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Best Female Pop Stars: 12 Empowering Icons Who Changed The World
© Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

Best Female Pop Stars: 12 Empowering Icons Who Changed The World

From Lizzo’s body positivity to Madonna’s groundbreaking attitude, these female pop stars continue to inspire fans – and each other.


Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion may have been surrounded by controversy following the release of WAP, but they aren’t the first female pop stars to bring empowerment into the pop music arena. As Lady Gaga once sang: “I’m beautiful in my way/’Cause God makes no mistakes/I’m on the right track, baby/I was born this way.” It’s this kind of self-belief that has helped her – along with other figures in the music industry, such as pop sensation Lizzo – to empower others.

From longtime favourite Cher to the censors-baiting Madonna, these 12 female pop stars are proof that the music world has seen many strong women dominate the stage.

12: Billie Eilish

As far as female pop stars go, Billie Eilish is anything but standard. She is, however, paving the way for new directions in music. Eilish rose to fame at just 15 years of age, when she uploaded the melodramatic track Ocean Eyes to SoundCloud; since then, she has developed her signature style of “dark pop”, with her debut album, 2019’s WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?, becoming an instant hit, boasting tracks such as bad guy, when the party’s over and bury a friend. It also enabled her to make history as both the second – and youngest – person to win awards in the four main Grammy categories in the same year. Eilish as also received other accolades, including a BRIT Award and three MTV Video Music Awards, and counts the likes of Dave Grohl, Demi Lovato and Niall Horan as fans.

Never one to rest on her laurels, Eilish became the youngest musician to write a James Bond theme song, No Time To Die, for the Bond film of the same name. As one of her lyrics puts it: “You should see me in a crown/I’m gonna run this nothing town.” Eilish certainly deserves one.

Must hear: When The Party’s Over

11: Lizzo

Anyone named Time magazine’s Entertainer Of The Year certainly earns their place among the female pop stars who changed the world. Perfectly embodied by the lyrics to her 2019 hit Juice – “I was born like this, don’t even gotta try” – Lizzo is notoriously outspoken with regards to body positivity, and has become iconic for just being herself.

Empowering others one song at a time, the woman born Melissa Viviane Jefferson gained mainstream success with her third album, 2019’s Cuz I Love You. Feel-good hits such as Juice, Truth Hurts and Good As Hell have cemented her pop-powerhouse status, leading Lizzo to become an award-winning artist in her own right. As well as possessing enviable rapping and singing skills, she’s branched into acting, with credits in the 2019 movies UglyDolls and Hustlers proving that she can make a success out of anything she does.

Must hear: Good As Hell

10: Dua Lipa

After signing to Warner in 2015, Dua Lipa quickly became a household name. Released in 2017, her self-titled debut album was an instant success, boasting hits such as IDGAF, Hotter Than Hell and New Rules, with the latter’s video making Lipa the youngest female solo artist to reach one billion views on YouTube. Her second album, 2020’s Future Nostalgia, not only scored the singer her first UK No.1, but its lead single, Don’t Start Now, became the top trending video when it was released, hitting the top of the iTunes charts.

After receiving multiple awards, including three BRITs, two MTV Europe Music Awards and two Grammys, Dua Lipa has the accolades to back her status as one of the modern era’s most groundbreaking female pop stars. One hit at a time, she’s rewriting the rules for becoming a success.

Must hear: Break My Heart

9: Ariana Grande

After finding fame as Cat Valentine on the hit Nickelodeon shot Victorious, former teen star Ariana Grande has become a household name. Since swapping her red hair for her signature high ponytail, Grande has repeatedly dominated the charts, with her second album, My Everything (2014), spawning hits such as Problem and Break Free, and her 2020 collaboration with Lady Gaga, Rain On Me, hitting No.1 in both the US and UK. Grande’s incredible lyricism is not to be underestimated, either. Her 2018 album, Sweetener, boasted the track God is a woman, with its iconic, powerful lines “And I can be all the things you told me not to be/When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing”. Sweetener’s follow-up, thank u, next, was a celebration of growth and overcoming past relationships. Having been named the most-streamed artist ever on Spotify, Grande is yet to lose her knack for writing catchy hits.

