10 of My Favorite Albums by Female Artists

by Gem Miller

It’s the end of Women’s History Month and no one loves women in music more than I do. If you haven’t tuned into my show No Boys Allowed (noon on Thursdays on WMUC digital), perhaps you haven’t heard about my passion for women in music, particularly pop. In fact, I almost exclusively listen to female musicians. Since I consider myself an expert on the topic and have a huge ego, I thought I would share my favorite albums by female musicians. I focused most of this list on contemporary albums and this list is roughly ranked from least to most favorite.

Por Vida by Kali Uchis (2015)
Though this album is rough around the edges with Kali’s amateur vocals (which she has now perfected) and at-times messier production, this album has such a great aesthetic I can’t help but love it. The sound of this album matches the dreamy pastel album cover. Uchis sings about both love and loss. The blissful “Lottery” is glimmering and cute, talking about taking chances on love. Yet, she ends the album on the self-explanatory track “Loner.” This record is both sweet and sad. Regardless, Por Vida is a fun and relaxing listen and defines the sound that would later be popularized in late 2016-2017 lo-fi indie pop.

Highlights: “Sycamore Tree,” “Lottery,” “Rush,” “Loner”
Skips: ”Know What I Want” and “Ridin’ Round”

Cuz I Love You by Lizzo (2019)
Lizzo was one of the biggest acts of 2019. It is hard not to love her confidence, charisma and aura as a whole. I can dance to this album from start to finish. This album’s 33 minute run time makes it perfect for a quick dance party in your room by yourself. The instruments are a mix between hip-hop, R&B, and pop sounds and the lyrics preach self love and acceptance. Though the messages can be pretty ham-handed like on “Like A Girl,” “Soulmate,” and “Better in Color,” it doesn’t matter. What Lizzo lacks in subtlety she makes up for with fun. Lizzo has so much commitment in her performance, she could sing “I’m a girlboss” over and over again and I wouldn’t even care. She could just be singing gibberish and rapping in wingdings and I would applaud. Lizzo is an incredibly gifted performer and I’m excited to see what she does next.

Highlights: “Juice,” “Tempo,” “Cuz I Love You,” “Crybaby”
Skips: None!

Sweetener by Ariana Grande (2018)
Arianators are torn about which album of hers is best. Her longtime fans love Yours Truly, her sad fans like thank u, next, and maybe a handful of people think Positions is her best. To me, there has always been a clear answer: Sweetener. Ari has yet to match this funky, fun, sexy, yet emotional record. The album cover tells the listener up-front that this is gonna be an offbeat pop record. With many of the songs being produced by Pharell, it is consistently fun. Pharell’s jumping and jumbled production mixed with Ariana’s soft vocals makes for unique tracks like “the light is coming” and “blazed.” Yet, Pharell is no stranger to a soft jam. “R.E.M” is my personal favorite on the album and Ariana’s best song. The catchy beat, mixed with layers upon layers of harmonies, makes this tune a treat for the ears. Ariana doesn’t get enough credit for the risks she took on this album and they all certainly paid off.

Highlights: “R.E.M,” ”the light is coming (feat. Nicki Minaj),” “sweetener,” “get well soon,” “blazed”
Skips: “better off”

Whack World by Tierra Whack (2018)
Tierra Whack is hands down the most bold, colorful, and creative rapper out there, maybe even of all time. Though she is relatively new to the game, she has left a great impression. Her eccentric 15 minute long, 15 song album is a great example of how much of a visionary she is. The melodies are lovely, her hooks are addictive and her lyrics are zesty. The track list is filled with quirky songs like “Cable Guy,” “Pretty Ugly,” and “F--k Off,” but Whack World has poignant moments. “Bugs Life” is the perfect example of this with its opening line: ”Probably would of blew overnight if I was white.” The visuals for this record add a lot, so check out the music video, which is one long video for the whole 15 songs. Whack World is short but impactful and I revisit it frequently when I have 15 free minutes.

Highlights: “Bugs Life,” “Black Nails”, “Fruit Salad,” “Hungry Hippo”
Skips: None!

