Women operating in public spaces are often seen and never heard, which is why it's become a revolutionary act for female artists to band together and pull back the curtain on their daily battle in male-dominated industries.
Naturally this growing demand for female unity has gradually pervaded music, manifesting in the form of mega all-female collaborations like that of artists Icona Pop, Ella Vos, VÉRITÉ and Mija, who have teamed up to remix Vos's empowerment anthem "You Don't Know About Me" in support of the ACLU. Below, the latter three converse on clout, cancel culture and everything in between, revealing, in the process how they plan to flip music's man's world on its head.
The state of pop music and how it's evolving:
Ella Vos: Pop music is so broad, it's evolving quickly in ways I think are hard to track. The one thing that sticks out to me is how genuine, real, and down to earth it is. Good songs are still the basis for everything but a lot more artists are making a statement with their music, and inviting us into their lives a bit more.
VÉRITÉ: Agreed. The definition of pop has broadened and shifted to become more experimental and musical. It allows for more freedom and risk-taking. I feel like sometimes songs are being pushed back for more dynamic production and melodies, but that's something that excites me. There's less pressure to conform to a cookie-cutter version of what some dude thinks will react at radio. Experimentation equals freedom to me.
Ella Vos: 100%. It used to feel like you could follow the "formula" and make it onto the radio or Today's Top Hits and that's not the case anymore. Which is really what music needs right now. Originality, risks.
VÉRITÉ: Writing and creating with the goal of pandering to playlisting and radio seems insane to me. You can so clearly hear when something is an attempt to conform. I'd rather continue writing what feels natural to me and find new ways of sharing and connecting listeners with the music.
Ella Vos: Yeah, that approach (the goal of getting your song on a playlist) feels really cheap. I think the state of pop music is evolving to become transparent. Be yourself, whoever that is, and that, at the end of the day, is what will "win" — it satisfies you the artist and satisfies the listener.
VÉRITÉ: Agreed. Also, quantity matters. I think people are too precious with their music sometimes and should share more of the process and songs they have. We could literally talk about this for days, because everything we are saying about the current state of the music industry will shift and be almost unrecognizable in a year. Everything is shifting so quickly.
Ella Vos: Yes, agreed!
Mija: Pop music is very new to me. I only started getting into pop music in the past couple of years when I started doing remixes for pop artists. I think that the fusion between electronic/pop has broadened the definition of what it means to be a pop song. The standard "formulas" are becoming less important, while creativity is taking higher priority.
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Music's approach to women:
VÉRITÉ: I love how this is just a statement…and such a loaded one. I think women are grossly overlooked in every industry and especially the music industry. Titles afforded to men without thought are given to women with more skepticism. For instance, I read an article about how Donald Glover is hailed as a genius for "This is America" (that fucker is a genius, so the title is appropriate) but how that word is rarely used to describe brilliant art created by women (the example being Janelle Monae's visual album). It's an interesting difference and I think women are very commonly slighted and made to feel smaller at times.
Ella Vos: Ugh, yes. The bar for women is so insanely high. Everyone is careful of how much praise they give a woman. I guess we are still put in little boxes: Janelle Monae is an incredible artist "for feminists." Whereas Donald Glover is a genius for "everyone."
Mija: What I find most interesting about this is how when a woman finds "success" in music, people love to make statements about how much they "deserve it" or how "impressed" they are. As if there's a reason why they wouldn't have been impressed before...the idea that musically talented women are a rarity. Newsflash: are not that rare. We know that we deserve it because we created it. And we want to be held at the same level of credential as anyone else.
VÉRITÉ: I do feel like there is more awareness around this now and more conversations starting. I tend to be defensive because of experiences I've had with men in my career. It's really disheartening to have men claim they "developed" you or taking credit they shouldn't for work and ideas that I built. I think keeping my head down and trying to find collaborators who are open and willing to work with a woman like myself and like you who are driven, decisive and badass is my goal.
