Why 2020 has felt like the best year yet for women in indie


Women have led the way in the indie rock scene in 2020. Who have been the biggest players this year? Featuring Phoebe Bridgers, Soccer Mommy and more.


When New York garage band Yeah Yeah Yeah's broke through in the early 00s, a large part of their novelty (and appeal) was having a female singer in a male-dominated environment. It's mad to think now, but back then such diversity was such a rare thing. This was recognised by Yeah Yeah Yeahs' front-woman Karen O in Lizzy Goodman's fantastic book Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011.


Do I think being a girl had anything to do with our outside appeal as a band? I think it had everything to do with it...I am a girl in a boy's world and like a lot of women in a lot of fields, I felt really isolated.

Karen O described a disappointing early encounter with Blondie's Debbie Harry where, having asked her how to survive as a female vocalist in the rock n' roll world, she was simply told to just "enjoy it while it lasts". Less than 20 years ago that was the way of things, a music scene which prided itself on inclusion was anything but. Woman in the game were told, even by their own, not to get too comfortable for it would be over soon enough.



Growing up as a fan of indie music during that same decade, I'd be lying if said many of my music heroes were female. Ok, so I enjoyed Kim Deal's basslines for The Pixies and the odd Breeders song, but hearing 'Maps' by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for the first time was a real mindblowing experience and one that really changed my thinking.


A raw, rock n' roll band with emotion and energy in abundance, proof that gender really didn't matter. The New York band would go onto sell millions of records, receive multiple awards and Grammy nominations, but just as important to their lasting legacy was breaking the door down of male hegemony in the indie rock world.

Fast forward almost two decades and this year, like no other, has seen female indie singers really come to the fore. It felt only right to recognise them in their own right.


Dream Wife



One band channelling the energy of Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs this year were Brighton garage punks Dream Wife. Their second album So when You Gonna... was released back in July and featured bold, energetic rock n' roll bangers with witty lines and an in your face attitude.


Opener 'Sports!' is a fantastic statement of intent, a groovy dance-punk riff set the backdrop to sports cliches and a call to arms ("F*** sorry/f*** please will you so kindly start again? / now put your money where your mouth is"). The record also has its delicate moments too, with 'Temporary' (a song about miscarriage) and the closer 'After The Rain', a stunning piano ballad addressing abortion. Its unapologetic, honest and, quite frankly, one of the most addictive listens this year. Just the album we needed in 2020!


Georgia



Back in January, I became pretty obsessed with Georgia's second album Seeking Thrills, with its brilliant electro-pop hooks and 80s dance vibes.


The record went onto be nominated for the 2020 Mercury Prize and spawned a couple of radio-friendly hits in 'About Work the Dancefloor' and 'Started Out', both with heavy streams on my 2020 playlist! Just feel-good indie music without pretence. Can't get enough.


Soccer Mommy



Soccer Mommy (real name Sophia Allison) is another artist who absolutely exploded this year through the release of her second album color theory back in February. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter may have only been a toddler when the 90s came to an end, but her music draws upon the indie rock of that era brilliantly.


The songs on the record are nostalgic, with brilliant hooks and pop melodies that'll have you tapping your feet and reaching for the box of tissues at the same time. It's a pretty honest album covering her mental health struggles, whilst the seven-minute 'Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes' acts as a beautifully delicate centrepiece, tackling her mother's cancer. Just a sublime effort from start to finish and one I couldn't get enough of.


Beabadoobee



In America, you had Soccer Mommy with the 90s indie vibes and in the UK you had Baebadoobee doing similar. Bedroom pop really established itself as a sub-genre this year and it was the 20-year-old Fillipino-British singer Beatrice Laus who established herself as one of the biggest names in the DIY indie "movement".


Earlier in the year, she featured on Powfu's global hip-hop hit 'death bed (coffee for your head)', a track which blew up thanks in large part to social media platform Tik-Tok. But that was only the start of things to come.


Beabadoobee was featured on BBC's Sound of 2020 list and won the Radar Award at the 2020 NME Awards. It was no surprise then that her debut album Fake It Flowers was so critically acclaimed upon release in October. The tunes had angsty, bubblegum choruses and a lo-fi 90s indie rock sound. Close your eyes and you could just imagine it soundtracking many a teenage rom-com of that era!


Another Sky



There had been hype around London-based band Another Sky for some time before their debut I Slept on the Floor eventually dropped in August.


The result was an emotional collection of heartbroken songs set to post-rock soundscapes and a poignant delicacy you don't usually hear on mainstream radio (Radio 1 DJ Greg James made 'Brave Face' his song of the week back in March). Lead singer Catrin Vincent's uniquely stunning voice pulled at our heartstrings time and time again this year.


Phoebe Bridgers



Arguably the best indie album released this year was Phoebe Bridgers Punisher. It's definitely one of the most talked about. Prior to release, the 26-year-old Californian indie singer was probably better known for her work with Bright Eyes singer Conor Oberst but she really came into her own this year.


The great thing about the album is just how honest Bridgers is in her lyrics, covering topics from on tour depression, failing relationships and even her overzealous obsession with Elliot Smith. 'Kyoto' is the most catchy on the record but, in truth, most of the songs are intimate, melancholic and even eerie on occasion. It ends with the epic 'I Know the End'. The world's demise never sounded so good.

2020 saw Taylor Swift feel confident enough to take control of her own music and produce an 'indie' album of her own in folklore, whilst LA pop-rock trio HAIM gave us another smooth, hook-filled summery album. But it was the woman on indie labels who came to define 2020, holding their own in a way which - the odd artist aside - perhaps wouldn't have been possible in the past.


So here we are almost two decades after Karen O's indie rock isolation and the door has been smashed wide open. Females have really led the way in the world of indie this year and all the power to them.


It's a boys club no more.