Norman F---ing Rockwell! By Lana Del Rey (2019)
On NFR, Lana perfects her craft. Lana’s previous records have tracklists containing songs of mixed quality and don't maintain their energy consistently. NFR does not have these problems. This record is sonically cohesive, and Lana balances her dramatic and vintage lyrics with a clean and classic instrumental. This album evokes the beachiness of her previous records but has a more mature tone-like a yacht club in the ‘60s instead of a California beach in 2014. Though it lacks the camp of her previous records, it’s quality is worlds better. The first five songs in particular have gripping vocal performances, some of Lana’s best lyrics, and gorgeous melodies. This record is occasionally boring, like with “The Next Best American Record”, but there are many bombastic highs to drown out the sleepier tunes. This album is Lana’s opus; it’s the embodiment of her strengths.

Highlights: “Norman f---ing Rockwell,” “Mariners Apartment Complex,” “California,” “F--k it I love you”
Skips: “The Next Best American Record”

*Honorable Mention* The first 5-7 tracks on Ultraviolence by Lana Del Rey (2014)

I love this album, well, at least at the beginning. I couldn’t in good conscience put this album on the list due to the chunk of boring songs, but the first five songs are some of Lana's best. “Cruel World” is the most rockin’ song she has ever made, and it’s fantastic. Lana’s vocal performance is incredibly ear grabbing and infectious. It’s a bit repetitive and long-winded, but the melody and vocals make up for it. “Ultraviolence” is a controversial tune, but has lush instrumentals and classic Lana lyrics. She is a true siren on this song. “Shades of Cool” is some of Lana’s best storytelling and an absolutely gorgeous chorus. “Brooklyn Baby” is a favorite among her fans. It has campy and fun lyrics and a catchy guitar riff intro. “West Coast” is a standout song: sexy and danceable. The verses and chorus are seriously different, but flow into each other smoothly. “Sad Girl” and “Pretty When You Cry” are fine Lana songs, then the rest of this album is boring.

After Laughter by Paramore (2017)
Paramore has been one of my favorite bands since my middle school emo phase, but they are one of the few bands from the 2000's pop-punk scene who has maintained their relevance. Their self-titled album from 2013 is a very fun and well-written album, though lacking cohesion and a bit too long. These complaints were fixed in After Laughter. After Laughter is a truly outstanding record. It’s dazzling, bright, goofy, but profoundly sad. The lyrics on nearly every song show that Hayley Williams is experiencing a hard time. This is extremely clear in the opening track “Hard Times” which sets the theme for the record perfectly. This track is lively and punchy with lyrics that hit right in the heart: “All that I want, is to wake up fine, tell me that I'm alright, that I ain't gonna die.” The energy in the tracklist continues with the semi-anthemic “Rose-colored Boy” and the catchy “Told You So.” When the energy does come down, the transition is smooth. The more gentle songs hit you right in the emotions. “26” is one of my favorite Paramore songs ever. The lyrics beg the listener to “hold onto hope if they got it and don’t let it go for nobody” and the simple melody from the acoustic guitar tug at the heart strings even more. The only song that I take issue with is the second to last track “No Friend.” It’s an instrumental-heavy song with the lyrics being chanted quietly underneath the guitars. The lyrics are neat if you can hear them and it sure does sound badass, but the song feels out of place. Anyhow, this is a great record that is perfect for dancing the pain away.

Highlights: “26,” “Fake Happy,” “Hard Times,” “Rose-Colored Boy,” ”Pool”
Skips: “No Friend”

Back To Black by Amy Winehouse (2006)
Back To Black is an instant classic. The vocals are perfect, the lyrics are cheeky, the instrumentals are lush yet funky, and the production is clean. Amy is singing directly out of her diary with the stories shared on this record. She isn’t afraid to discuss her addiction, her relationships, and her sadness. But the album never feels like a drag. Amy’s charisma is incredibly endearing. It’s hard not to root for her even in her worst moments like the sleazy “You Know I’m No Good.” Her charm is especially vibrant in the closing track “Addicted,” a funny song about how an acquaintance of hers is smoking all her weed. Even on the weakest track on the album, “Just Friends,” Amy still gives an enthused performance. Back To Black is a dark album thematically, but remains fun and entertaining throughout its short 34 minute duration. If you have never heard this record start to finish, treat yourself to the experience.

