Women on the Rise: ‘You can’t ignore them’

For International Women’s Day, fans of Arlo Parks, Baby Queen and PinkPantheress discuss how these artists have made their mark on the music industry.

Zoya Raza-Sheikh
  • By Zoya Raza-Sheikh
  • 8 Mar 2022
  • min read

There’s nothing quite like being a fan of an artist. Whether it's forging a chaotic parasocial relationship with your favourite act online or attending back-to-back live shows, these are the moments that stick around. For me, this struck as I watched newcomer Baby Queen, aka Bella Latham, jovially take over the stage at Omeara, London. Decked out in vibrant in-character clothing and with a soft pink electric guitar; this was signature Baby Queen. Between a charismatic anecdote about Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer to unapologetically reclaiming the underdog title, it was clear how the South African artist had made her name in raw, unfiltered Gen Z anti-pop. From her self-aware anthem Internet Religion to alt-pop lament Killjoy, there was a realness captured in her smart, satirical sound.

Baby Queen quickly rose as an essential upcoming voice in the new British music scene. In the last few years, we’ve seen a wave of new names refreshingly changing up the status quo. So, with International Women’s Day upon us, M Magazine is paying homage to several of these music trailblazers. We spoke to fans of the PRS for Music breakout stars Arlo Parks, PinkPantheress and Baby Queen to hear how these powerplay women have impacted their lives.

Best known for her critically acclaimed debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams, Arlo Parks has risen to the forefront of the British music scene. The singer-songwriter’s debut is diaristically penned with confident emotionally charged lyricism. For her fans, the 21-year-old’s tastemaker style and written experiences resonated hit to come. Charlotte, 19, has been a long-time listener of Arlo Parks. For her, the recognition of Arlo’s 'soulful' creativity is 'reflecting a shift in the music industry.' Noting the debut’s Grammy and BRITs Awards nods, she hopes the singer’s 'deeply personal' music will inspire future artists. 'Arlo has demonstrated that you don’t have to give up profound aspects of your identity for the sake of "making it" in the music industry,' says Charlotte. 'I really hope this will only serve to inspire future female artists.'

'Arlo Parks and PinkPantheress are definitely paving the way for women of colour to not just exist in one genre, but to innovate and take over without being categorised as an “alternative” artist.'

From landing an auspicious Mercury Prize award to a GAY TIMES Honour, Arlo has shown versatility in her artistry. 'Arlo’s own life resonates with my own experiences of bisexuality,' the Durham fan says, reflecting on her own identity. 'Arlo’s really succeeded when it comes to breaking into the mainstream whilst still maintaining her core musical style. Her music deals with themes like gender and sexuality in an accessible and deeply personal way. It’s great to see more representation achieved in such an emotionally intelligent and musically enjoyable way.'

For Amika, 23, young female artists are breaking boundaries in what it means to be a mainstream artist. 'Baby Queen, Arlo Parks and PinkPantheress (aka Gemma Walker) are the new generation of pop artists, who get the privilege of living out their identities in a way that doesn’t seem contrived or marketed,' she explains. The acclaim following Arlo and PinkPantheress’ successes hasn’t gone unnoticed either, particularly as women of colour breaking into a white-dominated industry. 'Arlo Parks and PinkPantheress are definitely paving the way for women of colour to not just exist in one genre, but to innovate and take over without being categorised as an “alternative” artist,' Amika tells M Magazine. 

In 2019, USC’s Inclusion Initiative report revealed that female singer-songwriters remain a statistical minority and are largely unrepresented behind-the-scenes in the industry. Despite these systemic limitations, female artists have creatively thrived to land chart positions through innovative means. 'PinkPantheress and Baby Queen are showing just how much the internet has shaped young girls’ lives and how music is going to have to adapt to that and that it can be done in a really cool original way and not just in a “what sounds good on TikTok kind of way,"' Amika adds. Agreeing, Rachel, 23, credits how the intersection of fandom and internet culture has pushed upcoming artists in a new direction. From Soundcloud to TikTok star, PinkPantheress was propelled into the spotlight after a 10-second snippet of her song Just For Me went viral and has been used in over 1.2 million videos, with high-profile creators Madison Beer and Bella Poarch even jumping on the trend. 'PinkPantheress paved the way for aspiring Gen Z artists and utilised social media such as TikTok to grow her fanbase,' she says over the phone. 'She proved a lot can be achieved by using new media methods and creating a dedicated online fanbase. Her ability to break into the mainstream and into charts through that is so inspiring.'

Jordan, 22, from New Jersey has followed the Baby Queen’s career since the beginning and admires how the artist used social media to forge an intimate connection with fans. 'Baby Queen spent the first full year of her career as a signed artist online. No shows, festivals, or travel of any kind, yet she managed to build an extremely passionate and dedicated fanbase through social media,' she says. 'From interacting with fans directly via DM or FaceTime to having Zoom parties where she would play intimate concerts  being a music fan in the social media age herself has allowed her to really understand how fans think and what they would want to see from an artist they love.' The age of the internet has undoubtedly brought new opportunities for artists stepping into the music world, especially with reaching new fans and audiences online. A moment of Baby Queen’s career arc that truly resonated with Jordan was when their paths crossed for a college senior capstone project. She recalls not experiencing not 'a single pause in the conversation' and receiving a message from the artists over their call. '[Bella] sent me a really lovely letter where she told me our conversation had meant a lot to her, and I felt exactly the same,' she says. 'It really reinforced my respect for her as an artist and reminded me of how important it is for women in this industry to uplift and empower each other. Bella was and still is a reminder of that for me.'

The dynamic shared between fans, fandom and artist is immeasurable. Whether it's on TikTok or in a packed venue, sustained support from listeners can change the trajectory of any artist but, more than anything, the contributions of both (fan and artist) creatively enrich the scene. It wasn’t long ago that then Recording Academy president Michele Amabile Angermiller said women need to 'step up.'

'Baby Queen, Arlo Parks and PinkPantheress demonstrate how enriching female artists continue to be for the industry.'

With International Women’s Day upon us, it’s vital to remember that we, as an industry, must continue to champion the position of women in music. Data from 2019 to 2020 uncovered that top songs from female artists fell from 22.5 percent to 20.2 percent; while female songwriters decreased from 14.4 percent to 12.9 percent, and female producers declined from 5 percent to just 2 percent, according to data from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s annual study of the Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart. The same report revealed that only 32 percent of female artists were prominent in the pop sphere and least prevalent in hip-hop and rap genres.

Spanning across multiple genres, the likes of Baby Queen, Arlo Parks and PinkPantheress demonstrate how enriching female artists continue to be for the industry. If anything, USC Annenberg’s annual studies are a regular reminder  and indicator  of how much further we are to go behind the scenes. While there’s no immediate solution for the disheartening systemic gender imbalance rooted within the industry, there is hope that with growing accountability and self-awareness the industry can commit to change for the greater good. There’s no doubt the music scene will be better for it. As Amika puts it, referring back to our trio of game-changing artists: 'These are women that are now in the mainstream, you can’t ignore them.'