Welcome to This Week’s Playlist, where we look to current events for some melodic curation inspiration. Tune in every Monday for a mix of news, commentary, and of course, music.
If there is one thing that women have taken over, it is modern pop music. Sure, we have Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran in the mix, but they’re footmen in a court of queens whose ranks swell every generation (hey there, Lorde).
But if you listen to the heavy-hitting ladies on the radio, you can find two distinct voices: those that use the same playbook every time, and those who wipe the slate clean with every release, weaving outside influences and personal changes into music for their millions-strong fanbases. While the individual changes hit or miss, they all contribute to a vibrant, diverse, and interesting pop landscape – oh yeah, and a lot of great music too.
For the inaugural This Week’s Playlist column for HelloGiggles Teen, we’re tackling ORIGIN STORIES: who were the greats before they were the greats? For the purpose of not including every female artist in history, we’re keeping this to artists with a relatively high profile, but more importantly than that, to artists who pushed themselves and their music in the early 2000s, and whose songs reside over and in the hearts and heads of listeners everywhere.
Rihanna – “Pon de Replay”
Before she commanded a Navy, Robyn Fenty was an island girl looking for the best dance floor in town. While it was “Umbrella” (originally for Mary J. Blige) that shot her into cross-genre stardom, her first single set the stage for that unmistakable voice – though void of any of the grit or the vulnerability that would become staples of her biggest hits.
Kelly Clarkson – “Miss Independent”
“American Idol” has had its share of breakout stars, but none more so than the original Idol. “Miss Independent” was Clarkson kicking down the doors of traditional pop stardom, and though her sound’s evolved into something more mature and reserved, this songs stands apart as her self-high five into the pantheon of pop immortals.
Avril Lavigne – “Complicated”
Was there anything more uncomplicated than being in love with Avril Lavigne’s debut album? Though the Canadian singer quickly shed her outsider, emo image for that of a pop-punk princess (to both startling and underwhelming effect), that first CD and its signature single rattled as many heartstrings as it did chains on Hot Topic pants.
Lady Gaga – “Paparazzi”
Underneath the egg entrances and Botticelli posing and vomit performance art, Lady Gaga is a pop genius. Much of her later work is unfairly overshadowed by her artsy endeavors, but “Paparazzi” was the first of her songs to get the full Gaga music video experience, before the full music video treatment became all she was known for.
Miley Cyrus – “See You Again”
Most child entertainers do a 180 with their careers when they become “adults,” but few as rapidly and as drastically as Miley Cyrus. Though “Bangerz”-era Miley has been in the works for a while, her debut album was still tied heavily to her Hannah Montana image, down to the fact that it was a dual-CD release: one dedicated to Miley Cyrus, and one dedicated to—you guessed it—Hannah Montana.
Destiny’s Child – “Survivor”
It’s impossible to talk about pop music without mentioning Queen B, but she wasn’t always flying on her own. R&B group Destiny’s Child rotated through several lineups before settling on Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams, and Yoncé, but the group’s first album together, “Survivor,” was a launching pad for Beyoncé on her own, as Knowles had a hand in the writing and production of every song.
P!nk – “Don’t Let Me Get Me”
She might be known best for flying through the air while delivering inspirational songs, but Alecia Moore started her musical career as a neon-haired misfit. After an ill-advised R&B debut, P!nk hit her stride on “Missundaztood” with tunes like “Get the Party Started,” but shades of her future self were evident on the more ballad-like “Don’t Let Me Get Me.”
Zero 7 – “Destiny”
When Sia exploded onto the pop scene, everybody pointed out that she’d had a career before that as a songwriter and experimental solo artist. But even before that, she was part of the electronica group Zero 7, lending that voice to downtempo grooves long before she belted out powerhouse hits like “Chandelier.”
Taylor Swift – “Teardrops On My Guitar”
Swift called “1989” as her first proper pop album, but to appreciate how far she’s come from her country roots, you have to go back to her first, self-titled album. That Southern twang! Those mid-00s fashions and extreme eyeliner! But at the heart of it all, the same emotional intensity laid out plainly and painfully.
No Doubt – “Just A Girl”
Gwen Stefani is now a mother, fashion mogul, and solo pop artist in her own right, but before that, she was the lead singer of a ska band struggling to carve out their own sound. While she’s since traded ska for more mainstream pop, No Doubt remains an indelible part of her past, and this song stands the test of time thanks to Stefani’s staccato, sarcastic vocals.