Pop music? It's a girl thing now (Larkin Grimm)

Kitty Empire | The Observer | The Guardian / UK

Who are the most exciting newcomers in pop? These six singular talents get our vote, says Kitty Empire. We talk to the innovative women who are trouncing the boys with guitars...

There is a saying among women in music: "female" is not a genre. And yet, time and again, female artists find themselves lumped together, compared and contrasted, in a way that rarely occurs with men.

On these pages we've profiled six budding acts for the coming year. All are female. This isn't lazy journalism, however. It is an acutely calibrated matter of both quantity and quality. Of all the scores of new artists jostling for space on the pop-cultural radar in 2009, the vast majority seem to be female. It's as though, at some point last year, UK record labels decided that boys with guitars were passé, and that 2009 would usher in an age of oestrogen-powered, often electronic music.

Having listened to innumerable debut singles, samplers and MySpace pages, we can only conclude that not only are there more new female performers out there, these girls are far more intriguing, flamboyant, innovative and culturally charged than their male cohorts.

Some - like the American Alela Diane, just breaking through with her second album, or boho starchild Larkin Grimm - have stayed more or less true to folk's indisputable female tradition. Others, like Florence Welch, are natural powerhouse singers whose eclecticism allows them to pilfer from both analogue and digital traditions. Many of these artists, however, have shunned guitars and taken up keyboards. So long the preserve of geeky men, the new digital order has allowed tech-savvy women to hole up with laptops and create their own soundscapes, unencumbered by unwashed bassists.

There is another thread at work here: that of self-determination. Both Little Boots and VV Brown have been signed to record deals before. This time around they have consciously taken control of both their art and their image.

Another self-starter, Alela Diane, released her debut without a label, and has built up a strong following thanks to MySpace.

Like all maiden voyages, the class of 2009's is tinged with uncertainty.
Will synth sirens Little Boots and La Roux triumph commercially where the class of 2008 - Lykke Li and Ladyhawke - stumbled? Will VV Brown's hairdo stay up? But of one thing there is no doubt: as far as excitement goes, flesh-and-blood girls are trampling bands like Scouting For Girls into the dust.

The artfolk visionary: Larkin Grimm

Larkin Grimm's backstory takes some beating. Brought up until the age of six by multiple "parents" in a New Age sect - "I was raised to think of myself as beyond gender, beyond human, beyond even this Earth" - she won a scholarship in her late teens to study politics at Yale, dropped out briefly to live with eco activists in Alaska, joined an early incarnation of Brooklyn artrock godfathers Dirty Projectors and then immersed herself in performance art before finally striking out as a solo songwriter."I've been exploring these other worlds for a long time," says the 27-year-old. "I've spent a lot of my adult life trying to be a part of as many creative communities as I can."

Her music is every bit equal to these experiences. Her third album, Parplar, which gained a cult following when it was released in November and which she will tour in the UK in April, swings dizzyingly from eastern mantras to helium-voiced squealing to lush folk, its esoteric turns offset by moments of uncomplicated beauty.

The influence of women runs deep. "A lot of the songs are about artists I know - these different fallen women searching for something greater. A lot of my songs are about bad girls."

So what does she think about the position of women in music today? "There are some really powerful women breaking through. In Britain, I love MIA and I loved the last Amy Winehouse record. When that came out, I was like 'Shit, I thought I was the only bad-ass bitch around but this girl's tougher than me.'" But there is a caveat. Larkin's songs come from a place more intense than the seedier parts of Camden Town: "Larkin Grimm wants to say to Amy Winehouse, you don't have to smoke crack to be a bad-ass bitch."
Ally Carnwath