Personal Growth in the Leading Women of Pop

2019 saw the release of several full-length albums from established women in the music industry. Not only did many of these albums receive critical acclaim, but a number of them touched upon the artists’ personal lives and growth from past experiences. This maturity reflected beautifully in the music, producing some of the best albums we’ve seen from these women to date. 

Ariana Grande — Thank U, Next

Ariana Grande kicked off 2019 with her fifth studio album, Thank U, Next, in February. This followed the release of four singles in the months prior to the release of the album. The first of these singles came as a surprise, considering Grande had just released her fourth album, Sweetener, in August of 2018. She announced that she was taking a break from music shortly after the death of her ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller, and her subsequent breakup with comedian Pete Davidson. The tone of Thank U, Next was a big leap from the more optimistic Sweetener. Thank U, Next showcases Grande’s confidence and vulnerability simultaneously, demonstrating her versatility as an artist. She dealt with very personal matters in a very public way, transforming it all into music. Thank U, Next has since been nominated for Album of the Year at the 2020 Grammys. 

Image Source: The New Yorker

Taylor Swift — Lover

Taylor Swift’s highly anticipated and long-teased album, Lover, came out in late August. Lover sees the departure from the darker and somewhat jaded tone of Reputation and is a huge personal achievement for Taylor, as it is the first album she released after her departure from Big Machine Records. Not only is Lover a beautiful example of Swift’s musical growth, but she clearly responded to criticisms she’d received over the years about her lack of political activism. Her response to this is present in tracks like “The Man” and “You Need to Calm Down.” Whether or not the songs appropriately tackled certain issues is a conversation for another day, but at the very least they show that she’s taken time to reflect on her status and influence. Other tracks like “Soon You’ll Get Better” and “Afterglow” are deeply vulnerable and heartfelt, revealing an emotionally mature side of Swift’s music.

Image Source: iMore

Lana Del Rey — Norman F*cking Rockwell!

Lana Del Rey revealed that her sixth album was in the works back in January of 2018, and singles from the album started getting released that September. It would take almost a year for the full album to finally come out, but it was well worth the wait. Norman F*cking Rockwell! received massive praise after its release, and Del Rey was described by Jenn Pelly from Pitchfork as “one of America’s greatest living songwriters.” Lana Del Rey’s music and persona have always drawn inspiration from retro Americana. Norman F*cking Rockwell! continues to operate in this space while offering something new. Del Rey’s debut album, Born to Die, presented listeners with songs like “Off to the Races” and “Million Dollar Man” which showed us a reckless girl chasing after the wrong kind of relationships. Comparing these to a song like “Mariner’s Apartment Complex,” which includes lyrics like, “I ain't no candle in the wind… Kind of girl who's gonna make you wonder / Who you are and who you've been,” and, “You're lost at sea, then I'll command your boat to me again… I’m your man,” goes to show how much Del Rey and her music have matured over her past eight years in the industry. Norman F*cking Rockwell! is nominated for Album of the Year at the 2020 Grammys. 

Image Source: The Oxford Student

Charli XCX — Charli

Charli is Charli XCX’s third studio album and followed the release of three singles, each featuring a different artist. Though the album didn’t chart highly in the United States, it was received well by critics. Charli XCX may be best remembered for her hit, “Boom Clap,” off the album for The Fault in Our Stars. Those who haven’t followed her since might be surprised when listening to her more recent work. Charli XCX went from being a pretty generic artist to a pop pioneer. Her sound is experimental and has set her apart from other pop artists. In comparison to her previous music, which may not have felt entirely accessible, Charli is surprisingly heartfelt and reveals a more sincere side of Charli XCX. “Gone” shows her growing out of her desire to party frequently, with lyrics like, “I have to go, I'm so sorry, but it feels so cold in here / I am just now realizing they don't care / I try real hard, but I'm caught up by my insecurities.” 

Image Source: Dazed

Selena Gomez — “Lose You to Love Me” & “Look at Her Now”

Selena Gomez released two singles in late October, and just recently announced her upcoming album, SG2, which is slated for release in January of 2020. Even though we haven’t been presented with a complete body of work, if “Lose You to Love Me” and “Look at Her Now” accurately reflect Gomez’s upcoming album, listeners will be experiencing music unlike any of Gomez’s previous work. “Lose You to Love Me” didn’t call out its subject by name, but anyone familiar with Selena Gomez could guess it was about her past relationship with Justin Bieber. The song was just about as vulnerable as it could get, featuring heart-wrenching lyrics and Gomez’s vocals over a piano. Both “Lose You to Love Me” and “Look at Her Now” directly address her growth from a major heartbreak. Audiences will have to wait for a little over a month to experience the rest of the music she’s been working on.

Image Source: Billboard