Karen Romero
For the QC

Amidst a sea of destruction within 2020, women artists continue to offer a breath of fresh air through their visual aesthetics and music that has helped keep us afloat. The onslaught of external changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic have drastically transformed the landscape of the music industry by placing limitations on performances, album roll-outs, and overall music production.

Despite the impactful shift in circumstances, women recording artists have notably gained traction during the era of COVID-19 through their demonstrations of calculated creativity that seems to emerge as a result of their shifting environments. As communities are forced to grapple and process life under amplified external constraints, the heightened dedication to producing honest, creative, and innovative expression that feeds the internal aspect of our humanness emerges more clearly against a backdrop of chaos. However, women artists are not merely supplying music and visuals for an ‘end of the world’ soundtrack, but their collective COVID era creativity represents a new, sonic way of healing during unprecedented times. 

With the pandemic’s halt on large gatherings in regulation with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, live performances are perhaps the most fractured extension of the music industry felt by artists. Additionally, the role of live performances provides a functional role within the foundation of communities. Beth Daley from The Conversation explains, “The vitality of societies we wish to return to are vibrant in large part because they sound and look vibrant, because they are full of artists thriving and sharing music in a variety of settings.” Live performances play a vital role in establishing the framework of the communities we enjoy living in, and the sudden halt to the various creative outlets that form our understanding of the world carves out a void in connection to ourselves and our environment. 

Luckily, artists like the blossoming R&B duo Chloe x Halle have creatively embraced the shifted external circumstances of COVID-19 by rendering the mundane and limited physical space around them into wildly imaginative and entertaining visual performances. In one of their most creative virtual performances during the summer for the TODAY Show, the duo transformed their home tennis-court into an underwater dreamscape filled with ethereal backdrops, aerial camera work, and neon ensembles that provoke the revamped ‘90s aesthetic that Generation Z famously clings to. These visuals aren’t hollow replications of an older era, but rather serve as a representation of Chloe x Halle’s thoughtful self-fashioning that speaks to their generation’s ability to adapt. Chloe Bailey of Chloe x Halle told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, “It has been interesting seeing how the entire industry has to adapt. . . . The possibilities are endless, and I love it because it’s forcing you to pull things out of yourself that you didn’t know you could do.” 

Chloe x Halle lay on their tennis court with watery background projected around them
Chloe x Halle performing their single “Do It” on the TODAY show.
Courtesy of the TODAY show

The public processing of 2020’s external forces by women recording artists has emerged across all genres. Alternative artist Angel Olsen has moved towards a more stripped down and bare approach to her musical confrontation of the turbulent times. Olsen’s 2020 project Whole New Mess presents a series of raw demos from her previous 2019 album All Mirrors while additionally featuring new songs. Whole New Mess’s lack of incorporation of a band offers a return to Olsen’s much earlier work that echoed a similarly stripped sound. In a conversation with Apple Music on the release of Whole New Mess, Olsen highlights the concept behind her new project in context of the current moment by explaining that, “I really stand by ‘whole new mess’ as a phrase. I want to inspire people to think about what that means, whether it has to do with me personally and what I intended, or whether it inspires them to want to reexamine or look at those things in their own reality. I think there’s been a huge reckoning going on, and I’ve been really inspired.” As Olsen turns to a familiar raw space within the sound she’s cultivated, her commitment towards amplifying the inevitably messy aspects of life capture her unique artistic ability to publicly make sense of our collective experience during the pandemic in a way that is distinctively hers. 

Halle Abadi, a second-year from our very own Whittier College community, has demonstrated her own creative agency and resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. A highly innovative and talented recording artist herself, Abadi’s dedication to her musical craft during this prolonged period of isolation has propelled her sound and provided room for her to organically experiment in terms of her production with her music producer. Despite the drastic changes of 2020 that have affected her career, Abadi explains, “In terms of producing records and being able to fully focus on my music, COVID has been, weirdly enough, a great opportunity for me to sit in a studio with my producer for hours on end to get content.” The external shift of circumstances has allowed Abadi to focus on the business aspect of music more directly, a process she enjoys being a part of, as she views herself as not only an artist, but an entrepreneur as well. “I have more up-and-coming business opportunities that I have now that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t forced to sit around and think of what my next moves are in terms of music.” 

Abadi has attributed her amplified focus on her music in part due to the move to online classes. As this change in dynamics naturally offers more flexibility in student’s daily schedules, Abadi is wisely utilizing her newly-allotted free time to her advantage. Conceptually, Abadi also bravely ventures into experimenting with her sound as she explains that her and her producer are currently collaborating by incorporating more Middle Eastern and South Asian instruments into her records.  Abadi knows that, by doing so, her originality and creativity will be more recognized and sought out. Unfortunately, live performances for Abadi have had to be placed on the back burner, as opportunities to perform in front of audiences are extremely limited. However, the creative growth is apparent in Abadi’s drive towards crafting a successful sound that’s her own overrides any external setbacks posed by the pandemic. 

Throughout the dystopian and simultaneous collapses of the workings of our external world, perseverance of new and brave creativity by women recording artists has illuminated a newly made path towards normalcy built on risks, vulnerability, and confidence. Perhaps women are used to adapting to their environments through their own methods of surviving, even in the most uncertain of circumstances. As I reminisce on Abadi’s larger-than-life drive for success, her words regarding the newfound time during the pandemic ring loudly, making perfect sense as she says, “Thankfully, it’s given us a lot of time to sit down and just make the music. So that’s what we’ve been able to do, as of right now.”

Featured Image: Courtesy of Halle Abadi

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