I know my blog doesn’t really spark much discussion on social media; I’m a non-famous guy posting his personal opinions on a WordPress page. But I feel like if any of my year-end Top 10s were to spark any kind of debate, it would be this one. What we now refer to as “Stan Twitter” has a habit of pitting female musicians against each other in their neverending battle of determining an undisputed “queen”, and if you give the crown to anyone who doesn’t have the approval of a certain fanbase, you will be called out for it. I am fully prepared for someone to read this list and tweet something like “Boy, bye!” or something overly political to get their point across. But no matter who did the trick for you, these following ten performers (plus six honorable mentions) are the female performers who have been blaring through my headphones or raking up YouTube views with me over the past twelve months. It’s time to honor all of these musical queens by naming them my favorite women in music for 2016.
#10. Christina Grimmie
Yup, I’m starting this list with a downer. 2016 has seen so many unfortunate celebrity deaths, from one rock icon after another to pro wrestling ground-breakers to acting legends. Without doubt, one of the most unexpected of these tragedies was the passing of former YouTube star Christina Grimmie at the tragically young age of 22. In case you forgot, she was gunned down at the meet-and-greet of her own concert back in the Spring, shaking Team Grimmie to their very core, myself included. She had an extremely bright future ahead of her, and it was taken away from her in an instant. Luckily, before she passed away, she released one final project to iTunes titled Side A, which contained four tracks that she’d appearantly already filmed music videos for, collectively forming the The Ballad of Jessica Blue, likely her attempt at long-form music video storytelling. Her family dropped the videos over the summer and showed just how promising a star she on the verge of being. She also filmed a movie called The Matchbreaker, where she also contributed her voice to the soundtrack. If you want to see more of her acting chops, you can check that out. She will be missed. R.I.P.
The return of Adele is something that I knew the Grammy Awards would get weak-kneed over. She’s been their favorite artist since she won Best New Artist in 2009. She’s also a critical darling, and it’s easy to see why. She has that stunning, bluesy voice that can often elicit chills, and she writes incredibly heartfelt songs about music that you can tell she has experienced herself. But as it turns out, critics and the Grammys weren’t the only one show missed Adele; the music-buying public clearly did too. They turned out in droves to buy 25 and make it platinum in a week. The impact of the kick-off single “Hello” landed Adele with VMA and Grammy nominations galore and another #1 hit song. True, the subsequent singles “When We Were Young” and “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” didn’t chart as high, but they did pretty well still. The Adele World Tour is apparently a huge deal, even drawing in many celebrity admirers, and her Carpool Karaoke segment is one of the year’s most talked about moments. I can almost guarantee she’s going to win a few Grammys in 2017, and it’s not like she hasn’t earned them.
2016 may have sucked as far as news and media goes, but there is definitely one huge news story that was a joy to hear about in 2016: the resurrection of JoJo. When she broke out with “Leave (Get Out)” in 2004 at just 13 years old, she already had star quality written all over her with that amazing voice of hers. She quickly earned cred as one of those few white singers who could effortlessly pull of doing R&B music. But she went M.I.A. for a while after her old record label started screwing her over. Luckily, she was able to break the chains and after years of drama, signed to another label. The Tringle from last year was just a taste of what the newly grown up JoJo had to offer, especially since those songs were largely pop-oriented. Her comeback album Mad Love. sees her return to a more R&B-leaning sound, complete with cameos from hip-hop stars like Wiz Khalifa and Remy Ma. The talent of JoJo is something the pop music landscape desperately needs to keep around.
#7. Alessia Cara
I hear that Alessia Cara does have her detractors. Not a lot of detractors, mind you, but they’re out there. And honestly, I have no idea why. I know not every celebrity is gonna win over everyone, but Alessia Cara is one of those musicians who’s so easily likable in my book. Why? Well, not to sound cliché, but she seems like the most normal performer in music today, but not enough to be deemed as boring or mundane. The 20-Year Old Canadian, who won her first MMVA earlier this year, is beautiful, but has the most down-to-earth look, wardrobe, and persona in music right now, even choosing not to be glamorous when performing her powerful single “Scar to Your Beautiful”. And she has plenty of opportunities to perform that and even her previous two singles “Here” and “Wild Things” because she’s been able to perform on numerous stages this year, from the VMA pre-show to the Wango Tango stage. She’s also lent her voice to a collaboration with Troye Sivan and the soundtrack and end credits to Disney’s latest animated movie Moana. Appearing on the cover of Billboard Magazine along with Chance The Rapper and another singer coming up on the list, Alessia Cara may be here to stay and I don’t mind. If only the Grammys gave her some love.
