Sam Lambeth looks into the pitfalls and dangers of labelling women in music, particularly the use of ‘female-fronted’ as a prominent genre rather than a passing description.

Recently, I was tasked with interviewing Manchester band PINS. They’ve garnered well-deserved acclaim for their raw but raucous punk, including a commendable collaboration with legendary upstart Iggy Pop. This year alone, they’ve supported Maxïmo Park, The Breeders and The Cribs. Incidentally, they are also a band of four girls. Guess which factor I focused on?

PINS’ singer and guitarist, Faith Holgate, answered my questions politely and informatively, but as I looked back on my questions I could understand if she felt somewhat short-changed. For all my focus on ‘female-fronted’ bands not being a ‘thing’, I inadvertently highlighted just why it still is – in short, I made a point of something that, in this day and age, simply does not warrant being highlighted.

PINS have had this issue before, with one review describing them as ‘girl punk’, bestowing upon them a genre that is superficial rather than it is satisfying. Another particularly damaging label is ‘female-fronted’. Lauren Mayberry, singer of electronic rockers CHVRCHES, has previously spoken out at her distaste for her band being referred to as such, and it’s no surprise considering this fateful adjective serves to hinder rather than heighten.


To summarise, referring to a band with a woman in the position of lead singer as ‘female-fronted’ suggests the default setting of a musician is male. That we should gawp in shock when a girl takes to the stage and that we must have a specific name for it in order to exaggerate every angle and every release.

To put it into perspective, how many times do we refer to a band as ‘male-fronted’? How often do we – whether we be ploughing through an album review or just discussing a band at the pub – mention that they’re an ‘all male band’ or ‘a group of lads’? Compare that to when some of us discuss a band with girls in and it can be quite startling.

Acts as disparate as Debbie Harry, The Bangles and Beyonce have all been at risk of being pigeonholed simply for their gender, when in actuality their songwriting nous, powerful performances and effortless charisma have transcended any pre-conscriptions about being male or female. To create a genre called ‘female-fronted’ would mean these diverse acts – and modern groups like puppyish punk rockers Sløtface, skewed troubadour Marika Hackman and polished pop merchants HAIM – are completely devoid of any character or defining trait and simply sound, well, like a vagina.

When bands have a female member on four-string duty, we don’t refer to Pixies as ‘female-bass-ed’. There is a fine line between tokenisation and erasure, and while women in music still need to be championed (recent lad-a-thon festival Neighbourhood Weekender is a prime example of underrepresentation), it is important to remove ‘female-fronted’ from your list of genres and simply highlight how bloody good the music is.


Sam Lambeth is a journalist, writer and musician, born in the West Midlands but currently living in London. He performs in his own band, Quinn. He is on Twitter, and more of his work can be found on his archive.

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  1. Yeah it’s the same problem with strippers. When you talk a out strippers you naturally assume it’s women but they say male strippers maybe the same should apply them too

  2. Nope. Nope, nope, nope… Nope. I heavily favor the female voice. I want to be able to type in Female Fronted Folk Group, and not get some deep voiced, burly dude. When I hear the words “female fronted”, I take it as a vocal descriptor. Like saying “this acoustic group”, “this 80’s synth band”, etc… their vocals are their instruments, and just like with any other instrument, everyone has their preferences. But, that’s just my opinion.

  3. As an artist (visual) I’ve taken issue with this concept for a long time. Anyone that isn’t a straight white dude is then labeled as an “african american artist” or a “female fronted band” or that new exhibition isn’t just works from various artists that happen to be gay, it’s a “queer art exhibit.”

    I mean if your work is specifically about BEING a woman or african american or gay then I can understand using the description for the work… but if the work just happens to be by a woman or etc. then why label them as something that doesn’t define their work? We need to separate the artist’s identity from their work unless their identity is a key focus of their work.

    I get “female singer” or whatever being included somewhere in the discussion at some point as it CAN help for exposure to those looking for music with female vocals but we need to stop DEFINING bands as “female bands.”

    I’ve heard so many bands that include women in so many different genres that trying to make “female fronted” its own genre is just pigeon holing. There are metal bands, folk bands, avant-garde bands, jazz bands, prog metal bands, post rock bands, ambient soundscape bands, retro rock bands, etc. etc. etc. that happen to have women in them and I would never want them all just lumped into one category.

    And I HATE the assumption that a female being involved is going to determine the stylistic leanings of the band. I have friends who won’t even consider metal bands with women in them because they don’t think it will be “heavy.” Some of the heaviest shit I’ve ever heard involved or was lead by a female musician.

    • Females can have very low vocalorie so it is very stupid to define voice. For me as singer it is even disusting. I don’t identify my voice by sex or gender (I am f. agender)
      And “white dude” can be asexual bi in different sex couple – it is not “straight” but many see so (


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