In a male-dominated industry, female musicians have fought back against a lack of representation, equal compensation, and radio play by forming groundbreaking supergroups. We explore some of contemporary music’s most recent supergroup formations in the Americana, rock n’ roll, and indie genres.
The issue of gender inequality within the music industry is nothing new. Despite girl groups’ groundbreaking contributions to the musical world since the birth of pop, female musicians are struggling to this day for the same amount of radio play, compensation, and representation. As a female musician myself, I can attest to all of these patriarchal phenomena (but that’s a whole other story). Bottom line: from major, arena-packing superstars to small, local music scenes, this disparity is pervasive.
Luckily, the mystical powers of womanhood have overcome time and time again the attempted belittlement, oppression, and disenfranchisement of our gender — the music industry being no exception. Despite the unlevel playing field, all-women ensembles have cemented their place in the history of great popular music from The Andrew Sisters to The Supremes to Spice Girls to Destiny’s Child to The Chicks.
The History Of Female Supergroups
So technically, all-female musical groups have been around for a while. However, a new female-led trend has started popping up in mainstream and indie bubbles alike: the supergroup. To be considered a “supergroup”, the members typically need to be already-established musicians who have joined forces to create a unique sound from each members’ distinct voices and talents. We’ve seen this trend before: The Highwaymen, The Band, Cream, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The overarching theme of these groups, however, is their all-male line-up.
All-female supergroups have historically been far less common, but several of note came out of the 20th century. The 1970s bubblegum-funk trio, Honey Cone (Edna Wright of the Blossoms, Carolyn Willis of the Girlfriends, and Shelly Clark of the Ikettes) is considered the first supergroup of its kind. Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Linda Ronstadt created Trio the following decade, though it could be argued that this group was considered a temporary collaboration as opposed to its own, separate entity. The individual star power of each member was just too powerful to hide behind a new moniker. Finally, the 1990s was overtaken by the driving pop-rock of Kim Deal (of then Pixies fame) and her supergroup projects, The Breeders and The Amps.
Finding strength in numbers isn’t too surprising — historically speaking, women have often been associated in groups of three or more. From ancient Greek religion to Neopaganism, divine feminine energy itself is often represented in triple form. Through the mid-20th century wave of feminism and the rise of the #MeToo movement in 2006, women have continued to find strength in solidarity. Fighting the patriarchy is a group effort — one that can easily be weakened by unnecessary infighting and internalized misogyny. The rise of the women-led supergroup is the modern female musician’s response to this historic call for unity. It’s a push back against the idea that women should be pitted against one another. These groups are celebrations of the empowering, exciting, and incomparable artistry that can be found when women work together, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be living in this new female supergroup era.
Americana, Bluegrass, Folk, And Traditional: Bringing It Back To Our Roots
- I’m With Her was founded in 2014 by Sara Watkins, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sarah Jarosz. These three widely celebrated songwriters formed a band “rooted in rare alchemy” that offers a simultaneously classic and brand-new sound of American fiddle, warm acoustic guitar, and haunting three-part harmonies.
- Mountain Man debuted in the mid-2000s as a trio of acquaintances: Amelia Meath, Molly Sarlé, and Daughter of Swords’ Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. Their velvet-soft voices undeniably melded into a single, hauntingly beautiful sound. After busy lives forced Mountain Man to be put on hold, the group reunited to create “Magic Ship” in 2018, a heartwarming, intimate record featuring nothing more than an acoustic guitar and airtight harmonies.
- The Staves (pictured above) have a similar sound to Mountain Man: heartbreakingly tender three-part harmonies and mild instrumental accompaniment. The chemistry between these three vocalists is unsurprising, given the fact that they’re all sisters: Emily, Jessica, and Camilla Staveley-Taylor originally performed as The Staveley-Taylors before shortening it to The Staves.
- The Highwomen is an artistic response to rampant gender disparity within country music. Comprised of country music superstars Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires, this supergroup released their self-titled debut album via Elektra Records in 2019 and have been making musical waves ever since.
Indie Rock, Shoegaze, Jazz, and Alternative: Defying The Norms
- Boygenius is the musical culmination of critically acclaimed alternative newcomers Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus. Their 2018 self-titled release oozes with nostalgia thanks to close-cutting lyrics and early 2000s alternative-esque production. It’s the music you would’ve listened to as an angsty teenager with none of the cringe.
- Bermuda Triangle made their live debut at Nashville’s Basement East in July 2017. Becca Mancari, Jesse Lafser, and Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard have since won over the hearts of music aficionados everywhere with a recorded catalog of only three songs that span jazzy bossa nova, classic ballads, and contemporary folk.
- case/lang/veirs (pictured above) is a Canadian-American supergroup comprised of Neko Case, k.d. Lang, and Laura Veirs. Their 2016 self-titled release wanders through whispers of dreamy alt-rock, guitar-heavy folk-rock, and powerful harmonies. Although there has been no mention of a follow-up as of yet, case/lang/veirs superbly highlights the star power of all three established musicians.
Rock n’ Roll, Punk, And Psychedelia: Celebrating Strength
- The Coolies is the West Coast meets East Coast culmination of three 1990s heavy-hitters, Kim Shattuck of The Muffs, Melanie Vammen of The Pandoras, and Palmyra Delran of The Friggs. Their July 2019 release Uh Oh! It’s…The Coolies is a set of six fuzztastic power tracks, and 100% of record sale profits are donated to the ALS Association Golden West Chapter.
- Nice as F–k first performed at a 2016 rally for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Founded by the ever-evolving Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley, Erika Forster of Au Revoir Simone, and Tennessee Thomas of The Like, Nice as F–k is unapologetically bold, offering elements of 80s rock, punk, and garage rock.
- Wild Flag is considered to be the first all-woman rock supergroup. Wild Flag consists of two-thirds of the legendary all-female band, Sleater-Kinney (Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss), Mary Timony from Helium, and Rebecca Cole of The Minders. Their 2011 self-titled release features driving, fuzzy guitar riffs and 1960s garage punk vocals.
- Ex Hex (pictured above) was cut from the same northeast coast rock n’ roll cloth as Wild Flag, featuring Mary Timony, Betsy Wright, and Laura Harris. Their 2014 debut garnered wide acclaim for their audacious, in-your-face sound. It’s Real, their most recent release from March 2019, stays true to their fierce rock n’ roll roots with mind-melting guitar solos and punchy, defiant vocals.