Ella Vos: I admit when I was first releasing music, I assumed men taking credit for work they didn't do was just the way it had to be, and if you didn't follow along, you'd be left in the dust. I've had to re-teach myself to be confident and my own worth and constantly check in with myself. I've also been more aware of who I decide to work with. I think, How does this benefit women in music?, which is something new to me. I've seen it's really easy when you're looking for someone to work with to get a list of 50 dudes that are available — whether its musicians or engineers or photographers you name it. I'm always like, Okay, where are the women? This industry is such a "referral" based industry. But I'm pushing people: "Find me a female lighting tech! Find me a female TM!" It's not that I only want to work with women, it's just that that's how more women make it into the industry and I feel responsible for that.
VÉRITÉ: Agreed. It's really easy to work with a white dude. It takes more time and conscious effort to work with women or POC or others who are underrepresented.
Mija: I love working with women because it truly brings a different kind of vibe/element to the overall environment. Not to say it's better or worse than working with men, but it's important to find a balance. Yin yang, you feel?
Can mainstream appeal and indie clout coexist?
Ella Vos: What does mainstream appeal mean? There's so many outlets to reach the "mainstream" — I don't think I have to sacrifice anything to reach it. Maybe if I didn't write my first song about becoming a mother then I'd reach a larger audience, but that wouldn't be "me."
VÉRITÉ: I have to be honest, I don't give a fuck about the "mainstream." I also don't give a fuck about "indie credibility." I think as an artist, you can span genres and make music for the masses and make music that may not be as immediately accessible. So long as you can feel amazing about what you're creating and releasing, you're golden. Being genuine in your pursuit of building a career is all that matters. Fans can smell bullshit on either side.
Mija: I agree with you guys 100 percent. The term "mainstream" is becoming more and more vague each day. What is considered mainstream now, used to be the underground 10 years ago. And I'm sure that will shift again in another 10 years. "Mainstream" is just a word for what's popular in this moment. If you create something that becomes popular, that just means that you have made something that resonates with a lot of people. And honestly, you can't really fake that kind of shit. Real recognizes real. Even in "pop/mainstream" music. So as long as you maintain authenticity, there's no limit to your appeal. What defines clout or cool will always shift, but pure genuineness will last forever.
Ella Vos: Yes! Being genuine is so important. Also, there's so many ways to build an audience and career. I don't think you have to give up your authenticity to have that. Fuck the mainstream and indie credibility — who has time to worry about that?!
VÉRITÉ: I think people give too much credence to what they think "matters." For instance, you and I are exceptions to the rule. We're both independent artists, own our masters, and are women making a legitimate living in the music industry. There are fifty innovative ways to break every rule someone has made. This applies to every rule in every industry. Nothing matters. Cue existential crisis…
Ella Vos: It's so freeing though — nothing matters! The world is your oyster and every other hallmark card saying.
Mija: Nothing matters, and everything matters, simultaneously.
What you would do away with in the music industry:
Ella Vos: Greed, money, gatekeepers…I guess this is where the appeal of being an independent artist comes in. Being my own boss, owning my music, answering to myself and my fans, and that's it. I wish it was easier for more artists to remain independent. V you have done an incredible job with remaining independent for your entire career. It's always inspiring to me.
VÉRITÉ: Thank you! It's definitely not the easiest, fastest route to world domination, but it does allow for constant movement forward. I'd get rid of "hype" in multiple forms. I'd get rid of companies, labels, hyping individuals up to entice them to sign away ownership, just to leave developing artists to struggle within these contracts to continue making music. I'd also get rid of unreasonable hype that creates unrealistic expectations of artists to constantly create perfect, infallible art 100% of the time. It really dehumanizes artists into these little machines.
Ella Vos: Yes, "hype" is a dangerous scary thing to me. I also think a lot of people and aspiring artists assume that the music industry is a all glamour and something that you get into with "luck," when really it's just like starting any other business. Would you sell your brand new business to the first buyer? Probably not. But back to the glamour thing — I feel like I constantly have to remind people. Yes, I'm going to play that festival where so and so is the headliner and yes it's very cool, but I have to work all day, I'm not just getting a free ride to go party.
Mija: I prefer to stay cynical. No hype. No glamour. I take it to a negative extreme at times. But it keeps me hyper-realistic. Hype creates unrealistic perceptions of artists. The "industry" is trying to sell a product, while the artists is trying to express themselves. I would like to see consumer culture less prevalent, and more independent artists that encourage people to create for themselves.
