Women Changing the Music Industry Today: 'I Deserve the Spotlight'

These women are rewriting what it means to succeed in the music world, on their own terms

01 of 14

Kim Petras

Kim Petras attends Universal Music Group’s 2023 After Party to celebrate the 65th Grammy Awards
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Universal Music Group for Brands

Petras made history at the 2023 Grammy Awards, when she and Sam Smith took home the award for best pop duo/group performance for "Unholy," making her the first openly transgender woman to win the award.

"I just want to thank the incredible transgender legends before me who kicked these doors open so I could be here," she said in her emotional acceptance speech.

The singer, who was born in Germany and moved to L.A. when she was 19 to pursue a music career, has been making an impact since releasing her debut album, Clarity in 2019, inspired by the '90s and early 2000s pop music she was influenced by from artists including Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Gwen Stefani and Britney Spears.

"[Pop music] means everything to me," she told PEOPLE. "When I was a kid, I used to not really have friends in school. I hated going to school — I got bullied pretty bad. I used to run home from school and watch Gwen Stefani music videos, and I felt like I could escape my problems with that."

Fast forward to 2022, when her song with Sam Smith, "Unholy" reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making Smith the first-ever openly non-binary solo artist and Petras the first openly transgender solo artist to reach the top of the chart since its inception in 1991.

The feat "is a huge middle finger to all the [record] labels that were like, 'We don't know how to market you,' and to everyone who doubted me and said I couldn't achieve this because of my gender identity," said Petras to PEOPLE in November 2022, as she released her single "If Jesus Was a Rockstar."

But, she adds, her success is about so much more than her gender identity: "I feel like my songs are good because they're relatable to anybody. I feel like that is a big part of the equality that I want: for people to realize that everybody's just equal and the same and have the same issues and go through the same things emotionally."

02 of 14


US singer/songwriter SZA performs during Austin City Limits Festival at Zilker Park on October 7, 2022 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO / AFP) (Photo by SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images)

Following the release of her sophomore album, SOS, in December 2022, SZA was named Billboard's Woman of the Year at the March 1, 2023 ceremony.

"Since she burst onto the scene in 2017, SZA has defied genres and continually released raw, powerful songs which have landed her music on the Billboard charts," Hannah Karp, Billboard's editorial director said in a press release announcing the award.

During an interview with Cosmopolitan published in 2021, SZA (pronounced Sizza, and born Solána Rowe), 33, explained that she felt she was still "figuring out" who she was as an artist.

By 2022, SZA told PEOPLE that in the midst of working on SOS, she realized the importance of embracing who she really is.

"Right now I'm just entering my era where I am accepting that I might be a bitch, and that's OK," she said. "Not all the time, but I'm not a bubblegum sweetheart and that's OK."

She continued, "I'm OK with also being the villain, I'm OK with speaking my mind and just being who God designed me to be."

Ultimately, she said, this album is her "coming to terms with all the different parts of me."

03 of 14

Maren Morris

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - NOVEMBER 10: Maren Morris attends the 55th annual Country Music Association awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 10, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
Maren Morris. Jason Kempin/Getty

After first rising to fame with her Grammy-winning song "My Church", the lead single off her major label debut album Hero in 2016, Morris' success only continued to climb after her pop collaboration with Zedd and Grey, "The Middle," and she continues to top charts and collaborate with other artists (including country supergroup The Highwomen).

The singer, 32, has also used her voice in support of equality and fairness, which has made her a standout in the country music scene.

In October 2020 she released "Better Than We Found It," a protest song inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement that earned her a Grammy nomination (her 13th overall), for best country song.

"It's not going to be an overnight thing to feel like it's more inclusive, but I am seeing it change for the better," she told PEOPLE in 2022. "Even if I've lost fans along the way, I'm truly willing to put my own ass on the line to stand up for what's right. When you come to a show of mine, I want it to feel fun and safe. And anyone from any walk of life can show up that night and know that they will be accepted. So if I have to slap off some randos along the way, it's honestly for the betterment of country music."

The "Bones" singer has also used her platform to speak out against anti-LGBTQ behavior, calling out Candace Cameron Bure in November 2022 after the actress said that her new partnership with the Great American Family network will "keep traditional marriage at the core."

Morris was also one of several to call out Jason Aldean's wife Brittany Kerr Aldean over a transphobic comment she made on Instagram in August 2022 which resulted in Morris raising more than $150,000 within a day for the Trans Lifeline and GLAAD's Transgender Media Program. To do so, Morris sold shirts on her website printed with "Lunatic Country Music Person," referencing a dig made by Tucker Carlson during an interview with Brittany.

Morris told PEOPLE in 2022 that she "didn't start making music to become an activist" but was inspired to speak up after "seeing the inequality in the genre I happened to come up in."

