DISCOVER: My Top 10 Albums By Women

5678 Journalist Charleigh Sharp reviews her favourite albums by women. Throwing it back to 90’s RnB, to modern icons like our Queen B, Charleigh takes a look at some of the most pivotal albums in music history.

10. Kala by M.I.A.

‘Kala’ is British rapper and singer M.I.A.’s second album. The album is heavily politically driven, covering topics such as capitalism, third-world countries, and war. Throughout her whole career, she has always embraced her South Asian culture within her music, and that is especially seen in this album wherein she experiments with a few different music styles, from African chants to Bollywood samples.

‘Kala’ is both named after and inspired by her mother and her struggles in life.

The album was well received, earning the position of 3rd best album by Pitchfork in 2007, and it still measures up today in its cultural impact.

My top song is: Come Around (ft. Timbaland).

9. Renaissance by Beyoncé

When it comes to groundbreaking artists with immense cultural impact, Beyoncé is an obvious choice. From empowering Black women in music to popularising surprise albums, Beyoncé is a visionary.

‘Renaissance’ is a dance album heavily influenced by genres such as disco and house, which are new to her discography. The album pays homage to Black and queer dance music legends and features well-crafted samples from an array of artists, from Right Said Fred to Donna Summer.

The album won several awards at the Grammys, including best dance/ electronic album, in which she “thanks the queer community for [their] love and for inventing the genre”.

My top song is: Summer Renaissance

8. Norman F***ing Rockwell! By Lana Del Rey

NFR! is Lana Del Rey’s sixth studio album and, in my opinion, her best. It’s psychedelic but nostalgic, sad but hopeful.

Named after the American artist Norman Rockwell, the album centres around idealist America and completely deconstructs it. Rockwell’s work was homely and portrayed the classic, romanticised American dream – white picket fences, big families and freedom.

Del Rey cleverly juxtaposes the idyllic America portrayed by Rockwell and shows it for what it truly is.

NFR! Won best album at the 2020 NME Awards, and was nominated for the same award title at the Grammys and the Q Awards.

My top song is: Happiness is a butterfly

7. Electra Heart by MARINA

A cult favourite amongst the 2014- 2015 ‘Tumblr era’ fans, this album was a defining moment in many people’s lives. Discussing pop culture, mental health and philosophy, ‘Electra Heart’ takes on multiple archetypes and cliches through the creation of the eponymous character. The archetypes all reflect an aspect of American pop culture: a housewife, an ‘idle teen’, a beauty queen/ primadonna and a homewrecker.

The album appealed to many teenagers on social media because of its portrayal of teenage angst and its ‘sad girl’ aesthetic.

It is still a heavily impactful album today, popularising the futuristic genre of hyperpop.

Despite not winning any formal awards, the album was certified Gold in the United Kingdom, the United States and Ireland.

My top song is: Starring Role

6. Lemonade by Beyoncé

Another culturally significant album by Beyoncé is Lemonade. Released in 2016, the album reflects on her husband Jay-Z’s infidelity whilst also highlighting the experiences of Black women in the United States.

In the modern, fast-paced society we are currently in, the music charts are constantly changing and listeners are exposed to such a wide range of artists it becomes hard to listen to full albums, and it is increasingly popular to just listen to a couple songs from an album. However, Beyoncé wants to revive the original album format, in which an album is thought of as a whole project and is consumed as such, from start to finish.

The album contains a clever and cohesive mix of genres and is significant in promoting Black feminism in how it centralises the experiences of Black women in America, most notably on ‘Formation’ and ‘Freedom’.

So impactful in fact, it became the framework for Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks’ course ‘Black Women, Beyoncé & Pop Culture’ at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Dr. Brooks uses the album to help students understand complex theories surrounding sexuality, race and gender.

