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50 women who broke barriers in the music industry

  • Janet Jackson

    Emerging from the shadow of her brothers, Janet Jackson became an icon on her own with a tireless work ethic and a style of R&B that changed the industry. In 1996, Jackson signed a record-breaking contract worth $80 million, which reportedly moved her past her brother’s recording contract value. Throughout her vaunted career, Jackson has exuded sexuality, power, and independence, culminating with her 2019 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

  • Queen Latifah

    Queen Latifah was among the first women in hip-hop to win a Grammy—she won the same year Salt-N-Pepa won its first Grammy. Her powerful lyrics dove into topics like women’s rights and urban struggles, and Latifah seamlessly navigated between rap and R&B. In 2006, she became the first rapper to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

  • Selena

    Selena was a top-selling artist, in-demand actress, and one of Tejano’s most famous celebrities ever. She secured record-breaking endorsement deals, won scores of awards, and was a noted philanthropist. Selena was murdered in 1995; in 1997, her story was told in a biographical movie starring Jennifer Lopez in a breakout role.

  • Michele Anthony

    Michele Anthony was one of the leading female executives who openly called out the Grammys for being “out of touch.” The Recording Academy’s board of trustees was criticized for a lack of inclusion and transparency, and in a letter, the leaders urged for new leadership on the board. Anthony is the executive vice president of Universal Music Group, and previously founded a firm that managed Pearl Jam, Ozzy Osbourne, and Prince.

  • Björk

    Originating from Iceland, Björk broke into the American mainstream with an uncanny ability to make experimental music resonate with pop audiences. In 2000, Björk won a best actress award at Cannes for her appearance in “Dancing in the Dark,” further solidifying the fact that female pop stars could excel in Hollywood. Björk’s musical style is ever-evolving, disavowing popular praise for artistic freedom.

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  • Mariah Carey

    Mariah Carey was the youngest musician to receive nominations in each of the big four Grammy categories—Record, Album, and Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. With her amazing voice, Carey is the first artist to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in four different decades. She’s also the first artist to have her first five singles reach #1 on the Billboard charts.

  • Sophia Chang

    Sophia Chang is known as the “baddest b*tch in the room” and is co-signed by some of hip-hop’s biggest acts. Throughout her career, Chang has managed members of the Wu-Tang Clan—a group that redefined the power of hip-hop collectives—and been an outspoken proponent of diversity and inclusivity. Chang's memoir details her barrier-breaking career.

  • Lil Kim/Foxy Brown

    In the late 1990s, Lil Kim and Foxy Brown redefined the image of a female rapper. In a genre where male artists constantly were degrading women and bragging about sexual prowess, Lil Kim and Foxy Brown turned the tables and put women on top of the power dynamic in their music. They’ve influenced scores of artists including Cardi B and Nicki Minaj.

  • Angie Martinez

    As hip-hop became more accepted in the mainstream, getting played on New York City radio station Hot 97 was considered the pinnacle of making it. Angie Martinez, working on airwaves dominated by men, became a breakthrough voice and helped elevate some of the biggest artists in hip-hop history, including Jay Z. Still going strong, Martinez has been called “The Voice of New York.”

  • Lauryn Hill

    Lauryn Hill was the first woman to win five Grammys at one awards ceremony for her standout album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” Throughout her career, Hill has remained confident and inspirational while battling against unfair portrayals that have ruined the reputations of other artists of color. On NPR’s list of 150 albums made by women, Hill came in at #2.

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