Music has been my saving grace these past couple of years. There are few things I love more than diving headfirst down a melodic rabbit hole and discovering new artists and bands. My name is Melody, after all. Broadening my musical horizons is the name of the game.
This International Women’s Day, I want to highlight six female-fronted bands and badass women solo artists who should be on your radar. Because in a world rife with darkness, the least we can do is share light in the form of good music.
Laufey Lín Jónsdóttir, who performs as Laufey, is bringing modern jazz to the masses. The Icelandic-Chinese singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist derives inspiration from legendary artists like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald to shape her signature sound, which melds pop and jazz.
Her 2022 debut album, Everything I Know About Love, is an achingly vulnerable, lush record wrapped in jazzy nostalgia and cinematic wistfulness. It transports you to another age, where you’ll forget that the talented Laufey is only 23 years old. She brings all the wisdom and butter-smooth vocals of a seasoned jazz artist.
Favorite Tracks: “Let You Break My Heart Again,” “Dear Soulmate,” “Valentine”
Other Works: A Night At The Symphony with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (2023), Typical of Me EP (2021)
If you’re in the mood for old-school, rock ‘n roll swagger with a smattering of glam rock, look no further than the Atlanta outfit Starbenders. Led by frontwoman and guitarist Kimi Shelter, Starbenders brings thrashing guitars, smooth bass lines and toe-tapping melodies combined with Shelter’s piercing, serrated-edge vocals. The band’s most recent record, Love Potions (2020), is a head-banging, crank-it-up-and-dance event. It harkens back to the musicality of ’70s rock while bringing a modernized sensibility to the table. Expect guitar solos, funky bass riffs and an immersive musical experience.
Favorite Tracks: “Blood,” “BITCHES BE WITCHES,” “The Game”
Past Albums: Heavy Petting (2016)
You’ve undoubtedly heard American-British singer-songwriter Celeste‘s beautifully orchestrated ballad “Strange” on Ted Lasso or her endlessly catchy 2020 single “Stop This Flame.” Your knee-jerk reaction might be to compare her vocally to Adele. While there are certainly similarities, Celeste is her own artist. She infuses pop ballads and uptempo tunes with vintage soulfulness and smooth R&B. Her 2021 debut album, Not Your Muse, blesses us with her powerhouse vocals that weave between buttery smooth and fiery, crackling rage. Expect a few trumpet solos, jazzy big band sounds and delicate piano runs.
Favorite Tracks: “Strange,” “Tonight Tonight,” “Love Is Back”
Other Works: Lately EP (2019), The Milk & The Honey (2017)
Moths always find the light — just ask McKenzie Ellis, whose stage name is Mothica. Mothica’s music is a delicious blend of electropop, emo and rock. However, her genre-defying work doesn’t need labels. Her third full-length album, 2022’s Nocturnal, boasts fun uptempo tracks like the earworm “Casualty,” the multi-genre soundscape “Sensitive” and “The Reckoning” featuring Polyphia, a darker, heavier rock sound. It’s emo music for adults.
Favorite Tracks: “Can You Feel My Heart” (a Bring Me the Horizon cover), “Buzzkill,” “Nocturnal”
Past Albums: Ashes (2018), Blue Hour (2020), forever fifteen EP (2021)
Sometimes, all one needs are strumming acoustic guitars, melodic vocals and lyrics brimming with introspection and well-lived wisdom. Filipino-American indie-folk artist Haley Heynderickx provides all of the above in spades. She picks guitar strings and sings sweetly about the triumphs and pitfalls of life and love in her 2018 debut album, I Need to Start a Garden. From tracks like the faster-paced, folksy “The Bug Collector” to the lush, piano-driven “Show You a Body,” Heynderickx’s music is a balm for the soul.
Favorite Tracks: “Show You a Body,” “Untitled God Song,” “The Bug Collector”
Other Works: Among Horses III EP with Max García Conover (2018), Fish Eyes EP (2016)
Black Belt Eagle Scout
Swinomish/Iñupiaq singer-songwriter Katherine Paul, who performs under the moniker Black Belt Eagle Scout, found inspiration for her most recent album from a trip to her ancestral lands in the Swinomish Reservation. As Paul mentions in an Instagram post, The Land, The Water, The Sky “is about how important the role of connection to my homelands plays within my mental health. The album is meant to be a thank you to the land, the water and the sky for being there for me throughout the past few years.”
Paul’s latest work is a triumph, blending indie and alternative rock with Indigenous traditional music to create an immersive, transcendent experience. You hear her connection to nature, as is evidenced by the powerfully raw, ’90s rock-esque opening track, “My Blood Runs Through This Land,” where she pays homage to her ancestors. The Land, The Water, The Sky is a cinematic beauty.
Favorite Tracks: “My Blood Runs Through This Land,” “Understanding,” “Blue”
Past Albums: Mother of My Children (2018), At the Party With My Brown Friends (2019)
Which under-the-radar artists and bands are you screaming about from the mountaintops? Sound off in the comments below!