Black women in music have long been considered R&B and hip-hop to fit the music industry’s expectations of ‘urban’ marketing, but current acts are pushing back against the standard and broadening pop music through inclusivity. For artists like Victoria Monet, Chlöe Bailey, Normani, and others, Black female singers are redefining pop music through sheer confidence in their songwriting capabilities, production, and visual aesthetics — proving that there’s room for more than one woman at the top.
As history tells it, Black female artists who play fair weren’t always the norm. For women in the music industry, there’s pressure to stay relevant amidst newers acts in the face of ageism, sexism, body dysmorphia, and aggressive online targeting. Prior to her untimely death in 2001 — and before the social media era — Aaliyah was arguably the standard for R&B-turned-pop experimentation, trading baggy jeans for hypnotic maturation on her final, eponymous album. 2001’s Aaliyah was a masterclass in Y2K futurism and dulcet, self-assured vocals that would influence fellow millennial pop artists and the next generation of progressive Black female artists.
Molded by Aaliyah’s impact are a slew of Black female vocalists including Kehlani, Normani, and Tinashe — the latter who’s been outspoken about genre barriers for Black women. In a 2017 article in the LA Times, the singer Tinashe leaned into unfair comparisons amongst each other:
“It creates this competitiveness, even among fan bases,” Tinashe added. “People feel they can’t be a fan of Kehlani and me. It’s confusing, like why not be fans of whatever you like? Why does there need to be this rivalry approach? We don’t do that with male artists.”
Defeating critiques that Black women belong on rhythmic and urban charts, Tinashe made a grand return to the pop sphere on her sultry 2019 effort Songs For You, released shortly after her leave from RCA Records. As her first album as an independent artist, Songs For You reached #1 on the iTunes Albums chart upon its release, the second independent artist to do so since Frank Ocean released Blonde in 2016. Helmed with critical acclaim for its pop experimentation and largely considered her best album to date, Tinashe took Songs For You into the virtual world on VR platform Wave in livestream concerts at the beginning of the pandemic last year.
In August arrived Tinashe’s fifth studio album 333, where the singer further explored VR, alternate realities, and spirituality in music and visuals for singles “Pasadena” and “Bouncin’.” Through a streak of daring eclecticism and a history of collaborations with electronic producers Kaytranada, Wax Motif, and MAKJ, Tinashe eschews naysayers who limit her to R&B, pushing boundaries of the pop genre.
Dispelling recent allegations of a rivalry with Tinashe over a seductive photoset is one-half of vocalist sister duo Chloe x Halle, Chlöe Bailey. Adding an umlaut to her forename and blonde highlights to her already-signature locs, Bailey dismissed skeptics with her long-awaited debut solo single “Have Mercy,” which was released in September. Lauded for its upbeat production and being a curve-embracing anthem, fans drew comparisons between Chlöe and mentor Beyoncé, who signed Chloe x Halle to her company Parkwood Entertainment in 2015. As fans await Chlöe’s next single, “Have Mercy” has already made rounds on televised performances from last month’s 2021 MTV Video Music Awards to The Tonight Show, making Chlöe pop’s next breakout star.
Controversy surrounded Chlöe’s debut performance at the 2021 MTV VMAs after Normani voiced her disappointment with the telecast for allegedly choosing Chlöe to be the only Black woman to perform that night. In 2019, Normani graced the VMAs with a high-energy performance of “Motivation,” and sought to return to the awards show following the release of her latest single “Wild Side.” After fans petitioned for Normani’s appearance at the show, the singer delivered with a cameo by Teyana Taylor in a sultry homage to Janet Jackson’s 2001 concert performance of All For You track “Would You Mind.”
Once a member of girl group Fifth Harmony before they disbanded in 2018, Normani is on her second act. Poised to release her upcoming solo debut with multifaceted potential, the singer spoke with Allure about being an all-encompassing artist:
“My purpose in this work that I do is for other people that feel like they have Black women figured out. There’s so many layers to us, there’s so many textures, there’s so much that we’re capable of doing,” Normani says. “Yes, I can throw ass. But I can also give you a proper eight-count, and I can do ballet, and I can do contemporary dance. If I want to sing this pop ballad, then you’re going to love it! While you see my Black face!” Period.
Like Normani, Victoria Monét was once in a girl group, but later carved her own lane as singer-songwriter for a decade prior to releasing her 2020 debut album Jaguar. A longtime collaborator and songwriter for Ariana Grande, Victoria Monét entices listeners through her unapologetic soundscapes of femininity, self-love, and sensuality. While Jaguar was largely an homage to 1970s funk and disco, Monét reintroduced the throwback era to Gen-Z fans, especially in her Jaguar live session that premiered in March.
Becoming a DIY internet sensation for her 2018 meme-inspired visual “Mooo!,” pop act Doja Cat has led the crusade of oddball artistry since her humble SoundCloud beginnings. Landing a joint deal with RCA Records and Kemosabe Records in 2014, Doja Cat’s rise to stardom wasn’t instantaneous, instead having to refine her rap-fueled spunk to craft a mainstream sound. By 2020, her sophomore album Hot Pink shot to No. 9 on the Billboard 200 despite being released a year prior, thanks to her viral dance-worthy smash “Say So.”
As host of the 2021 MTV VMAs — and even taking three Moon Person trophies home — Doja Cat’s third album Planet Her exemplifies celestial pop, celebrating womanhood and diverse instrumentation from urbano to dancehall. Still embracing her online antics, Doja Cat hasn’t had to compromise her personality for stardom, recently becoming the new face of PepsiCo for its 50th anniversary.
Through charisma and sleek full-packed quality, the new generation of Black female acts continue to uphold pop by changing the tides of the genre with determination. The future couldn’t be more exciting.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.