The transition from teenager to adult is difficult enough for most, but doing it in the public eye is an entirely different ball game. Few have done that with more grace and authenticity than Little Mix. For Bustle UK's first ever music issue, Noisemakers, we asked the quartet to write letters to their younger selves on the night of the 2011 The X Factor final, which set the course of their career. Despite the inherently unique nature of their experience — they're the first and only girlband to have ever won TV's biggest talent contest — there are themes that any young woman can identify with, from learning to say no to "old blokes" who think they know better, to being kind to themselves in the face of enormous pressure.
As well as showcasing some of the UK's best known talent, we wanted Noisemakers to be a space where we lift up emerging talent and celebrate the women behind the scenes who make it all happen. After all, the struggle for representation and equal standing for women in the industry is far from over. In February, the BBC reported that three times as many men as women appeared in the UK's top 100 tracks of 2018, and women continue to be vastly underrepresented on music festival lineups.
We have to recognise that talent is everywhere whilst opportunity is not.
One of the silent superheroes who has done an enormous amount to combat these inequalities is Vanessa Reed, who the BBC named the third most powerful woman in music after Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. For Noisemakers, Reed writes about the state of the music industry for women in 2019, along with her work trying to address inequality with the PRS foundation.
"We have to recognise that talent is everywhere whilst opportunity is not," Reed writes, and it's a theme you'll see echoed throughout the issue, but especially in the challenges faced by Britain's top female rappers, who are profiled by award-winning journalist and co-author of Slay In Your Lane, Yomi Adegoke. “With the UK, I feel like there’s this sort of brotherhood," London rapper Br3nya tells Adegoke. "When one person releases something, all of them are like, 'Guys, let's get this to the chart' and vice versa. With women, we obviously do support each other, but not enough of us are in a higher place to make a difference."
One woman who has leveraged her power to make a difference is Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood. I first interviewed Lauren in February when she was head of music partnerships at Instagram, after being head of digital at Beyoncé's Parkwood Entertainment. If that already sounds like a hall of fame CV, since then she has gone on to become president of UnitedMasters, a company seeking to disrupt the traditional record label method of distribution and put the power back in the hands of artists. And given her past experience, you can bet that any venture Wirtzer-Seawood leans into is bound to succeed.
Another woman with the golden touch that we're thrilled to profile in Noisemakers is music supervisor Becky Bentham. Those of us who enjoyed singing along to the Bohemian Rhapsody, Mamma Mia!, or Les Misérables soundtracks owe a debt to Bentham, who was in charge of the music on each of these mega-hits. Here she talks rifling through Freddie Mercury's old recordings with Brian May and Roger Taylor, and don't miss her account of how she got Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth to feel comfortable singing in front of Björn and Benny while filming Mamma Mia!
Within Noisemakers, we also wanted to profile the rising stars who are most likely to become the subject of a Bentham-tracked biopic in 40 years time. Our first prediction? Spanish-English singer Mabel, whose debut album will be released in August. In her profile of Mabel, award-winning journalist and author Salma Haidrani reveals an artist on the cusp of superstardom, embracing her mixed-race identity as she vouches for the undying importance of acrylic nails.
Another artist we're not alone in tipping for the big time is Kamille. While you might not be familiar with her face, you've almost certainly heard her tracks. A former stockbroker turned singer, songwriter, and producer, Kamille has written over 20 smash hits like Jess Glynne's "I'll Be There" and Clean Bandit's "Solo." For Noisemakers, she talks to i-D's music editor, Frankie Dunn, about her creative process, including how she turned Little Mix's heartbreak into their smash hit, "Shout Out To My Ex." We also have journalist and podcaster Victoria Sanusi speaking to emerging singer-songwriter Mahalia about recording hooks on the bus and counteracting colourism in the music industry.
If you pride yourself on knowing about the next-next big thing, I'd highly recommend checking out Charlie Mock's curation of the best emerging artists, each of whom took on the Bustle Booth. I learned many things reading about Astrid S, Donna Missal, JGrrey, Lauren Daigle, Lava La Rue, Twinnie, and Wavy the Creator, but not least, how deeply uncool I am compared to this impressive cast of women.
For those heading to a festival this summer, we asked several of our favourite people, including Maya Jama, KT Tunstall, and Nina Nesbitt, to recommend their most wanted fashion and beauty product that they can't live without, plus the summer track they'll be blasting while they're en route. The latter forms a Bustle Noisemakers summer playlist, which you can access on Spotify (fun car game: match the person to the song choice).
And last but not least, for readers who fancy themselves the next big thing, you'd do well to check out Rowena Henley's list of the best music initiatives around the country. Each and every one of these initiatives has been handpicked because of its commitment to elevating the voices of young women and helping them to succeed. Looking at this trailblazing group of women leading the charge, you can be sure of lots of allies once you get there.