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50 women who broke barriers in the music industry

  • Missy Elliott

    Missy Elliott began her career as an R&B singer, became a producer, then broke out as a solo star in the late 1990s. Not bound by one title, she became the top-selling female rapper of all time. In addition, Elliott has been a tireless advocate for sex and body positivity.

  • Fiona Apple

    Fiona Apple, who released what many critics consider the best album of 2020, burst onto the music scene in the late 1990s as an anti-pop star, and famously criticized materialism and cited Maya Angelou as an inspiration in a speech at the MTV Video Music Awards. Apple doesn’t rely on yearly releases or big-budget music videos, just raw honesty that wins her an ever-increasing legion of fans. She recently described how the #MeToo movement helped her get sober.

  • Spice Girls

    Beginning in 1996, the Spice Girls made sure the world knew the meaning of “girl power.” Boosted by the upbeat hit single “Wannabe,” the Spice Girls invaded America and took over radio, TV, and movies. Some have called today’s young female leaders the “Spice Girls generation.”

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez’s breakthrough came portraying another music icon, Selena, and one day another emerging star will likely portray “JLo” on the big screen. In her worthy-of-a-movie career, Lopez conquered dance, pop music, movies, and even broke into the world of sports as an owner of the Miami Dolphins.

  • Janelle Monáe

    Janelle Monáe has achieved fame and success on her terms. NPR called her “a veritable influencer of all things cool,” noting her as the heir to Prince’s lineage. Monáe has also prioritized uplifting young people of color.

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  • Shania Twain

    When country music made a big crossover into pop music in the 1990s, Shania Twain led the charge with hits like "That Don't Impress Me Much” and "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" Twain’s success set the stage for future acts like Taylor Swift, and her videos flipped the usual script of male rock stars backed by female dancers, centering on powerful female voices in front of male backers.

  • Lady Gaga

    In 2008, Lady Gaga redefined pop music with her artistic, dance-ready club anthems. Gaga became arguably the world’s biggest pop star as she continually evolved, and then did a 180 and proved she was equally talented on film. Her performance in “A Star is Born” wowed critics, and she challenged the norm of fashion and “looks” of a movie star—she deliberately chose not to wear makeup in the film.

  • Ty Stiklorius

    As John Legend’s manager, Ty Stiklorius created a female-backed management firm that is a leader in film and music. Stiklorius is also driving initiatives for quality education and criminal justice reform. She specifically targets change-making artists with ambitious social impact goals.

  • Taylor Swift

    With an army of Swifties behind her, Taylor Swift is more than just a global pop icon. She’s matured into an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, social justice issues, and voting. Musically, she took a bold stand when her masters were sold, calling out the hypocrisy of artists’ not being able to own their own work, and planned to re-record her early songs to regain control of her narrative.

  • Adele

    When Adele dropped her video for “Hello” in 2015, she amassed over 27 million views in one day, a new YouTube record. The song also went on to set first-week download records, and her album “25” was the fastest-selling album in America, moving over 2.4 million units. Adele also became the first woman to have three top 10 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart at the same time.

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