04 of 14


Beyoncé accepts the Best Dance/Electronic Music Album award for “Renaissance” onstage during the 65th GRAMMY Awards at Crypto.com Arena on February 05, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Beyoncé. Kevin Winter/Getty

They don't call her Queen Bey for nothing!

Upon accepting the award for best dance/electronic music album for her seventh studio album, Renaissance, at the 2023 Grammy Awards, Beyoncé, 41, broke the record for most Grammy award wins at a whopping 32.

Before cementing herself as a solo superstar, the Houston, Texas native earned her first Grammy nomination in 2000 for Destiny Child's "Bills, Bills, Bills." The following year, the group's hit song "Say My Name" earned Beyoncé her first two Grammys.

Since then, she's been nominated 88 times and performed eight times, both with Destiny's Child and as a solo artist.

Ahead of her record-breaking Grammy appearance, she returned to the stage for her first full concert since 2018, with an hour-long performance at the new Atlantis The Royal Resort in Dubai.

Her return was made even more special, when the mom-of-three was joined on stage by her 11-year-old daughter Blue Ivy Carter, whom she shares with husband JAY-Z, for a duet of their song "Brown Skin Girl."

And to keep the momentum going, Beyoncé kicks off her Renaissance World Tour in Europe on May 10, 2023 and comes to North America in July.

05 of 14

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton. Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

The queen of country music has racked up 10 Grammys and 25 no. 1 hits on Billboard's Hot Country chart (the most for a female artist, per Billboard) throughout her seven-decade career, and now she's sharing some of that magic with the next generation; Parton, 77, has collaborated with younger artists including Kelsea Ballerini, given advice to Gabby Barrett, and voiced her pride in her goddaughter Miley Cyrus.

"I'm kind of addicted to the feeling of giving," Parton told PEOPLE in December 2021 for the People of the Year issue. "Knowing that I'm doing something good for someone else."

Beyond the music world, the legendary singer-songwriter is incredibly philanthropic. In 2020, Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, which helped fund research that led to the Moderna COVID vaccine, and raised over $700,000 for flood victims in her native Tennessee last year. Her long-running Imagination Library project has also donated over 165 million books to children around the globe since 1995.

06 of 14

Brandi Carlile

brandi carlile
Kevin Winter/Getty

The folk-rock singer-songwriter sailed onto the scene with her self-titled album in 2005, and has never looked back. Her star continued to rise with her second record, The Story, which hit the Billboard 200 in 2007. Carlile, 41, hit a career high with her sixth album, By the Way, I Forgive You in 2018. She scored six nominations for the record at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards – the most for a female artist that year – took home three Grammys that evening.

Carlile has continued to dominate at the biggest night in music in the years since, and has won 9 Grammy awards in her career so far — with 24 nominations!

Ever honest with fans, Carlile reflected on her childhood in poverty, sexuality, faith and journey to success in her memoir Broken Horses, which topped The New York Times bestseller list when it was released last spring.

Speaking to PEOPLE at the time, Carlile opened up about what it meant to be a parent who is part of the LGBTQ+ community. The star shares daughters Evangeline and Elijah with wife Catherine Shepherd.

"I'm hoping people see through my story that there's no right or wrong way to evolve into a parenting role in either heterosexual or same-sex relationships," Carlile said. "There are different, complicated dynamics, and there are many ways to feel. The more we talk about it and normalize it, the easier it is to understand that your parenting journey is custom. It really is your own."

Carlile also runs her own organization, Looking Out Foundation, which she started with money made from a General Motors commercial she and her bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth worked on — after helping to rewrite the ad to feature the company's electric cars. The organization raises money and awareness for causes in the arts, human rights, women's equality and more.

Catherine, Carlile's wife, came on board as the executive director of LOF in 2012.

"When I came on board, I noticed that $2 of every concert ticket that Brandi sells goes directly to the foundation, so the fans form the basis of the foundation just by virtue of the fact that they're going to see Brandi play," Catherine told PEOPLE. "So, for me, my priority was finding a way to engage and galvanize Brandi's fan base, because they're all activists. My first mission really was to take these volunteers on the road and launch campaigns to coincide with Brandi's projects, and her touring, and her albums."

07 of 14


Lizzo performs onstage during Global Citizen Live, New York on September 25, 2021 in New York City.
Kevin Mazur/Getty

The singer splashed onto the scene in 2019 with the Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping "Truth Hurts," a full two years after the empowering bop was released. Lizzo has since earned four Grammys and millions of fans for her honest lyrics about body image, Black beauty and putting yourself first.

"I deserve the spotlight," Lizzo told PEOPLE of her success so far in her Women Changing the World cover story in 2022. "I deserve the attention. I'm talented, I'm young, I'm hot. You know? And I've worked hard."

