2009: Top Woman Pt 4

Lily Allen / Juanita Stein
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It’s depressingly true, but female musicians are often judged more on their aesthetic value than on their overriding musical abilities.

This is sometimes the unavoidable curse of our sex, but it is in no way immutable. Just look at Beth Ditto. Defying convention and putting two fingers up to those judgmental bastards, the ferocious front woman stormed back onto the scene earlier this year with Gossip’s fourth studio album, ‘Music For Men.’ And she didn’t disappoint.

This raucous American has certainly broken the mould in a number of ways, gaining widespread critical acclaim and oodles of respect for her talent as a chanteuse and not as a visual stimulant for the male libido. And she joins the stellar line-up of women who have this year made waves and pushed boundaries for the sake of music. Yes, 2009 has certainly been their time to shine.

With Karen O and her third album ‘It’s Blitz’ making it to the top of everyone’s list, she proved that she has the longevity required to make a serious mark in the Noughties hall of fame. And Speech Debelle’s modest Mercury win earned another point for us girls, as well as emphasising the rich variety of talent that exists out there in the feminine ether.
So, with established artists adding to their already sparkly repertoire and newer acts breaking through the frequently unyielding wall of the music industry, the fairer sex have done pretty well for themselves this year, it must be said.

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Lily Allen



Lily Allen in 2008 was much as we’d come to expect: a shambolic poster girl for celebrity excess, swiftly becoming a tabloid trainwreck. Critical acclaim for 2006 debut album ‘Alright, Still’ all but forgotten, the following years were, as Allen admits, “off the rails”.

“Everyone must think I’m a complete twat,” she said recently. “If I didn’t know me, I’d think I was one.” In 2009 however, the girl once pictured pulling a Basic Instinct leg cross is fronting Chanel campaigns, picking up awards and shyly claiming to be ‘genuinely shocked’ by the accolades.

With a Bat For Lashes-cum-Gaga wardrobe, Allen embarked on a festival-heavy international tour for ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’ - still employing her successful lyrical formula of wit and honesty, but grown up enough to playfully acknowledge her celebrity.

Quitting Internet blogs stemmed the drip-feed of media gossip, and she’s now set on taking a break from music - though EMI hastily retracted her ‘I quit’ statement earlier this year.

“I feel like I need to go out and live a little bit more,” she said in October. “And then I’ll see.” Sheer bloody talent has banished the fur-coat-no-knickers showbiz offspring, but we hope it’s not a complete retirement. Oh hang on, are those some co-headline dates with Dizzee Rascal next March…?

Words by Amy Swales

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Juanita Stein



While much is often made of a hot female musician’s looks in a band, there is one underrated femme fatale who gently smoulders from the indie sidelines without relying on her appearance.

Step forward Howling Bells’ Juanita Stein, a talented musician whose song writing ability was lauded across the board upon the release of their self-titled debut.

Having written much of the album alone in her bedroom, she had difficulty in persuading male contemporaries that the resulting songs were her own hard work.

She acknowledges that such misogyny is now changing, however. “The realms within what is ‘acceptable’ for female musicians has changed,” she explains. “Our range of expression, emotion and aesthetic seems boundless right now.”

Juanita may have since relinquished solo writing duties to include the rest of her band mates, but her influence - and honeyed vocals - still looms large across their aesthetic and sound.

2009 has been hit and miss for the Australian chanteuse and her band of merry men - second LP ‘Radio Wars’, a vividly technicolour record, is sadly one of the more under-appreciated releases of this year.

Despite this, Howling Bells made strong progress in America when they supported Coldplay, something that is sure to stand them in good stead for the future.

And what of the future? A third album, of course. “We’re all currently holed up in a country house in Australia jamming our hearts out every day.”

Words by Laura Foster

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