Garnering an authentic fan base while maneuvering through the music industry, as a woman, is no easy feat. We’re constantly talking about the anomalies — artists with “something special” or an “X-factor” that make them stand out. But little is noted about the work ethic, the internal tension, the fighting against all odds to present one’s artistry on a consistent basis.
We gathered eight artists who are reshaping what identity and spaces of expression feel like by leaning into their cultural backgrounds. As we move into a new decade, Gen Z is looking for truth-tellers, artists who keep it real but also connect with fans. “My biggest career influence is not one person but a sum of people, feelings, and experiences,” Soulection’s Sasha Marie tells Teen Vogue.
We have no doubt. The future is bright.
Sasha Marie and Sahar Habibi
Before becoming official Soulection DJs, both Sasha and Sahar started spinning in high school. Two years and thousands of miles apart, both became enamored with sound in a unique way. Raised in a strict Catholic Mexican household, Sasha would mix California hip-hop, electronic, and R&B songs on her laptop for friends — eventually booking her first gig at a girl bar. “I'm influenced by things directly related to me, things I come into contact with, things I've experienced or felt,” Sasha says about her mixes. “The love in my life, the emptiness I sometimes feel, the countries I've traveled to, an epic sunset, a lover’s embrace, a wild night with friends, the unknown ... I pull from all of these things.”
Sahar, on the other hand, refined her sound while attending Columbia College Chicago. A lover of '90s R&B, hip-hop, and soul music, the Persian DJ found joy in creating safe, calming spaces with her music. The infectiously upbeat talent joined Joe Kay’s internationally recognized label in 2015 and immediately was in a whirlwind of touring. When asked who she draws inspiration from, as of lately, she took a page from pop culture. “My latest influence is Blanca from FX’s Pose.” Adding, “Blanca because she is strong, fearless, positive, and a hustler. She inspires and pushes the people around her to be a go-getter, supports them, loves and lifts them up to be their greatest selves. She's just an all-around boss.”
Hometown: Sacramento, CA
You've probably sung many of Victoria Monét's lyrics without even realizing they're hers. Her work includes Grammy-nominated hits like “Thank U, Next,” and “7 Rings” — credits shared with bestie Ariana Grande. But as a vocalist, she’s a beast, smoothly crooning through songs about love, breakups, and more recently ... her ass in “Ass Like That.” But before she was making songs for some of the world’s biggest artists, the northern Cali native was singing at her local church and performing arts high school.
“Musicians!,” Victoria says about who inspires her the most. “They hold all of the energy you could ever need for inspiration with 12 notes alone.” Not unlike the trajectory of her contemporaries like Ed Sheeran, Sia, and Kesha, Victoria knows how to write a modern hit song, solidifying her as a triple threat: songwriter, singer, and performer. But when asked what advice she would give to her teenage self, she reflects on her past. “I would tell myself so many things, but one thing would be to ask older family members more questions,” she says. “There’s a lot of things I now wish I asked while some of my loved ones were still here.”
Hometown: Berlin, Germany and Maryland
Bibi Bourelly’s elementary school group the Leopard Girls dominated the blue monkey bars at recess. In the sixth grade, having become known for singing on the back of the school bus and on the playground, her passion for music was undeniable. Fast forward to age 19 and it was no surprise that she was already considered an accomplished songwriter, touring with Haim, Rihanna, and Lil Uzi Vert. Having an internationally-acclaimed guitarist as a father, Bibi’s love of sound and storytelling was destined.
Now, at age 25, the talent, gaining notoriety for her brutally honest songs, is contemplative about her past. “I think the factors that influence my decision-making in my career really derive from my passion for art, music, and people in general,” Bibi says. “I’m driven by my love for music and my desire to connect to as many people who have ever felt like me, as I can. Why? I don’t know … maybe because I’m lonely. I’ve always felt pretty misunderstood.”
Going into the new decade, Bibi is planning to pour into herself as much as she’s poured into others. “[I want] lots of self-care, hunni! Skin poppin, hot yoga, and a lot more massages — a lot more often. And … completing some amazing projects for you guys to enjoy.”
VanJess - Jessica and Ivana Nwokike
Age: 26 and 27
Hometown: Fontana, CA
One listen to “Through Enough” and it’s clear — from their full-bodied vocals and in-sync tempo — that Jessica and Ivana Nwokike find inspiration from artists like Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, and Missy Elliott. Coming together as VanJess, the sisters bring nostalgia, energy, and complexity to R&B that stands out. Their 2018 album Silk Canvas was so good that they put out an EP of its remixes this year. Tapping into the sonic zeitgeist of this decade, they worked with Masego, GoldLink, and Kaytranada to make a critically-acclaimed debut project.
“Don’t ever be afraid to be exactly who you are,” Jess, who identifies more as the songwriter, says about advice to her younger self. “[I hope to] grow in self-awareness in order to grow in general.” Ivana’s 2020 plans reflect a similar sentiment. “[My intentions are to have more] ownership, more honest music, getting closer to who I’m meant to be,” she says. “Letting go of old patterns and practicing stability and balance. Building on the foundations I set in 2019.”
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
Karena Evans’ reputation precedes her. As one of the most-recognized music directors in the game right now, she’s known for creating captivating visuals for artists like SZA, Drake, SiR and even Tinder. Her skills are boundless. And when working alongside fellow talents like Kat Webber, she’s able to create psychedelic dreamscapes that pop with color and vibrancy.
The talent has a few major projects coming down in 2020 (that she can’t share just yet), but don’t let the accolades fool you. Karena is well-aware of her predecessors: “It took the Melina Matsoukases, the Ava DuVernays, and others who have paved the way for me, and the next generation of young Black female filmmakers, to help us understand that we do have a place, and to also break down those barriers so we that can be heard,” she told Teen Vogue. “It was definitely something I was aware of getting into the game, and I think it just made me want to work ten times harder to prove that there is nothing different between me and my male counterparts.”
Hometown: Canton, Ohio
Tangina Stone may not be a household name, but she represents a movement happening in music. Signed to an all-womxn indie label, IMG Agency, the alternative R&B singer and producer is just as passionate about ownership as she is about music. “[I want to] strengthen the connections that I have with womxn creatives in my field and contribute to my industry in a way that makes it better for all of us — and release my best work yet,” she says.
Inspired by iconic music makers like Stevie Nicks and Lauryn Hill (“One of my earliest memories of music and singing is me in my mom's backseat belting out ‘Killing Me Softly’”), Tangina’s sound marries raspy-ethereal vocals with electronic instrumentation. She’s not conventional. But for her loyal fan base — that spans from Japan to the UK — she’s providing visibility for queer women of color who are determined to make their perspectives be heard. “Everyone's journey looks different. I wish I’d known this before wasting years comparing mine to others,” Tangina says. “I would also tell [my teenage self] that she is deserving of EVERY opportunity that comes her way.”
Photographer: Raven B. Varona
Stylist: Britt Layton Baptista
Styling Assistant: Chris Chidi
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue