Fast, aggressive, punk-influenced hard rock music has been a boys club for a very long time. When most people discuss any genre besides folk, disco, or pop, women have always (and unfairly) taken a backseat. We can always point to outliers in any walk of life and music is no exception. By and large, though, women in music were noticed more for what they looked like than what they sounded like. The 90s saw a seismic change in how women were seen and respected in popular music.
Hard rocking women have been few and far between as far as the mainstream is concerned. For every Joan Jett, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Debbie Harry, or Janis Joplin, there were hundreds of men whose names we've already forgotten who wound up with more fame and money but whose songwriting was shit compared to what these women wrote. The 90s helped correct this flawed acceptance.
Before we get to the list of bands and artists that catapulted women into the mainstream during the 1990s white-hot spotlight, it wouldn't be right to ignore the women (including the ones mentioned above) who paved the way, even if the mainstream did their very best to keep them down.
If we never had Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene, The Go-Gos, Kim Gordon, Wendy O. Williams, and so many others, we wouldn't have the plethora of female songwriting and playing talent that we had in the 90s. It's as simple as that.
The early 90s rock music scene is typically associated with angry, disaffected youth. It had been quite some time since popular music and culture had serious introspection built-in. The themes were personal strife, loss, depression, drugs, suicide, and ultimately a place to belong while trying to shed those labels and leave all of that negativity behind. That's not a male issue, it's a human issue, and female artists had tons to say.
Music and lyrics coming from the likes of Hole, Tori Amos, Veruca Salt, and Fiona Apple (pictured above in that order) were heavy, aggressive, dark, smart, and just a sample of what the decade gave us.
Bands like Garbage, Sleater-Kinney, L7, Bikini Kill, The Breeders, Babes In Toyland, The Cranberries, and No Doubt all had hits and important albums throughout the 90s which officially put to bed any notion that women can't rock as hard as men do. In many cases, they rock so much harder.
Singer-songwriters, (not in the traditional sense necessarily) such as Juliana Hatfield, Liz Phair, Sinead O'Connor, Neneh Cherry, Alanis Morissette, Ani DiFranco, Missy Elliott, Erykah Badu, Bjork, PJ Harvey, and Lauryn Hill defined female musicians in the 90s. I'm missing so many, but you get the point.
In future posts, I'll be writing about many of these artists in much further detail and discussing the music, songwriting, and cultural impact these bad-ass women had (and still have) on popular music. Until then, give the women in this article some spins on the turntable or stream away to your heart's desire, you'll be better off for it.