Words by Michael Nied
Pop music was overwhelming defined by men in 2017. After a summer dominated by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber’s “Despacito” and Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like” it was not until September that women like Taylor Swift and Cardi B found love in the charts.
This became increasingly evident when the nominees were announced for the 2017 American Music Awards. Based on streaming data and chart positions over the previous year, no women were nominated for any of the highest honors in categories like Artist of the Year and Video of the Year. Instead, they were mostly relegated to gendered categories while outliers like Julia Michaels and Halsey (who was nominated for her contribution to The Chainsmokers’ “Closer”) received nods in the more competitive categories like Best New Artist and Collaboration of the Year.
The year was upsettingly bleak for female artists. However, things are looking up. Dua Lipa’s incandescent, criminally underrated “New Rules” continues to find traction on American radio, and Tove Lo literally has a single called “Disco Tits.”
In a turn of events, several of pop’s leading ladies are set to perform at this month’s AMAs. They may not have made the cut for awards, but they will be there to show everyone what they missed over the last year. They’ll also remind viewers that it isn’t too late to come to their senses because there are plenty of fiery songs that have been slept on.
These final few months have been defined by a slew of hot releases from the scene’s most reliable women as well as industry up-and-comers. In honor of that, I have compiled a list of some of the fiercest female-led songs that deserve major recognition.
Taylor Swift has the distinction of being the first female to top the Billboard Hot 100 on a solo release in 2017. Although her jarring “Look What You Made Me Do” dutifully bowed at the top spot, it failed to resonate like “Shake It Off” or “Blank Space.”
But Swift has a chance of turning things around with the project’s final buzz track “Call It What You Want.” It ditches some of the ridiculous overproduction and insensibly barbed lyrics in favor of dreamy romance and mature problem solving.
Former Fifth Harmony member, Camila Cabello, may become the latest act with a number one in America. She is still burning up the charts with her breakout single “Havana.” The siren upped the ante with her beguiling release, which incorporates a Latin flair over slick hip-hop beats.
The remaining members of her former group also have an effervescent hit on their hands with “He Like That.” The reggae-infused bop is ridiculously danceable as evidenced by its delightfully flirty music video.
Demi Lovato has a wealth of exceptional material to source from her new album, Tell Me You Love Me. After burning up the charts with “Sorry Not Sorry,” she is allegedly considering the project’s title track as a second single. The striding release is a little more intimate as she begs a partner to bare their soul over sparse production.
However, she has a pair of top-shelf bangers in her holster with “Daddy Issues” and “Ruin The Friendship.” The former is an exuberant and endearingly sloppy ode to her friend with benefits. “You’re the man of my dreams, ‘cause you know when to leave,” she enthuses over freewheeling synths. The latter is an atmospheric slow burn on which she attempts to seduce another friend. Both sexually liberated anthems desperately need official releases.
Although Miley Cyrus found less critical acclaim with her sixth LP, Younger Now , the album still brims with potential. She is currently showing some love to the rock-ridden “Bad Mood” after performing it on Saturday Night Live. “Rainbowland” is also unforgettable. The collaboration with her godmother (and certifiable country legend) Dolly Patron carves out the heart of the album and is one of the most optimistic songs in recent memory.
Katy Perry is rumored to be favoring “Hey Hey Hey” as the fourth single from Witness. On an album of club-surfing romps, this is the most obvious option for a pop takeover. It also has the benefit of featuring some of the most playful lyrics as she compares herself to “Marilyn Monroe with a monster truck.” Relatable, queen!
Kelly Clarkson could singlehandedly spark a revolution with her latest as well. Possessing one of pop’s most bombastic voices, America’s original Idol burst back to life over a delectable beat on her current single, “Love So Soft.” She delivers a predictably sublime vocal on the soulful release, and you don’t want to miss it.
After unveiling some of the summer’s most left-of-center pop delicacies, Selena Gomez returns to the dance floor on “Wolves.” The collaboration with EDM scene stealer Marshmello builds to an ethereal chorus and features some of the siren’s best lyrics to date.
Winter is not the best time for radiant club fare, but Charli XCX’s delivery on David Guetta and Afrojack’s “Dirty Sexy Money” is undeniably a divine track for the bars. Similarly, Lorde’s more restrained “Homemade Dynamite” boasts a simmering production that could overcome the odds.
Kesha is shaping up to finish the year on a high note as well. Her Rainbow was lush with iridescent hits including potential second single “Learn To Let Go.” She also has one of the year’s most beautiful love songs on her hands with “Finding You. Pink has another with her resilient “Whatever You Want.”
The following months could spawn quite a few comebacks. R&B diva Ashanti makes a surprise return over a DJ Mustard production on “Say Less.” Rachel Platten becomes a synth-pop mastermind on “Perfect For You.” Aly & AJ travel in a similar direction on their airy synth anthem “I Know.”
Rita Ora may write another success story with her massive new release “Anywhere.” The production builds up to inexplicable heights and features a stuttering chorus that is, quite simply, everything. Thank you for single-handedly saving pop, Rita baby.
Pop’s best and brightest up-and-comers are also gearing up to end the year on a high note.
Songwriter-to-the-stars turned budding pop princess Julia Michaels seems to be readying “Worst In Me” for an official release. The earnest song sees her battling with feelings about a lover at the end of their relationship. “Well maybe it’s the worst in me that’s bringing out the worst in you. I know we can fix these kinks, but the worst in me doesn’t want to work on things,” she coos. Tough luck, buddy.
She takes a decidedly contrary stance on her Clean Bandit collaboration, “I Miss You.” There the newly single starlet longs for her lover’s embrace over tropical flourishes. Both offerings recapture the frank honesty that made “Issues” a top 10 hit and promises big things.
Allie X and VERITE team up for a true girl power moment on a remix of Allie’s “Casanova.” The ode to a fuck boy goes hard in the paint and is one of the biggest earworms in recent memory. After delivering the ultimate kiss-off on “Dead,” Madison Beer is equally unrepentant on her latest, “Say It To My Face.” Check off another bad bitch anthem there.
Country has crossed over into mainstream pop, and Bebe Rexha is capitalizing on that with her surprise hit “Meant To Be.” The track sees her team up with Florida Georgia Line and features some of her most seraphic vocals.
Yellow Power Ranger and burgeoning pop superstar Becky G incorporates Latin influences for a crossover hit of her own on “Mayores.” After “Despacito” became the defining song of the summer, she could ride her fierce beat to mainstream success.
Olivia O’Brien and SZA close out the list with a pair of grittier mid-tempos on “No Love” and “The Weekend.” O’Brien’s offering is a lovelorn ode to Los Angeles over a breathtaking production. And although “The Weekend” never saw an official release it is dominating the season while simultaneously promising more big things from the up-and-comer.
What songs are we missing? Let us know!
Michael Nied is a blogger, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org