Must hear: 7 rings

8: Rihanna

Born in Barbados, Rihanna (aka Robyn Rihanna Fenty) is no stranger to the spotlight. Worth £472 million, she has been named by Forbes as the richest female pop star in the world, and has also taken the make-up and fashion industries by storm. Bursting onto the scene with the catchy Pon De Replay in 2005, Rihanna quickly became known for her signature sound: a blend of R&B and EDM with pop. The Grammy-winning artist has released several hits, including Umbrella and Only Girl (In The World), while her multi-platinum albums, such as Good Girl Gone Bad (2007), Rated R (2009) and ANTI (2016), revealed her ambitions to make each new release as different and multi-faceted as she is herself. Her featured appearances on singles with the likes of Jay-Z and Eminem are also a credit to her career. Known for taking her glass of wine to go, we’ll paraphrase the singer by saying, cheers, let’s drink to her continued success.

Must hear: What’s My Name?

7: Lady Gaga

Whether it’s for her exceptional music, outrageous fashion choices (that infamous meat dress, anyone?), or simply sporting as many as four different outfits on the 2019 Met Gala red carpet, Lady Gaga (aka Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) has become a true icon among female pop stars. Her star-studded résumé boasts acting roles in A Star Is Born (whose soundtrack became her fifth consecutive Billboard 200 chart-topper) and American Horror Story, as well as an endless run of hit singles, among them Just Dance, Born This Way and Paparazzi.

Having mastered the power of reinvention, Gaga easily became one of the most versatile and talented creatives in music. Aside from her solo career, she’s also known for her collaborations, with 2020’s Chromatica featuring guest spots from a diverse and talented range of artists, including Ariana Grande, BLACKPINK and Elton John. As well as celebrating empowerment through her music, Gaga launched Born This Way Foundation in 2012, an organisation that focuses on embracing difference and empowering youth. Lady Gaga repeatedly backs her words with actions, and will surely continue to do so.

Must hear: Born This Way

6: Beyoncé

Fuelled by drive and determination, you need only listen to Beyoncé’s 2009 song Diva to realise where she’s coming from: “diva is a female version of a hustla”. Widely known simply as Beyoncé (aka Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter), the affectionately nicknamed “Queen Bey” rose to prominence with 90s girl group Destiny’s Child. Many will know her for her chart-topping hits such as Crazy In Love, Irreplaceable and ‘Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It), which dominated the 2000s and led Billboard to named her the female artist of the decade. In the 2010s, however, she continues to stake her claim as one of the most influential female pop stars of any era, with 2016’s Lemonade rethinking what the album could be in the streaming age. A figure for change and strength, Beyoncé’s 2020 “visual album”, Black Is King, was entirely written, directed and executively produced by the star. A necessary voice for the ages, long may her reign continue.

Must hear: Diva

5: Taylor Swift

Not many artists could mastermind a career as successful as Taylor Swift, never mind one that spans so many genres. Starting out as a 15-year-old country singer, Swift has worked hard to develop her sound, from 2006’s angsty country hit Picture To Burn to 2000’s alt-pop track cardigan. From the all-out pop assault of 1989 to the hip-hop-infused Reputation and the return to classic songwriting that was Lover, each of Swift’s albums finds her mastering new sounds, and she has penned some of the most poignant lyrics in pop music (The Man, from Lover, tackles society’s sexist norms with dazzling maturity). Her eighth album, 2020’s folklore, is her first to be actively described as “alternative” and marks her seventh consecutive Billboard No.1. Breaking the Guinness World Record for the most first-day streams by a female artist on Spotify, the album also made Swift the first artist to debut at No.1 on both the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 charts in the same week.

