The great Loretta Lynn once said that to make it in the music business, “You either have to be first, best or different.”
That’s true for all of this year’s Women in Music honorees, Ms. Lynn included. They’re different from anyone else out there. They’ve racked up many “firsts” — like first artist to get more than 1 billion views on YouTube (Lady Gaga) and first woman to chart more than 50 top 10 hits (Lynn). And they’re the best at what they do, whether that’s fronting a raucous soul band, writing hypnotic dance anthems, unspooling intricate rap lyrics about female empowerment or crooning ballads about heartbreak and young love.
I’ve been listening to some of these women for years. Others I recently discovered. Now I’m a fan of them all. Their talent is dazzling. So is their work ethic. None of these women had success handed to her. They all had to keep at it, even in the face of failure and discouragement — they kept singing, kept writing, kept getting better and better. They did it because they knew they had something special to offer the world. They knew their stories and points of view were worth sharing. And they were absolutely right about that.
Wonderfully, many of these women are channeling their success in thoughtful and generous ways. They’re starting foundations, mentoring girls and enthusiastically advocating for causes close to their hearts — everything from improving mental health care to registering people to vote. They know how lucky they are to be doing what they love, and they’re making it count in the best of ways. To me, that’s worth honoring just as much as their music.
Their success was made possible by people throughout the music industry who believed in them and worked hard to get their music out into the world. The trailblazing women executives who are celebrated in these pages aren’t just leading the music industry — they’re transforming it.
My hope is that women and girls around the world will hear these artists’ songs, learn their stories and feel a greater sense of possibility for their own lives. Maybe they’ll recognize themselves in these women. Maybe they’ll be inspired to reach toward their own dreams with greater urgency. Maybe they’ll stand a little straighter or speak a little louder because that’s what Gaga and Missy and Brittany and Tori and Selena and Demi and Kelsea and Lana and Ally and Normani and Lauren and Camilla and Dinah and Loretta would do.
And if none of that happens, who knows — maybe they’ll just dance.
This story originally appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of Billboard.