bold singles, “Too Late” (2021) and “Decolonize Yr Mind” (2022). This year, Oceanator released her second album, “Nothing’s Ever Fine,” which combines introspective lyrics with swaggering rock guitar. Smooth track transitions make the new album ideal for enjoying front to back, but songs like “Beach Days (Alive Again)” and “Stuck” are staples for any rock playlist.
Despite only having debuted in Jan. 2021, American band Plush are already making a name for themselves in the rock industry. After all, they’re fronted by the formidable Moriah Formica, who, despite being in her early 20s, possesses the powerful and rich soprano voice of someone ten years her senior. Not to mention, guitarist Bella Perron is a student at Berklee College of Music and bassist Ashley Suppa has earned praise from KISS’s Ace Frehley (yes, that KISS). If there’s one thing about Plush that sets them apart, it’s their electrifying fusion of bombastic instrumentals with girl-power lyrics. From rallying battle cries (“Champion”) to angsty breakup anthems (“Better Off Alone”) to power ballads (“Don’t Say That”), there truly is something for everyone on their self-titled debut album. Despite the departure of drummer Brooke Colucci in mid-August, there’s hope on the horizon: just like their music, Plush are resilient and they will hit the road with a support drummer on their U.S. tour.
Connie Sgarbossa, her brother Ethan Sgarbossa and their friend Taylor Allen founded SeeYouSpaceCowboy… in 2016. The hardcore punk band, named in reference to 90s anime series “Cowboy Bebop,” have shifted their lineup several times since. But, in every variation, they remain committed to their politics of anti-racism, anti-capitalism and queer liberation. SeeYouSpaceCowboy… define their own style, self-describing as sasscore while rejecting genre assumptions — as heard in an early track, “Stop Calling Us Screamo.” In their latest album, 2021’s “The Romance of Affliction,” frontwoman Sgarbossa belts, whispers and screams through songs reflecting her personal experiences with depression and addiction. Tracks like “The End to a Brief Moment of Lasting Intimacy” and “Intersecting Storylines to the Same Tragedy” juxtapose tender, vulnerable lyrics with their metalcore sound. SeeYouSpaceCowboy… just wrapped up a U.S. tour, which included a July performance at Lakewood’s The Foundry Concert Club, and will tour Europe in 2023.