How to keep up with the demand for a new sound:
Ella Vos: The most important thing to me is to challenge myself to push boundaries — if I thought I wrote some unique melodies on my last song, maybe this next song I can push a little further. Try something that is unexpected, for me. But I don't feel any "demand" for a new sound.
VÉRITÉ: Same. I think it's important that I'm always pushing myself and each release should be a noticeable improvement from the last. Other than that, I'm just going to make the album I want to make and know it'll find its place in the zeitgeist.
Ella Vos: Yeah, staying in competition with yourself is a part of every creators journey. Learning to consistently believe in yourself and what you're making is the struggle and the excitement of it all.
Mija: True artists, aren't trying to keep up with a demand for a new sound. They are simply creating things that they think sound cool. They are being themselves. It's everyone else that decides that they are the trendsetter. And then that becomes the new trend. So how do we keep up? We just make shit that we think sounds cool. Don't overthink it.
Cancel culture and artist authenticity:
VÉRITÉ: This is a very sensitive, charged topic. Personally, I'm not easily offended and understand that people are fallible human beings. That being said, now is not a time in the culture to be ignorant, insensitive or a fuck up. I respect that the cultural pendulum is swinging to be much more aware of what people say and believe. I'm not one to "cancel" people in a dramatic way, but I also can't watch Woody Allen movies or listen to R. Kelly and participate in the careers of people who are abusers, racists, or homophobic or generally intolerant individuals.
Ella Vos: Same, in every way. There's different extremes. I think on the lighter sides of things, we need to give room or grace to those who are unknowingly making statements that are hurtful if they are open to learn and shift. It's a conversation. On the heavier side — I think it's totally okay and necessary for streaming services to "not actively support" artists who are abusers, racists. Just because an artist makes incredible art or music doesn't mean they are above the law or free from consequence.
Mija: Music should be a pillar of free speech. As long as your not calling for violence, artists have the right to say whatever they want. It is impossible to determine what will be harmful to everyone, especially across cultures. I do believe that any corporation (i.e. Spotify) has the right to determine what artists they promote. Just as any human has the right to choose if they want to monetarily support a specific artist. There are extremes on all sides of the equation — some that need to be taken seriously, and others that should be taken with a grain of salt. What does the future look like when we begin to cancel everyone who has ever made a mistake?
Politics in music:
VÉRITÉ: It kind of amazes me in this very hostile political climate how not political music is. Even my own music has previously been centered around myself and my personal experiences, and I'm really excited to expand my perspective into a broader interpretation of the world we live in. Hip hop has always been more politically charged than straight pop music, but I'm really floored that artists with massive platforms aren't way more vocal about the injustices of the world and using their audiences to impact change. For example, where the fuck is Taylor Swift or other massive pop stars in the conversation of immigrant children in federal detention centers? There's a lot of motivation for me to be less self centered and more aware.
Ella Vos: Yeah it's shocking, I find it really difficult to not say anything. You don't always have to say it in your music but you can create awareness in so many other ways. I don't think every artist needs to create political music because some artists' role is to allow escape and I think there's always importance and meaning in that, too. For me, for example, when I wrote "You Don't Know About Me," I didn't think of it as a political song. It was personal — and just so happened to be political. Music is really an important part of creating change, I do and will always believe that — and would encourage the massive pop stars to understand their power and platform and use it for good.
VÉRITÉ: I agree that all music doesn't have to be political. I do feel like we are living through a turning point in history and it's important to be vocal and active to better humanity. Silence is a luxury and silence is complicity.
Mija: Music doesn't have to be political, but many artists are. I think it's extremely powerful when artists find a way to express their political views through their art. But often times, it feels like a surplus of emotionally-charged opinions, being taken out of context (particularly on Twitter). The internet has given everyone a platform to express their "thoughts and prayers," so it's really up to artists to solidify these opinions into something tangible. Something with longevity. Something people can actually feel.
Why the music industry hasn't truly had a #metoo reckoning yet:
VÉRITÉ: I'm not sure why the #metoo movement hasn't hit the music industry with the same impact as Hollywood. I do think it has opened more women up and opened a door for women to feel like they can speak out. I hope that a reckoning comes in a meaningful way, because I know there are the same situations in the music industry and in Hollywood.
