Social distancing and lockdown precautions may have put an indefinite pause on concerts and live events, but that didn’t stop many female musicians from releasing amazing music this year. As live concerts have switched to virtual jam sessions, musicians have gotten more creative than ever when figuring out how to connect and share their music with fans worldwide. Some of these singers created and recorded full albums while at home in quarantine rather than in a studio, resulting in super unique projects.
In this round-up, we’ll be sharing some of the coolest female musicians—both emerging and household favorites—that have released great albums this year.
Before 2020, L.A.-born-and-bred singer Phoebe Bridgers was already a rising star with a solid fan base in the indie music community. Since releasing her debut album Stranger in the Alps in 2017, Phoebe has joined music groups such as boygenius (with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus) and Better Oblivion Community Center (with Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes). Over the summer, she released her second album, Punisher, to critical acclaim. Publications like The New Yorker, NPR, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork all celebrated Punisher for its evocative storytelling through its personal lyrics. During a lonely and uncertain time like a pandemic, many of Bridgers’ fans lauded Punisher for being honest and versatile. So far, Punisher and “Kyoto” (off the album) have been nominated for Best Alternative Music Album, Best Rock Performance, and Best Rock Song, respectively, for the 2021 Grammy Awards.
There’s a reason why Pitchfork voted Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters the number-one album of 2020. It completely blew everyone’s expectations out of the water when it was released in April. It’s been eight years since Fiona’s last album, The Idler Wheel. Fiona doesn’t have her own social media accounts or a publicist, but in late 2019, in true unique Fiona-fashion, she started cold-emailing reporters to discuss the new music she was recording, and a possible album release. Fetch the Bolt Cutters, which was recorded entirely in Fiona’s Venice Beach house, has been widely praised for its exploration both in production process and lyrical content. Aside from Pitchfork, The New York Times also ranked it number one on its Best Albums of 2020 list.
Taylor Swift kicked off 2020 with a bang, releasing Miss Americana, a Netflix documentary that gave the public a deeper glimpse at her last couple of years away from the public eye, while exploring new genres in her music. Her 2017 album Reputation explored electropop sounds, and offered up a chance for Swift to share her side of the controversy regarding Kanye West’s song “Famous.” Miss Americana allows fans a behind-the-scenes look at Swift’s recording process of her last album, Lover, and candid interviews about how the Kimye social media controversy affected her creativity process and mental health. Come quarantine, Taylor was hard at work writing and recording two studio albums. In July, she surprise-released folklore, which was well-received as a departure from her previous pop-oriented albums. Many fans favored the nostalgic and escapist themes of folklore’s songs. Rolling Stone ranked folklore as number one on its Best Albums of 2020 list, Taylor won Songwriter of the Year at the Apple Music Awards, and folklore is nominated for two Grammys in 2021. But that wasn’t the end of Taylor’s surprises. In December, Taylor released another surprise album, evermore—venturing more into the alternative-rock genre.
Megan Thee Stallion
Many fans can credit Megan Thee Stallion’s 2019 song “Hot Girl Summer” as igniting the hot girl summer movement on social media, but Megan's hot girl music streak didn’t end last year. She kicked off 2020 with the EP Suga, which gave the world amazing hits like “Captain Hook,” “Savage,” “B.I.T.C.H,” and “Hit My Phone (ft. Kehlani).” In April, Megan released a remix to “Savage” featuring Beyoncé—and over the summer, “WAP” featuring Cardi B went viral across social media. Megan wrapped up the year releasing her debut solo album, Good News.
English singer Charli XCX joined the hall of fame of musicians who created entire albums in quarantine with her fourth album, how i’m feeling now, released in May. Charli first announced she was creating a new album early April over Zoom, and within six weeks, fans were graced with the project. The album’s development process was largely collaborative with Charli’s fans via Zoom and other livestream sessions. While Charli has often been known for her electropop and party genre songs, how i’m feeling now is candid about Charli’s own feelings and writing experience during lockdown.
Kali Uchis has always been a force to be reckoned with. She’s collaborated with artists like Gorillaz, Jorja Smith, Lana Del Rey, Daniel Caesar, Tyler the Creator, and more. In 2018, Uchis released her debut album, Isolation, which was largely loved for its R&B and Latin pop influences. In April, the singer released TO FEEL ALIVE, which was recorded entirely in the first month of quarantine. The EP was followed in November by Uchis’s second album and first entirely Spanish album, Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios). Sin Miedo’s first single, “Aquí Yo Mando,” features rapper Rico Nasty. Going into 2021, Uchis has been nominated for the Best Dance Recording Grammy Award for her feature on “10%” with Kaytranada.
Chloe x Halle
R&B duo and sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey were first discovered by Beyoncé, who spotted their YouTube covers online. Since then they’ve starred together on Grown-ish, opened for not one but two Beyoncé tours, and won the Rising Star Award at the Billboard Women in Music Awards this year. In June, they released their second studio album, Ungodly Hour. In an interview with NPR, the sisters spoke about their decision to postpone the album’s release by a week in June to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s death; they felt it was important to utilize their platform and lend their voices. Ungodly Hour earned widespread critical acclaim from listeners, along with being named on both NPR, Rolling Stone, Time, and Billboard’s list of Top Albums in 2020.
25-year-old Sasha Sloan only released her debut album Only Child this October, but before that, she racked up an impressive songwriting resume. The Boston-born singer-songwriter studied jazz at Berklee School of Music and started writing and sharing her music on Soundcloud. Since then, she’s written and collaborated on songs for artists like Katy Perry, Camila Cabello, Kygo, and John Legend. Prior to releasing Only Child, Sasha released three other EPs: Sad Girl, Loser, and Self-Portrait. Only Child received praise from fans and publications for its vivid storytelling and Sloan’s songwriting skills.
In the last few years, fans have gotten to know different sides of Miley Cyrus: Miley the activist (she created the Happy Hippie Foundation, a non-profit focused on LGBTQ+ and homeless youth) and Miley the rock singer. Maybe her 2019 EP title SHE IS COMING was foreshadowing Cyrus’s success and new musical projects in 2020. In August, she released “Midnight Sky,” which many critics applauded for its classic rock influences. Soon after, Cyrus’s cover of “Heart of Glass'' by Blondie went viral on TikTok. In November, she released her album Plastic Hearts, which included a cover of Stevie Nicks’s “Edge of Seventeen.” Plastic Hearts primarily has classic rock and pop influences (a shift from Miley’s previous albums like Bangerz and Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Pets) and features classic rock icons like Joan Jett, Billy Idol, and Stevie Nicks. People ranked Plastic Hearts as number six on its Top 10 Albums of 2020 list.
Rina Sawayama released her debut studio album SAWAYAMA, a snappy 2000s pop and electropop-influenced album, in April. Given its release in the middle of lockdown, SAWAYAMA was perfect for CDC-approved solo dance parties in your room if you were still nostalgic for a Friday night of dancing. While fans and critics loved SAWAYAMA for its electronic sound, they were perhaps even more impressed by its lyrical material. Sawayama has talked about her intent to make SAWAYAMA a personal album, covering topics such as identity, belonging, and family. In interviews, she noted that her single “XS” mocks social media’s embrace of capitalism and opulence, while not paying enough attention to issues like climate change. USA Today ranked SAWAYAMA as number 2 on its Top 10 Best Albums of 2020 list, and The Guardian ranked it number 3 on its 50 Best Albums of 2020 list.