And she's determined to make that "big break" easier for those looking to follow in her footsteps.

"Girls that look like me don't get representation. Time to pull up my sleeves and find them myself," Lizzo said in the trailer for Big Grrrls, her Emmy-award winning reality series about the search for her backup dancers.

08 of 14

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift. Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

The 12-time Grammy winner shot to stardom as a teenager and grew into adulthood in the spotlight. From pop culture to politics, Swift has begun to share thoughts on hot topics she previously avoided, whether that's being infamously interrupted by Kanye West at the 2009 VMAs, taking a stand against workplace sexual assault in a lawsuit or endorsing President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

A champion for artists' rights, Swift got the green light in 2020 to re-record her first five albums, after Scooter Braun gained ownership of her older music in a $330 million deal with Big Machine Label Group the year before. Sharing her side of the story on Twitter at the time, Swift said she had attempted to "enter into negotiations" to buy her music back, but walked away when asked to sign an "ironclad NDA" stating she would only speak positively about Braun during the process.

Her first re-recorded album, Fearless (Taylor's Version), debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in April 2021, and her second, Red (Taylor's Version), topped the charts in November, making them the only re-recorded albums in history to ever reach the top spot.

In October 2022, Swift released her tenth studio album, Midnights, which she followed up with the announcement that she would be hitting the road for her Eras Tour.

When fans logged on to score tickets to the tour, they were faced with a litany of issues which ultimately resulted in a lawsuit filed by over two dozen fans against Live Nation Entertainment, Ticketmaster's parent company and a Justice Department investigation into Live Nation. (The power of Swifties!)

In 2023, Swift was ranked at No. 9 on Forbes' annual list of the highest-paid entertainers in the world — having earned $92 million in 2022 — making her the only woman to appear in the top 10.

09 of 14

The Chicks

the chicks
Frank Micelotta/Getty

The superstar country trio comprised of Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire have never shied from speaking their minds on politics.

The band infamously became blacklisted from the country music scene in 2003 after Maines, 47, denounced President George W. Bush during a London concert, voicing her disapproval of the Iraq war and the then-president. Taking a hiatus from making music for a few years, their 2007 record Taking the Long Way won five trophies at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards, including album of the year.

The Chicks have sold 27 million albums in the U.S. to date, making them the largest-selling country group of the Nielsen SoundScan era (1991 – present), per Billboard, and won 13 Grammys.

In 2020, the trio formerly known as the Dixie Chicks met the moment again when they dropped the nickname for the Civil War-era South from their band name.

After the rebrand, the Chicks released the anthem "March March," and with it, a powerful music video featuring footage of protests supporting Black Lives Matter, women's rights, gay rights and the environment.

Following partnerships with Planned Parenthood and Proclaim Justice on their DCX MMXVI World Tour, the trio opted to work with non-profit REVERB on their 2022 North American tour to raise awareness for environmental issues as well as promote sustainability.

In conversation with Allure in 2020, Maines told the magazine that no matter what, "the politics of this band is inseparable from the music."

10 of 14

Cardi B

63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards – Cardi B
Cardi B. Kevin Winter/Getty

It's Cardi's party! The former stripper catapulted into the spotlight with her rap "Bodak Yellow" in 2017, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts that summer. Her first studio album, Invasion of Privacy, debuted in the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart the following year, and she would become the first woman to have five singles in the top 10 simultaneously on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts, per her website.

Cardi made music history again at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards in 2019, as the first woman to win the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album as a solo artist – a record she still holds today.

"Bodak Yellow" would also go on to earn the RIAA diamond certification (10x platinum), making her the first female rapper to achieve the feat.

Continuing to slay in 2020, Cardi became the first female rapper with the most songs with a billion Spotify streams, for "I Like It" and "Girls Like You" with Maroon 5, per Forbes.

The mother of two and Billboard's 2020 Woman of the Year has also collaborated with other women making names for themselves in music, including Megan Thee Stallion and Normani, and has continued to be an entrepreneur and savvy businesswoman.

11 of 14

Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Like she sang in "7 Rings," Grande gets what she wants! Grande, 29, has been one of the most-streamed artists on Spotify in recent years and currently commands a following of more than 63 million monthly listeners.

In 2021, she earned her whopping 20th Guiness Book of World Records title when "Positions," from her 2020 album of the same name, topped the Billboard Hot 100 list — at the time, she was the only artist to do that five times. (Drake has since broken the record, with seven).

With two Grammys on her mantle and 15 total nominations, Grande's ascent has always been on her own terms.

The "God is a Woman" singer dropped her three most recent albums in rapid succession (Sweetener in 2018, Thank U, Next in 2019 and Positions in 2020), eschewing pop's traditional rules around music releases because she wanted to reach her fans at those moments in her life.