Highlights: “Tears Dry On Their Own,” “He Can Only Hold Her,” “Back To Black,” “Rehab”
Skips: “Just Friends”

What Now by Sylvan Esso (2017)
Sylvan Esso constantly makes fun and spunky electronic pop music. Though all of their three albums are extremely fun, What Now is perfect. There is not a single bad track on this record. Every other track on this album is undeniably irresistible, fun, and light. “The Glow,” one of Sylvan Esso’s biggest hits, is a cute and sparkling tune about crushes. “Kick Jump Twist”’s bouncy chorus makes you wanna jump up and down until you drop. Don’t be fooled by how sonically light-hearted this record is, the lyrics are at times sad and dark. “Die Young” deals with suicide (albeit through the lens of romance), “Radio” criticizes the bleak nature of the music industry, and the ballad “Slack Jaw” describes depression. Amelia Meath’s gentle voice makes you want to cry, and Nick Sanborn’s production makes you want to dance. This album is an emotional rollercoaster, but a musical delight.

Highlights: “Rewind,” “Slack Jaw,” “Signal,” “Radio”
Skips: None!

Reputation by Taylor Swift (2017)
Though Folklore is likely my favorite Swift record, this is a very, very, close second. It is bizarrely underrated. Before I listened to it, I was convinced it would be awful. Boy, was I wrong. It’s a slippery slope when an artist writes an album about their criticisms, they could easily end up sounding like Eminem. Nevertheless, Taylor addresses the narratives surrounding her and twists them into a cohesive, clean, and incredibly fun album. Taylor impersonates the persona her critics imagined her to be, and then as the record goes along, she reveals her true self: when people hated her the most, she found the love of her life. Many tracks encapsulate the shady, manipulative, snake persona like “I Did Something Bad,” “...Ready For It?,” “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” and “Look What You Made Me Do.” Some songs are entirely about Taylor’s relationship like “New Year’s Day,” “Dress,” “So It Goes…,” and “King of My Heart.” Other tracks combine her faux persona with her romantic reality like in “Delicate,” “Call It What You Want,” and “Don’t Blame Me.” The narrative of this album is very linear, with the exception of track five, “Delicate”, which breaks the transition a bit in favor of the track five pattern in Swift’s albums (which entails that her saddest song is the fifth track, something that was once coincidental but now intentional). Regardless of this slight break, the record is very clear and well crafted. The songs are campy, exaggerated, and incredibly fun. The booming electronic breaks and trap-inspired tracks are silly with Taylor’s sweet vocals on top, but she is dedicated to her performance and commits impeccably. This record is smarter than anyone would like to admit and more entertaining than anyone would anticipate.

Highlights: “New Year’s Day,” “Getaway Car,” “Don’t Blame Me,” “Gorgeous”
Skips: “End Game” (curse you Ed Sheeran for ruining a perfectly good track)

ARTPOP by Lady Gaga (2013)
If you know anything about me, you know how much I love ARTPOP. No album I have ever listened to has made me feel the way ARTPOP does. It’s my favorite album on this list and my favorite album of all time. ARTPOP is the most fun I have ever had listening to an album. It’s my lifeblood. When I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m angry, when I’m hungry, when I’m tired, I listen to ARTPOP. The first four tracks are perfection and blend into each other effortlessly. “Aura” is a bombastic beginning of the record, “Venus” continues the energy with a chantable anthem made for the club, “G.U.Y.” is chart-topping pop perfection that barely charted, and “Sexxx Dreams” is a glamorous and glittering fantasy. The ballads of this record never feel out of place. The title track is lush with a gentle vocal performance, but maintains surreal lyricism. “Dope” is an emotional performance that summarizes addiction. Gaga is choking up through her vocals: it's powerful and theatrical. “Gypsy” is corny but maintains its charm. ARTPOP’s lowest moments add character to the record. Oddball songs like “Swine” and “Jewels N’ Drugs” are messy and ridiculous, but I can’t help but enjoy their chaos. ARTPOP is cohesive yet ambitious. It tackles multiple topics like drugs, sex, and Gaga’s persona but, like any Gaga album, fame is always at the forefront. It doesn’t accomplish everything it sets out to do, but it doesn’t matter. The album is the epitome of camp, drama and fun. It’s silly, entertaining, smart, and it's Gaga at her best. If you don’t like this album, give it another listen. It takes some getting used to if you aren’t into the spectacle. If you still don’t like it after another listen, you can’t be my friend anymore.

Highlights: “ARTPOP,” “Aura,” “Venus,” “Sexxx Dreams,” “Applause,” “Dope”
Skips: None to me, but “Swine” and “Gypsy” for the average listener

Playlist of all the highlights!