Beyoncé won various awards following the release of the album, such as ‘Breakthrough Long Form Video’ at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards for ‘Formation’, to ‘Best Urban Contemporary Album’ at the 59th annual Grammy Awards. It received nine nominations altogether at the aforementioned Grammys.

My top song is: All Night

5. Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill’s first and only album touches on themes of empowerment, motherhood, love, and religion.

Perhaps the most famous song from the album, ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ acts as a cautionary tale for both genders to be wary of exploitation from the opposite sex for that thing.

Hill had a significant impact on both hip-hop artists and women in music when she made history at the 41st Annual Grammy Awards and became the first woman to win five Grammy awards in one night. On the same night, she was also the first hip-hop artist to win a Grammy for ‘Album of the Year’.

Overall, through this album Hill encouraged Black women to pursue music within the male-dominated hip-hop scene.

My top song is: When It Hurts So Bad

4. Back to Black by Amy Winehouse

In my opinion, ‘Back to Black’ is one of the most interesting albums I have ever listened to. On the surface, it seems like an album about heartbreak, but once you listen to it in its entirety, it is an album about self-sabotage and struggle. It is a very vulnerable album that was very personal to Amy released in a time in the UK where mental health was often not spoken about.

Often considered one of the best albums of the 21st century, Winehouse’s poetry is impactful, emotional, and mature, despite what tabloids previously made her out to be.

My top song is: Love Is a Losing Game

3. A Seat at The Table by Solange

This is Solange’s most impactful album to date, and also the album that introduced me to her music.

A seat at the table is psychedelic, dreamy and touching. Solange touches on social issues such as her identity as a Black woman, oppression and social injustice.

It was released in 2016, which is considered one of the peaks of the Black Lives Matter movement, with many more people joining protests against the unlawful killing of Black people in America by police.

The album features Solange’s smooth-like-butter vocals, whilst she shows her excellent song writing skills and story telling ability.

My top song is: Where Do We Go

2. Pure Heroine by Lorde

Lorde was only 16 when she released her debut album Pure Heroine, a compilation of songs exploring themes of partying, getting old, and teenage angst. This album captures the spirit of being a teenager and the feelings associated with it in a way that I haven’t seen before.

‘Ribs’ is such an important song to me. It details exactly how it felt to be a teenage girl growing older, the fear associated with it, and the longing to be young and devoid of responsibilities forever. I first heard it when I was about 13, and I loved it then purely because it was catchy. Now, at nearly 21, I love and relate to the song even more. It makes me feel a sense of nostalgia and a longing to go back to 13 when I first heard this song.

My top song is: Ribs

1. Ctrl by SZA

This album has such a sense of nostalgia and touched me emotionally. SZA perfectly describes the feeling of heartbreak, feeling insecure and just overall feeling like you’re a loser, even when you’re really just longing for love and to feel desired.

SZA’s debut album, Ctrl, is a masterpiece. It catapulted her into the spotlight, was a massive commercial success and is overall very relatable.

Like Beyonce, SZA acknowledges the importance of producing an album, not stand-alone singles that have no cohesion. Ctrl is intended to be consumed as a whole and tells a story when listened to from start to finish.

Despite touching on several emotional topics, the album is still relaxing and hopeful for the reader. She is brutally honest throughout her music which is what makes her admirable and allows you to really connect with her music. Her vulnerability is seen in lyrics such as:

“Why am I so easy to forget like that?… Leave me lonely for prettier women, you know I need too much attention.” – Supermodel

“I get so lonely I forget what I’m worth, we get so lonely we pretend that this works, I’m so ashamed of myself think I need therapy” – Drew Barrymore

“Fearing not growing up keeping me up at night, am I doing enough? Feels like I’m wasting time.” – Prom

This album helped me navigate my feelings through my teenage years and understand myself better. It was also very refreshing to listen to an artist talk about how she’s insecure, has relationship problems and feels embarrassed about herself, as many artists tend to avoid these topics.

My top song is: Normal Girl

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Written by: Charleigh Sharp