7 Women Who Changed The Game In Music In the 2010s

It’s been a decade where women were told to "step up" by the (now former) president and CEO of the Recording Academy after the Grammys; where widespread alleged abuse by figures in the music industry including R. Kelly, Russell Simmons, and Charlie Walk was exposed; and where women got nowhere near equal time in the headlining slots on festivals, in Billboard's Hot 100, or in the studio. We finally started talking about the failure of the industry to support, promote, and make women visible in all aspects, both in front of and behind the microphone. We finally started talking, thanks to #MeToo, about how the music industry doesn’t protect women and allows predators to flourish. And we finally started talking about how online harassment and overall objectification of women in music is not something we should accept. 

We also landed in the age of streaming music, where money from streams became the dominant force. The way artists do business, the way they promote and release albums, and how consumers listen to them, has changed dramatically in this decade, and women have been a driving force in innovating. 


Ahead we look at seven women who absolutely changed the game in music in the 2010s. They did it by fighting the system, by blowing everything up and doing it their own way, and by speaking out when they saw injustice.

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7. Leslie Fram, CMT’s Senior Vice President of Music & Talent

We’ve told you a lot about the problems women in country have faced getting airplay and recognition, which have only gotten worse in the last decade. Fram has been leading the charge in the music industry to get women the airtime and accolades they deserve. She created CMT Next Women of Country initiative, that features new and upcoming women artists, and is a leader in Change the Conversation, a movement to fight gender inequity in country music, fund research into what’s happening, and mentor young women. Fram’s efforts have resulted in the network sponsoring all-women tours, booking an all-women show for their Artist of the Year special in 2018 (which became the most-watched show in franchise history), and point the entire company towards embracing equality. That’s a huge deal in a format where women only hold 16% of the top songs and the trickle-down effect on the opportunities extended to them can depress their careers.
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6. Lauren Mayberry

Before #MeToo became a widely embraced movement, Chvrches singer Mayberry was speaking out in 2013 about the online harassment and sexism she had to endure as the woman who is the defacto face of her band. Mayberry talked about it, sharing screengrabs of harassing messages that the band received about her on its social media accounts. Writing in an op-ed in the Guardian, she asked, "Is the casual objectification of women so commonplace that we should all just suck it up, roll over, and accept defeat? I hope not." It became a cause she fought for throughout the decade after she was trolled and taunted with sexist tirades in the wake of the band's 2015 video for "Leave A Trace," for her outfit. She faced death threats from Chris Brown fans after issuing a statement denouncing their former collaborator Marshmello for collaborating with Brown. Her rallying cry has encouraged numerous women to speak up, rather than take the abuse that is constantly hurtled at them online.
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5. Ariana Grande

Tearing down industry standards, anyone? Following the death of her ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller, and still processing after the bombing of her Manchester concert, Grande just wanted to be in the studio. Her A&R person at Republic Records said it was “like therapy” for her, so the label let her keep recording. After she dropped Sweetener in August of 2018, she kept going and dropped thank u, next in February of 2019, following the fast dissolution of her engagement to Pete Davidson. Both albums were absolute smashes and ripped apart the long-held industry notion around pop music that you needed to wait at least a year between album cycles. Grande did it with the idea of dropping music whenever she wanted, like hip-hop artists do, and she proved something about the streaming world: People have big appetites for artists they love and will embrace new material. She also proved there is a long tail for older material, and people will keep streaming it — you can have your cake, eat it, and cash the cheque, too.
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4. Kacey Musgraves

Sometimes, when the deck is so stacked against you, you have to start playing from a different deck entirely. Country music’s peaceful hippie became one of the biggest stars in the genre this decade by completely eclipsing, and stepping outside, the genre. Seeing how hard she had to fight for success and radio airplay with her first album, and then seeing that she wasn’t given it on her second album when she didn’t play to the demands and rules of country radio, Musgraves decided to do whatever she wanted on her third album and not write singles with the format in mind. In fact, she didn’t even service the songs to them to play. Instead, she reached higher and further and found an audience outside the genre who care about the yee-haw agenda. She also searched for an audience who wouldn’t stop her from supporting LGBTQ+ equality, making music that colours outside the lines of what current country sounds like, and who embrace her stance on legalising pot. The country music industrial complex realized that a lot of country fans were embracing her, too. The decisions Musgraves has made while travelling her own path will have ramifications that country radio, which has had a stranglehold on defining what is country for far too long.
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3. Beyoncé

Before Bey’s self-titled 2013 album dropped, we lived in a world where it was a given that you announced an album, then did a publicity blitz to roll it out. An artist had to make the rounds, talking to everyone and anyone, to get the word out that they had new product in the market. Publications needed long-lead notice so they could review and plan around an album drop (and also plan covers). Tours needed to be mapped out and announced to generate revenue around an album. Fan clubs were geared up, and social media worked into a fever pitch. But after Beyoncé, that’s no longer the case for superstar artists. The entire internet came to a screeching halt on 12th December, 2013 to listen to and watch the visual album she quietly dropped overnight. She rewrote the rule book from the ground up — leading to a surprise drop now being called “pulling a Beyoncé” — and has been doing whatever she wants since, to great success. She stops the world. World stops. Carry on.

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Photo: Rich Polk/Getty Images for Xandr.

2. dream hampton

One documentary series on R. Kelly accomplished so much. Helmed by hampton, the series Surviving R. Kelly picked on the longform reporting that had been happening for two decades and was revived in the 2010s by journalist Jim DeRogatis. hampton put Kelly’s alleged survivors front and centre, and the effect was palpable. The long-running #muterkelly movement found more followers, and their protests, along with the docuseries, finally convinced RCA Records and Sony Music to drop the artist from the label. Kelly faced renewed calls by the Chicago Prosecutor’s office for victims to come forward, prompting 11 new charges to be levied against the singer (he denies all the accusations against him). Most importantly, it prompted a sense of action in the music industry, where #MeToo has had the least effect of all arms of the entertainment industry.
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1. Taylor Swift

When it comes to making money moves, in this decade Swift walked the walk as well as talked the talk. In an industry where artist profits are rapidly shrinking, even as industry grosses for streaming music grow, Swift started by pulling her catalogue from Spotify in 2014 under objections to the free streaming tier and that she was not able to window her music and make only some of it available to those subscribers. Swift explained in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that she did not feel music should be free, even in an environment supported by advertisers. She returned to Spotify in 2017, reportedly after the service softened its stance on windowing and once streaming revenues were spiking significantly up for artists. Swift then took on Apple Music in 2015 and successfully lobbied for the streaming service to pay artists for the streams generated by users during their three month trial period. She set her sights on taking care of her fellow artists, as well as herself, in 2018, by adding a clause to her contract with Universal Music Group that requires them to pay all artists a non-recoupable portion of their earnings if they sell their shares in Spotify. Then, in 2019, Swift took on an industry precedent around artists being given the opportunity to buy their master recordings back. It’s not something that is guaranteed in most contracts, but she took her beef with the head of her former label, Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta, not selling her masters to her. Instead, he sold them to Scooter Braun with the backing of private equity firm the Carlyle Group. Many are watching to see how she reacts, by either re-recording her works to devalue the catalogue they own, or if the group involved will settle the argument equitably. Either way, Swift will set a new standard for artists owning their work that is long overdue.

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