In conversation with Billboard in 2018 for her Woman of the Year cover, Grande declared that any pushback she experienced about her career decisions was sexist.

"My dream has always been to be — obviously not a rapper, but to put out music in the way that a rapper does. I feel like there are certain standards that pop women are held to that men aren't," she explained.

"It's just like, 'Bruh, I just want to f---ng talk to my fans and sing and write music and drop it the way these boys do. Why do they get to make records like that and I don't?' " Grande said. "So I do and I did and I am, and I will continue to."

In recent months, Grande has taken a break from music to star as Glinda the Good Witch in the upcoming Wicked film adaptations. In February, though, she teased that she was working on her section of a remix of The Weekend's 2016 Starboy hit "Die for You" which was released Feb. 24.

12 of 14


Rose, Jisoo, Lisa and Jennie Kim of BLACKPINK
BLACKPINK. Scott Dudelson/Getty

Watch out, world! The four-woman South Korean girl band, comprised of members Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa, won't stop short of world domination. The fearsome foursome has smashed multiple records since getting together in 2016, setting Guinness World Records for the most-watched music videos within 24 hour of release on YouTube with their videos for "Kill This Love" in 2019 and "How You Like That" in 2020, per the organization.

BLACKPINK is also the highest-charting Korean girl group on the Billboard Hot 100, shooting to no. 13 in 2020 for their song "Ice Cream" with Selena Gomez, Billboard reported. Commanding a loyal fanbase across the internet, Blackpink boasts more than 20 million monthly listeners on Spotify and more than 84 million subscribers on YouTube.The band has also collaborated with Cardi B and Dua Lipa.

In 2021, South Korea's then-President Moon Jae-in thanked the girl band for helping elevate K-pop to the world stage.

This year, the group will make history when they become the first K-pop group to headline Coachella.

13 of 14

Mickey Guyton

Mickey Guyton Super Bowl LVI
Mickey Guyton. Kevin Mazur/Getty/Roc Nation

When Guyton signed to Universal Music Group in 2011, she was the only Black woman backed by a major country music label, The New Yorker reported. Speaking her truth in a genre long lacking diversity, the singer gained more fame in June 2020 with the track "Black Like Me," a reflection of her own experiences and a response to the police killings of Botham Jean, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

The song rocketed to the top of Spotify's Hot Country List, and scored Guyton, 39, her first Grammy nomination – making her the first Black female solo artist to earn a Grammy nomination in a country category. The "Better Than You Left Me" singer made history again at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2021, becoming the first Black woman to ever host the show.

Guyton's red-hot star continues to rise, and she sang the national anthem at Super Bowl LVI in 2022.

Speaking with PEOPLE about her historic Grammy nomination, Guyton said she was determined to ensure she was "not the last" Black woman to receive the honor.

"I have a responsibility to hold the door open for other women of color," Guyton said. "Another 40 years can't pass without change."

For July 4, 2022, Guyton was tapped to host the 42nd annual national Independence Day celebration, broadcast live on PBS from Washington D.C. which she told PEOPLE was "absolutely a real honor."

14 of 14

Selena Gomez

selena gomez
Image Group LA via Getty Images

The star, who broke out on Disney Channel's Wizards of Waverly Place, has enchanted fans since launching a music career in 2009. Gomez, 30, dropped three albums with her former band, Selena Gomez & The Scene, all of which hit the top 10 on the Billboard 200 chart, per Billboard. Striking out solo a few years later, Gomez's three albums that followed – Stars Dance (2013), Revival (2015) and Rare (2020) — all debuted at No. 1.

Gomez is the most-followed woman on Instagram with a whopping 392 million followers; on Spotify, she has drawn a following of more than 355 million monthly listeners.

In celebration of her Latin heritage, Gomez dropped her first Spanish-language project with the EP Revelación in March 2021. The record netted her a Latin Music Award for favorite video and a Grammy nomination (her first!) for best Latin pop album at the 2022 ceremony.

As someone in the spotlight since she was a teenager, Gomez has been open about her struggles with depression and powerfully uses her platform to shed light on the importance of caring for one's mental health.

While launching her inclusive makeup line, Rare Beauty, in September 2021, she committed to raising $100 million in the next 10 years to provide mental health resources for underserved communities.

"It can take a toll on you, for sure. We're not all a certain way, and we're not meant to be," Gomez told PEOPLE in December 2020 of the pressure to be perfect. "It's fair to say that I am 1000 percent on the journey with the consumers. It's not easy for everybody, and I want people to know they're not alone."

More recently, Gomez has starred on Hulu's Only Murders in the Building with Martin Short and Steve Martin — which has a third season officially underway.

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