THE FEMALE ICONS OF MUSIC THAT INSPIRE US TO THIS DAY
They strutted their considerable stuff in the male-dominated music world and were worshipped and adored… Decades later our favourite top female songsmiths, rockers and soul sisters seem to defy time, not only looking blooming great but still walking the walk. Here Gill Sutherland salutes the eight fierce females who’ve been her guiding lights through dark days and wild nights from teendom to womanhood.
All hail the high priestess of punk, Siouxsie Sioux – and the fiercest 61-year-old we’ve ever clapped eyes on. She was there at the birth of punk rock: a follower of the Sex Pistols, she hollered a 20-minute version of the Lord’s Prayer at one of their 100 Club gigs in 1976, and a goth star was born. Ever since then she has made brilliantly edgy and experimental music, and stuck rigidly to her trademark hair and makeup: black frightwig, pale face, straight square brows, crow black eyes, deep purple contouring and blood red lips. No pale florals for our gal!
(Writer’s confession: I modelled myself on Siouxsie for much of my teen years)
Last spotted: She’s mainly a recluse in Toulouse – but pops out every now and again to wow the world in a tight catsuit.
Goddess superpower: The goth wail – floors thug enemies at 60 paces.
Blessed with a singing style that combines both childlike vulnerability and powerhouse rawk with a dash of whimsy, At 70 Stevie Nicks is still rocking the look she put together when she joined rock gods Fleetwood Mac in 1974. Like the mystical Rhiannon from their hit of the same name, she favours the Welsh witch-vibe: breezy fabrics in long billowy fabrics, tons of boho-friendly lace and velvet. Meanwhile her long blonde tresses look as lustrous as they did 50 years ago, and her dewy complexion hints at immortality. Surely some dark magic is responsible?
Last spotted: Still making music with the band.
Goddess superpower: Mystical Wiccan magic.
The ‘growing old dis-Grace-fully’ crown has been claimed by this formidable 70-year-old (well would you wrestle her for the title?)… Jamaican Grace found fame as a supermodel back in the early 1970s, working for the Paris fashion houses who loved her fearsome androgynous look. Turning to music she straddled new wave and disco like a colossus to bring us some truly dapper avant-garde tunes – Nightclubbing, Pull up to the Bumper, Private Life, et al. Her outlandish getups elevated fashion to an artform, and paved the way for Madonna, Bjork, Lady Ga Ga, Lorde and Grimes and others who followed in her considerable wake. Tall of height, square of jaw and shoulder, she is still the perfect canvas.
Last spotted: Touring and being feisty on chat shows
Goddess superpower: Death stare – like the Medusa her disapproving look could leave you literally petrified.
Everyone’s favourite party band, The B-52s, are 40 years old. FORTY! Yes we love quirky lead singer Fred, and Cindy, owner of the biggest beehive in pop, but it is kitschy and charismatic Kate who gets our undying adulation. At 70 she looks as insanely jaunty and youthful as she did back in the 1980s: bright red hair, 1960s cartoon clothes, plasticky accessories and a toothsome grin. Oh, and the voice – remember when she sang Happy Shiny People for REM? Or when she invited us to the Love Shack? Or to dive down with the Rock Lobster? Could you resist? No us neither.
Last spotted: The B-52s are touring again this year.
Goddess superpower: She controls the world’s Rock Lobsters by telepathy – and you know what nippy claws they have.
Icelandic singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir is famous for her outlandish outfits and kooky bonkers (bjonkers?) ways. We love her especially as the now 53-year-old mother of two shows absolutely no signs of slowing down and taking the foot off the avant-garde pedal of life. In fact this year she’s once again revving up and driving off the cliff-face of realism into the canyon of surreal oblivion. No quiet breaks in Salcombe for her, oh no. She says of her upcoming 2019 ‘Cornucopia’ tour: “It will my most elaborate stage concert yet, where the acoustic and digital will shake hands, encouraged by a bespoke team of collaborators.” A seven-piece flute orchestra is included. Let that be a warning to you.
Last spotted: She’s done a promotional poster for the tour. The look is ‘mad Celtic pixie playing a flute while wearing her own lungs as a necklace’ – probably not available in Top Shop.
Goddess superpower: The ability to shock with a frock. Remember the ‘swan dress’ at the Oscars…. The world is still reeling 18 years on.
While I was busy being Siouxsie, my best mate was Blondie. Back in the 1970s you either wanted to be her or sleep with her or both. She was the ice cool queen of new wave with beauty, brains and a dismissive snarl. With her band Blondie she made a ton of hits we will never ever get bored of: Atomic, Heart of Glass, Denis, et al. We will also never get bored with gawping at her wonderfulness and dynamic dressing. At 73 she still has it – we particularly like the Wagner opera diva metal breast plate ensemble she sported recently.
Last spotted: Blondie are off to Cuba this month for couple of concerts and a ‘cultural exchange programme’, having never been allowed to play the communist country previously. Still breaking down barriers…
Goddess superpower: The pout. No matter how good you think you look when you pout, Debbie will always do it better.
The punk poet queen of New York City thundered into the world with her debut album Horses back in 1975. Her songs were long angry rants, erudite and wonderfully wired – it made all the other two-minute pop efforts of the boy punk bands seem a bit lame. She also looked the business: skinny, androgynous with scraggly hair. It’s a look she is very much still rocking at 72, but turned up to max: the hair is wilder and the attitude as ‘fudge’-you as ever… The naughty punk granny still menacing the neighbourhood. Love her.
Last spotted: She’s just written a second biography and is on a world music tour throughout 2019.
Goddess superpower: The ability to see through fakery and tell it like it is (not in a Trump way, but, like, proper).
Yes, the legendary singer of The Ronettes fame, who defined what female-fronted soul-pop looked like in the 1960s, is still very much a player. Remember Walking in the Rain, I Can Hear Music and Be My Baby? That was her! (She was of course greatly helped by her producer husband, the mega-talented but possibly unhinged Phil Spector, who is currently serving a life sentence for the 2003 murder of Lana Clarkson.) As her own website modestly reckons: “No one has ever surpassed Ronnie’s powerful trademark vocals, her gutsy attitude, or her innocent but knowing sexuality.” Even at 75 the hype remains true.
Last spotted: Currently touring with The Ronettes.
Goddess superpower: Bouffant power. Her souped-up hairstyle seems to endow her with immortality.
Words: Gill Sutherland music and arts journalist and reviewer who has regularly written for the NME and Marie-Claire, and is the arts editor at the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald. Twitter @HeraldArts
Pics from top: Siouxsie, Grace Jones, Ronnie Spector, Debbie Harry, Bjork
Grace Jones pic: Bruce Baker.
Debbie Harry pic: Wer-Al Zwowe
Ronnie Spector pic: Ruven Afanador
Bjork pic: courtesy of Bjork on Instagram