#6. Demi Lovato
Demi Lovato does have her detractors, including people who aren’t fans of hearing about her activism. She’s spoken up about her struggles with mental illness, which is to be admired. But some people feels she does it so much to the point of pandering, which is just weird. Also, her comments on Taylor Swift’s squad and backing of Hillary Clinton may not have earned her many new supporters. But even if any of that irks your nerves, it’s difficult to deny the god-given talent that Demi possess musically. Some portions of the internet mock her lack of Top 5 hits on the Billboard charts, but who cares when her vocals are such a blessing? That powrful voice has blessed collaborative records with Brad Paisley and Fall Out Boy this year. And upping her increasing sex appeal since the start of the Confident Era is the underrated pop single “Body Say”, which may not have gotten an official music video, but the live Honda Civic Tour performance video posted on her VEVO channel is still one of the hottest clips you’ll watch all year, complete with those amazing vocals. Her hard work and talent has recently been recognized her very first Grammy nomination, Best Pop Vocal Album. She claims she’s taking a break in 2017 following frustration with the industry; if true, I hope it’s not a long one.
Four years we had to wait for a brand new Rihanna album. Granted Rihanna has never been considered an “albums artist”; in fact, she was one of the faces of the Singles Era, where she could craft perfectly memorable and catchy songs to top the chart with and lodge into your brain, but whose album mostly consists of filler to slip the singles in-between. In fact, 2015 saw her release nothing but singles, all of which differed from one another in sound. But at the start of 2016, our prayers were finally answered as Rihanna dropped ANTI, a big of a departure from her usual highly-catchy dance-pop fair and into darker territory as far as sound goes. To date, it’s received some of her best critical reactions and is considered a pretty strong album by her. Even I could get behind certain songs on it, like “Desperado”, which deserves a video set in the wild west ASAP. Lead single “Work” was catchy enough to earn the album the traction it needed. She was also on “This Is What You Came For” by Calvin Harris; I wasn’t a huge fan of that song. But it was successful, meaning it kept Rihanna’s streak going in the same year she was honored with MTV’s Video Vanguard.
#4. Ariana Grande
We all must’ve slipped donut-gate under the rug, or at least agreed that it was a rather tame controversy to continue fussing over any longer because it did not harm Ariana Grande’s career one bit. In fact, she won the American Music Award for Artist of the Year back in November, so technically, she just as popular as she’s ever been. And as someone who genuinely enjoys her music, I’m glad that incident didn’t kill her career. This year saw her release her third album, Dangerous Woman, which seems like a laughable claim when you remember that once upon a time, she played the most airheaded, childlike character on all of Nickelodeon and looks more adorable than threatening on the surface. But the album does see her graduate from tween singer into more adult territory, with grooves on songs like “Into You” and “Greedy” being effectively seductive and danceable. “Side to Side” also became the latest piece of evidence to suggest that Ariana Grande + Nicki Minaj is always a winning combination for hit-making fodder.
#3. Lauren Alaina
This former American Idol star could very well end up #1 on this list next year since she recently confirmed that her sophomore studio album, Road Less Traveled, is set for release on January 27, 2017. And trust as a longtime fan: it has been quite a lengthy journey to the release of it. Wildflower was fine for what it was, but it was to serve an only Alaina’s introduction into the country music genre; something for which she could expand upon on that long-awaited second album. Over the years, she’s endured a number of struggles, including having surgery done on her vocal chords and opening up about her battle with an eating disorder. All of this culminates in a more mature Alaina, someone who still has a playful and flirty personality, like on her song “Next Boyfriend”, but who also hopes to use her newfound growth for good with tracks like “Road Less Traveled”, which she co-wrote with Meghan Trainor and which has officially her biggest hit to date, becoming her first Top 20 hit on the Billboard Country Charts. She’s also adding “actress” to her resume as she’s set to make her film debut in a movie titled – what else? – Road Less Traveled.