Ella Vos: I've heard a handful of stories about the #metoo movement in the industry that are really important — but yeah, it's not been the same as Hollywood. I hope we can continue to create a safe place for women to speak up and hope that everyone who has experienced abuse to know they are not alone; we will be there to support them.
Mija: I've seen it hit a few musicians, but generally speaking, I think that people have a deeper emotional connection to music. Maybe that's why it's harder to accept their favorite artists under that context.
Navigating male-dominated spaces:
VÉRITÉ: My career started with me having zero confidence and no sense of agency. I felt as though I was always looking up to men who would lead me to greener pastures. I think this is something that gets ingrained in women. Slowly, I educated myself on the music industry: practices, protocols, etc. I began to claim ownership of myself, my project and my business. I came to realize that I am the only indispensable part of this entity I've built. Finding confidence, I've become much more assertive and unafraid of confrontation. It's interesting to see men be intimidated by that. I've put my foot down many times with varying results.
Ella Vos: Me too, 100 percent. The idea of needing men, or that they know better, is so ingrained in me. I was lucky to work with a producer who constantly pointed out the imbalance in the industry to me and show me that it didn't have to be that way. I think originally my choosing to not sign a record deal was kind of based in me not willing to hand over my art — that was so feminine over to a group of men who clearly didn't understand what I was writing about. It felt like a huge risk to not take a deal. But I think until there's more women in executive positions at the labels, I can't feel comfortable doing that.
Mija: In the beginning of my music industry career (as a promoter, age 17), I didn't think about this. It never even occurred to me. For me, it wasn't a men/woman thing. I only viewed myself as a teenager who was trying to be an adult. So gaining that respect level from adults (male or female) was my only concern. Fast forward to when I was in the spotlight as a DJ — this was the number one question people would ask me. And at that time, I didn't have an answer for them. It never occured to me that I was the only woman doing this. Because I wasn't. I knew female djs, female promoters, etc in Phoenix. It only began to exist to me when I recognized it. And now it's a thing that I think about moderately often. But I can't help but wonder….if no one had ever asked me about this, would it even be a thing? Would woman be so afraid to try and level up in this industry, if they weren't constantly reminded how difficult and male-dominated it is? Or would they just go for it because it seems like a cool and fun thing to do?
Favorite collaborations and dream collaborators:
VÉRITÉ: My favorite collaboration thus far has been with Pell. He's an amazing artist from New Orleans. We met randomly in typical speed-dating fashion. His energy in the studio is really infectious. We did an exchange. I featured on one of his songs, and he featured on a remix of mine. I love how random collaborations are. Same with this remix of "You Don't Know About Me." If you're open to working with new humans and sharing that experience, amazing shit happens. Dream collaboration is Childish Gambino. Hit me up.
Ella Vos: I really love how our remix came together, and can't wait to do more like this. Being able to create more awareness around LGBTQ discrimination and support the ACLU in their efforts feels like a huge accomplishment to me, like, "Oh yeah this is why we make music!" I wish I was a lawyer and could actually help others in that way, but you gotta use the tools you have, and this is what we have.
VÉRITÉ: I love the idea of all women coming together. Also, the fact the proceeds are going to the ACLU to support the LGBTQ community makes it all the better.
Mija: I'm really excited about this collaboration. It was something that happened organically, and is supporting political causes that I believe in. And doing it all with talented, driven and independent as fuck woman who are kicking ass and taking names.
Female artists who consistently impress:
Ella Vos: I'm obsessed with Lana del Rey, how she is living and breathing her music and art at all times. She is so consistent, but never manufactured. Her lyrics floor me. She creates with no one in mind, except her art, and I just want to live in it.
VÉRITÉ: I personally think Ariana Grande is one of the most well-rounded, talented pop artists we have. I'm impressed that she is part of this massive machine and releases music and visuals with such impeccable taste. Also, I think Kimbra is one of the most under-appreciated, genius musicians of my generation.
Mija: Björk baby, forever.
Photography: Joanna Rentz