If anyone ever refers back to the middle week of August, 2018, we can tell them it was the week of the diva. This week saw the media collectively celebrate some of music and pop culture’s biggest female icons, and, for us ordinary folk, it was a nice reminder to celebrate our own inner divas too.
This week saw the world lose the Queen of Soul – music legend Aretha Franklin died aged 76 as a result of reported pancreatic cancer. The star gave the world such songs as Respect, A Natural Woman and Think – female-centric anthems that were used time and again over decades by women who wanted to celebrate their femininity. Franklin herself was also a face for equality and social progress in her own life. The first women to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Franklin received no less than 10 honorary degrees over her lifetime, including doctorates from Princeton, Yale and and Brown Universities. She was often said to be “the voice of the civil rights movement”, with her iconic song Respect becoming the anthem for feminist and civil rights movements of the 1960s. Over the course of her life and success, she helped pay for many civil rights tours and campaigns, and was a staunch supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, singing at his funeral in 1968.
On the same day as her death, music lovers were also paying homage to the Queen of Pop. Madonna turned 60 this week, marking her domination of pop music and pop culture for over 40 years. Known for pushing the boundaries of modern music and performance, Madonna’s fashion and cultural influence has spanned generations, signifying the dawn of unapologetically independent, sexually awakened and ambitious women becoming the norm. Never afraid to shy away from controversy, Madonna showed that an ageing woman can and should still be celebrated, and should never fade into the woodwork. Her oft-repeated quote “I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay” has become a mantra for every strong-minded woman who has had to deal with ignorance to pave her way to success.
This weekend, modern pop sees the return of one of its most-loved stars. Ariana Grande has released her long awaited fourth studio album Sweetener, her first since the 2017 Manchester Arena terrorist attack, which saw 23 fatalities occur at one of her concerts. Grande, undoubtedly and understandably shaken by the event, turned her pain into progress, immediately organising a benefit concert for the bereaved, raising $23 million for the victims and resulting in her being named an honorary citizen of Manchester. With unbelievable voice in tow, Sweetener signifies Grande’s return to triumphant joy after such a harrowing experience. As her hit single says “the light is coming to take back everything the darkness stole“.
While Grande has a long way to go until she achieves the iconic status of Franklin and Madonna, her path to success has undoubtedly been helped by their groundbreaking efforts over the last 60 years. Strong women with strong voices are now celebrated and deservedly lauded in mainstream media, as we’ve seen with the flood of coverage for these three stars this week. To think back to the controversy and negativity that Franklin and Madonna would have endured at different points throughout their careers, makes Grande’s success and freedom of expression all the sweeter to watch. We have a lot to thank these women for, and a lot to live up to for the next 60 years.