There’s an intrinsic irony to the fact that a large portion of the words historically twisted and turned against women – ‘loud’, ‘emotional’, ‘dramatic’ – are the exact qualities that make for a really brilliant pop star. Melodrama, specifically, is the biggest tale of two halves. In everyday life, it’s a word weaponised to signify acting too over the top, too ridiculously, too much; in its original context on the stage, it was literally designed to excite and stir up a bit of enjoyable sensation.
Yet of late, there’s an increasing wave of female pop stars harnessing both sides and wrangling them into their own shape. Campy and theatrical, but also laying their real-life emotions on the table with unapologetic openness, it’s a group who own their melodrama and hold it up as something to be relished.
Take Irish singer CMAT, who celebrated the release of last year’s superlative second album ‘Crazymad, For Me’ with a tour that left absolutely everything on the stage. There was choreography and jokes, a wedding cake-layered podium for maximum strutting and her name up in lights. But alongside the cheekiness and chintz was a setlist of total emotional purging, delivered with the absolute dropping-to-her-knees commitment of someone performing like their life depended on it. Watching CMAT is watching someone offer up 100% of themself and say, ‘Take it or leave it’. It’s completely inspiring.
Self Esteem, aka Rebecca Lucy Taylor, arguably kicked down the door in recent years for these qualities to be celebrated: someone whose entire ethos has revolved around taking up space and being as quote-unquote ‘extra’ as you need to be to feel fulfilled. ‘Prioritise Pleasure’, her Mercury-nominated second album, was full of calls to personal action, set to vast-scale music that placed its ambition front and centre. Currently, she’s smashing it as Sally Bowles in the West End production of Cabaret; ahead of LP3, she’s been quoted as saying she’s aiming for “Olympic opening ceremony” levels of euphoria, which suggests she’s not going to be paring things back, thankfully, any time soon.
Emerging like a fictional gang plucked from a Sofia Coppola movie, this year’s BRITs Rising Star award winners The Last Dinner Party, meanwhile, are like a fantastical bomb placed in the centre of po-faced post punk and many of guitar music’s more unapproachable recent movements. Setting themed dress codes for their gigs including ‘Greek myths and legends’ and ‘folklore and fairytales’, they’re unashamedly literary with a penchant for sweeping hooks and gothic drama.
Perhaps the excitement surrounding these artists is a reaction to what’s come before them. At the start of the decade, as lockdown relegated fun and extravagance to the backburner, bedroom pop reigned supreme; an introverted, purposefully small-sounding breed of artists that mirrored our own small worlds at the time. Now, with those years firmly in the rearview mirror, it feels like the perfect moment to embrace the complete opposite: to stride out into life and not waste a second on feeling less-than. That it’s coming from a disparate group of women all united in their absolute refusal to be diminished or held back by any old-fashioned patriarchal ideas makes it all the more celebratory.
Kicking off 2024, we’re going to be doing the things that make us feel good and giving far less of a shit about the things that don’t. And we know exactly the flamboyant, theatrical soundtrack that we’ll be listening to while we do it.