When Taylor Swift’s latest single, ”Shake It Off,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on Aug. 27 after selling an astonishing 544,000 downloads in one week, it was a fitting exclamation point on a singularly lady-centric summer music season. The domination of female artists is especially impressive considering that it’s almost a complete 180 from last year, when Robin Thicke, Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Florida Georgia Line, Bruno Mars, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis monopolized the landscape, often with songs in which women figured only as objects of affection or seduction.
This year 24-year-old Iggy Azalea led the way in February when she released ”Fancy”—a song that went on to become as close to a definitive summer jam as we had. Between Charli XCX’s singsongy hook, Azalea’s rapid-fire rap, and a video that winkingly paid tribute to Clueless, the track hit a sweet spot with Hot 100 fans and provided a launching pad for Charli, whose ”Boom Clap” subsequently followed ”Fancy” onto the top 10.
Azalea is also a featured player on the season’s other inescapable hit, Ariana Grande’s saxtacular ”Problem,” and at one point in August both artists had three songs in the top 10—the only time that’s happened in Hot 100 history. In addition, Azalea became the first act since the Beatles to reach No. 1 and No. 2 simultaneously with her first two Hot 100 songs. Not bad for a girl from Mullumbimby, Australia, who wrote her first verse to get the attention of a guy she had a crush on. (”I’m sure it was terrible,” she told EW in March. ”But he seemed impressed.”)
Katy Perry, who co-penned Azalea’s most recent hit, ”Black Widow,” sold out multiple dates on her Prismatic World Tour, which began in May, while Beyoncé capped her On the Run stadium dates alongside husband Jay Z with a triumphant 16-minute performance at MTV’s VMAs on Aug. 24. (She was also honored with the network’s Video Vanguard Award, a prize that went to Timberlake in 2013.) Female acts as disparate as Miley Cyrus and Cher racked up huge box office numbers for their tours as well.
But it isn’t just the sales figures that are notable—it’s the content of the songs. Nearly every one delivers an empowering message, whether it’s the dismissal of haters in Swift’s ”Shake It Off,” Meghan Trainor’s curve-celebrating ”All About That Bass,” or Paramore’s self-sufficiency anthem ”Ain’t It Fun.”
”Everybody has trouble with confidence these days,” Grande told EW in June. ”All these young girls hate themselves, and these women have these horrible relationships with men. And men too! We all go through it.” She believes that helps explain the appeal of ”Problem,” whose refrain ”I got one less problem without ya” poured from countless boom boxes and car windows this summer. ”I feel like it’s such an IDGAF song that makes everybody feel great.”
Trainor’s ”All About That Bass” also found success in casting off metaphorical chains. ”I was sick of trying to pretend that I’m Rihanna, or pretend I’m a different human,” she says. ”I freestyled, ‘It’s pretty clear I ain’t no size 2’ and I was like, ‘Girl anthem.”’ And it’s clearly resonated: ”These girls sent me, like, essays about how they hated themselves because of their bodies and the way people were treating them. They heard my song and they said, ‘Forget it, I’m just going to love myself.’… It makes me tear up.” Even Nicki Minaj’s ultrasexual booty ode ”Anaconda” had its own feminist angle, reworking Sir Mix-A-Lot’s ”Baby Got Back” from a woman’s point of view. (Okay, so maybe that last one’s a stretch.)
The movement wasn’t limited to pop music, either; Nashville teens Maddie & Tae took on bro country by skewering stereotypes—all those long-legged, golden-skinned beauties hanging off the backs of trucks in videos—with their breakout single, ”Girl in a Country Song,” which became a top 20 hit on the country charts. ”Tae and I were like, ‘I don’t think we can live up to those expectations,”’ Maddie told EW last month. ”We thought it would be fun to give this girl in these songs a voice.” One of the highlights of their ”Country Girl” clip, which has more than 5 million YouTube views, is the shots of men cavorting in cutoffs, a dude-as-decorative-object trend that carried across the board. (See: Drake in Minaj’s ”Anaconda” video, Big Sean on Grande’s ”Problem”, and Jay Z in all of Beyoncé’s public appearances.)
Swift’s chart-topping ”Shake It Off” is only the first single from her October album, 1989; Charli XCX describes her upcoming release, Sucker, as ”very feminine and very raw”; and Maddie & Tae, Jessie J, and Minaj all have records slated for later this year. It may be just past Labor Day, but it looks like our love affair with female hitmakers could be something much more than a summer fling.