If there’s one thing that you can count on for every year-end list in 2016, it’s that Beyoncé will be somewhere at or near the top of them. Simply put, she’s had perhaps the best year of any musician not named Drake. She kicked off the year by stealing Coldplay‘s thunder at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. She then released what many – including TIME, Rolling Stone, and Complex, consider the best album of 2016 with Lemonade, a visual roller coaster that proved to be so complex, diverse in sound, and proud in its own assertion of black pride that it was surprisingly controversial. But it didn’t halt her momentum one bit; the album was a huge bestseller and led to Beyoncé opening the BET Awards with Kendrick Lamar, becoming the highlight of the MTV Video Music Awards, and kicking ass at the CMA Awards with the Dixie Chicks, which proved to be controversial in its own right. And the anti-police brutality video for her anthem “Formation” set everything in motion, winning Video of the Year at both the MTV VMA’s and the BET Awards. I don’t know if I would call her my personal entertainer of the year, but she was one of the brightest shining stars of it, no doubt.
#1. Maren Morris
What a difference 12 months can make. When 2016 started, I had never even heard of Maren Morris. In fact, when I saw her single “My Church” charting on the Billboard Hot 100 back in the spring, I was left confused. But it did catch my attention at least, and she certainly caught the music industry’s attention as well. She might be the biggest breakout star of the country genre this year (alongside Old Dominion, maybe). “My Church” was a monster hit in country music and “80s Mercedes”, one of my hands-down favorite songs of the year, has also done just as well. If that wasn’t enough, she was named by the CMA Awards the Best New Artist of the Year and capped off 2016 with a CMT Crossroads performance with R&B star Alicia Keys, some Grammy nominations (including Best New Artist), a performance slot on Saturday Night Live, and the Breakthrough Star honor at Billboard’s Women in Music. I guess you can call her the 2016 Chris Stapleton with how big she’s gotten in her genre. She may not be the most country artist around as the pop and R&B influences are clearly there, but if you’ve listened to her album Hero, you’ll know why she won people like myself over this past year.
+ Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift hate is at an all-time high because of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s inability to let their stale VMA feud go, but Taylor Swift continues to be her own empire regardless. She only recorded ONE song this year and that came out last week, but while she was mostly enjoying a break from the spotlight that kept her off on the list, she hasn’t dropped the pen, writing tracks for both Little Big Town and Calvin Harris, along with winning Grammys and performing a grand total of one concert.
+ Lacey Sturm – The former Flyleaf vocalist returns to rock music with her solo effort Life Screams, and the rock community paid attention. Her unique vocals and lyrics of redemption and hope landed her a solo hit on the rock charts, “Impossible”, and notched her a spot on tour with the band Otep. Somewhere in between, the mother of one also found time to release a second book.
+ Sabrina Carpenter – By now, we’re all aware of the rule that at least 90% of Disney Channel stars must have a singing career to go along with their acting careers. 17-year old Sabrina Carpenter, a.k.a. one of the best things about Girl Meets World is one of their performers who wears both hats. She released her second studio album, EVOLution this year and set out on tour promoting it. She hasn’t crossed over to the FM/Top 40 format yet, but maybe that day will come soon.
+ Sia – Who doesn’t love Sia? Everyone loves Sia. We kindof have no choice; she’s written most of out favorite pop songs over the last number of year, whether she was the one belting them out of not. And this year, she had two hits of her own: “The Greatest” and “Cheap Thrills”, the latter of which topped the Billboard Hot 100.
+ Tinashe – “Underrated” continues to be the perfect tag to assign Tinashe. Such an astounding R&B/pop goddess who constanly pops out fantastic jams and music videos, but is contantly overlooked, having only one Top 40 hit to her name. But ths year, she released the album/mixtape Nightride, got her Baywatch on in the “Superlove” video, and contributed to Britney Spears’ best single in years. Can we get her another hit please?
+ Miranda Lambert – The music video for “Vice” shows Miranda Lambert emerging unscathed, no bruises, from a catastrophic car-crash, and heading into the next crossroads of her life. If that didn’t get you excited to see how personal her album The Weight of These Wings would turn out, I’m wondering if you’re capable of excitement at all.