National Public Radio has released its list of the 200 top songs by 21st century women and non-binary artists as part of its Turning The Tables project, an initiative meant to highlight the achievements of women and minorities in popular music. Two of the creators of the list, NPR Music’s Sidney Madden and Marissa Lorusso, told award-winning journalist Ailsa Chang that women were routinely undersold on so-called “best music” lists, and that their own list was meant “to correct that and document history.”
“We really feel like women are at the center of innovation in music in the 21st century,” explained Lorusso. “Frankly, in general, women’s contribution to music is so often overlooked. You look at lists, even of the best music of the 2000s, you’ll get Beyoncé and Rihanna at the top, but often the rest of the list is really mostly centered around men.”
Women in popular music, Madden noted, have long been dismissed by music reviewers and producers who try to force them into archetypes and stereotypes. But in recent years, she said, women stars have increasingly pushed to reject such patriarchal conventions.
“As everyone in present company knows, women are not one thing, people are not one thing — they’re multi-dimensional,” said Madden. “Within the new millennium, women taking control over their own music and their own creative output is one of the biggest takeaways that can be made from this list.”
To illustrate her point, she contrasted Alicia Keys’ 2001 hit “Fallin’” with 2017 SZA track “The Weekend.” The popular Keys song, she points out, features deliberately vague lyrics that tell little about the specifics of what the singer is struggling with. But 16 years later, she said, SZA was unabashedly ruminating on being the “other woman” in an open relationship.
“The lyrical content is so much more transparent in a way you didn’t hear in the early parts of the millennium,” Madden said.
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