Thinking back to the Riot grrrl movement, or the days of Joan Jett, Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene, the definition of anger for these bold female musicians was fairly clear-cut: using brash rock and metal sounds, these visionaries fought their way into musical spaces dominated by men – their rage became a form of empowerment. But how do we define female anger in music now?
In recent years, we have witnessed a growing number of these ‘angry female musicians’ – delivering their frustrations and discontent in a variety of ways, no longer bound to the rock or punk genres. In music, female anger is a complex phenomenon: difficult to generalise and expressed through both big angry sounds and lyrical narratives of outrage.
Artists such as Rico Nasty, Grimes and Ashnikko prove strong proponents of the former. Often genre-bending and fuelled by a desire for self-expression, they are championing a new wave of angry female musicians – screaming, shouting and thrashing through their discographies.
Rapper Rico Nasty particularly stands out, with bold punk-rap and aggressive hip-hop forming her self-described “sugar trap” aesthetic. Her lyrics and demeanour are unapologetic, a spearhead for selfhood – something which, in a recent NME interview, Rico partially attributes to Joan Jett and her “no fucks attitude”. Since 2018’s ‘Smack A Bitch’, Rico has made anger her trademark, with mixtapes Nasty and Anger Management propelling this further.
As well as a means of empowerment, Rico claims that “being angry is a form of letting go” – a sentiment shared by other ‘angry’ female musicians, such as Grimes in Art Angels’s brazen tracks ‘SCREAM’ and ‘Venus Fly’. The latter song, in particular, propels an empowered, arguably feminist narrative, the ambiguity of the lyrics seeming to target the male gaze.
In a world where self-expression and identity are becoming increasingly important, the growth of the modern ‘angry female musician’ signposts the value of self-empowerment
While brash and confident sounds form one of type expression, we also witness their outrage through subtle, narrative lyricism. Unlike the era of Joan Jett, modern female anger does not necessarily manifest itself through barefaced punk. Janelle Monáe, for instance, presents a narrative of anger on ‘Django Jane’, the song a response to “feeling the sting of the threats being made to my rights as a woman, as a black woman, as a sexually liberated woman”.
Undoubtedly an anthem of protest and empowerment, the track does not rely on heavy sounds to convey its sentiment. Similarly, rapper Noname’s track ‘Song 33’ – a response to J. Cole’s ‘Snow on tha Bluff’ – presents anger through a relaxed, poetic flow. Alongside calling out Cole for his song,, Noname muses on issues of patriarchy and violence against black women in the United States, paying respects to BLM activist Oluwatoyin Salau, who was found dead several days before the song’s release. While her anger and frustrations appear melodically subdued, it is her words that speak volumes of rage.
What defines the wrath of the angry female musician is negotiable: sounds or narratives of anger, there’s no say as to which means of expression outdoes the other. Consider artists like Rina Sawayama, who effectively bring the two together. On her recent album, SAWAYAMA, the Japanese-British artist uses brazen sounds to convey her politically-driven frustration. ‘STFU!’ is the key example of this, utilising elements of nu-metal and rock in order to rage against racial comments she has received, the song a dedication to “any minority who has experienced microaggressions”.
Female anger in our current climate is multifaceted, unique to each individual and impossible to pin down. While it is debatable whether musical rage requires purpose or didacticism, in a world where self-expression and identity are becoming increasingly important, the growth of the modern ‘angry female musician’ signposts the value of self-empowerment. It is no coincidence that most of the artists mentioned in this article are women of colour – anger is a tool of liberation, regardless of its form. Though the era of The Runaways and Joan Jett still holds influence today, it is fitting to describe the recent growth of ‘angry female musicians’ as a total rebirth, rather than a resurgence of what we have witnessed before.