Swift’s 2020 Netflix documentary, Miss Americana, gives a fly-on-the-wall view of her rise to fame, drawing attention to the patriarchy present in not only the music industry, but the world as a whole. An inspiration to every woman aiming for success, Swift is one of those female pop stars who have smashed the glass ceiling with every punchy, defiant hit.

Must hear: cardigan

4: Britney Spears

Britney Spears dominated the late 90s and early 2000s with a slew of successful singles. She burst onto the scene with 1998’s … Baby One More Time, which sold more than 20 million copies worldwide and, thanks to its iconic music video, set new trends in fashion. The multi-platinum artist has now sold around 150 million records worldwide, while such iconic tracks as Toxic (2003), Circus and Womanizer (both 2008) remain as popular as ever. After staging her Britney: Piece Of Me residency in Las Vegas from 2013 to 2017, The Zone, a Britney Spears-dedicated interactive museum, opened in Los Angeles in February 2020. Lady Gaga best summarised Spears’ impact on all the female pop stars who followed, saying that she “taught us all how to be fearless, and the industry wouldn’t be the same without her”.

Must hear: Toxic

3: Kylie Minogue

Whether known simply as Kylie, or hailed as the Princess Of Pop, Kylie Minogue is the highest-selling Australian female artist of all time. Having begun her career as an actress in the long-running soap opera Neighbours, Kylie’s musical talent, combined with her knack for longevity, has enabled her to enjoy a longstanding career and maintain her status as an icon among female pop stars. Her bestselling song Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, from her 2001 album, Fever, sold over a million copies in England and stayed in the Top 40 for five months, becoming the most-played UK radio track of the year. Kylie’s other big hits include her 1982 cover of The Loco-Motion and her 2000 chart-topper, Spinning Around. In 2019 she released Step Back In Time: The Definitive Collection, proving that, from her soap-opera beginnings to her widespread success as a pop star, Kylie will never be forgotten.

Must hear: Can’t Get You Out Of My Head

2: Cher

Often referred to as the “Goddess Of Pop”, Cher’s (aka Cherilyn Sarkisian) career has successfully spanned six decades. From her time in Sonny And Cher – one of the biggest power couples in music history – to her solo career and lucrative acting roles, she has grown from being one of the most iconic 60s female singers into a global force to be reckoned with, with later solo albums such as It’s A Man’s World (1995), Living Proof (2001) and Closer To The Truth (2013) proving that her influence has anything but diminished over time. (Working with longtime producer Mark Taylor, Closer To The Truth’s leading track, Woman’s World, was as defiant as ever.)

Cher’s distinguished vocals and clever lyricism have consistently set her apart from all the other female pop stars, while a move into acting seemed a natural progression. With over 15 film credits to her name since the 60s, she won a Golden Globe for You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me, her soundtrack contribution to the 2010 film Burlesque, in which she also took a lead role. Her appearance in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again led Cher to release the aptly named Dancing Queen, a covers album in which she made the ABBA originals her own. Challenging the status quo from the start, Cher will always sit on pop’s Mount Olympus.

Must hear: Believe

1: Madonna

Referred to as the “Queen Of Pop” since the 80s, Madonna has yet to be dethroned. From the start of her career to present day she has been a voice for those who want to stray beyond the norm. Singles such as Papa Don’t Preach and Like A Virgin may have attained mainstream success, but Madonna promotes power and independence across her entire discography while consistently pushing boundaries. A social activist, she’s also used her music to spread awareness for others, becoming a figure for feminism and even regarded as the “greatest gay icon” by LGBTQ+ magazine The Advocate. The infamous conical-bra-wearing superstar has also carved her place in other parts of pop culture, even having an episode of Glee dedicated to her.

Known for making presentation central to her performances – from an array of dazzling music videos, particularly for Like A Prayer, to emerging on a throne for her 2012 Super Bowl halftime show – Madonna often supports the female pop stars who have followed her example. Transcending her pop beginnings to become an icon for the masses, Her Madgesty will always have a place in both people’s hearts and pop music history.

Must hear: Papa Don’t Preach

See which 60s female singers changed the world here

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