Music for Girls

Whatever reader Dennis is asking for music recommendations for his girl children. He writes:

Hey John, I have two daughters and I’m ever on the lookout for good music that they will enjoy. In particular, I like to find bands where girls (women, whatever) actually
play instruments. Since my girls are still young, I also try to find bands whose lyrics aren’t too degrading or boy-centric as well.

There are several decent-quality Christian bands my girls enjoy, including, Barlow Girl, Superchic[k], and the Halo Friendlies. Non-Xian bands are harder to find. We like the Japanese group Puffy (AmiYumi) for one.

Can you think of any others you have turned Athena on to? Or another good place tolook for such?

I don’t tend to differentiate music for Athena, so she listens to what we listen to (although I would personally second Puffy Ami Yumi, since I like them, too). So I thought I’d open this up to y’all: Name some girl-oriented bands/artists suitable for the pre-teen set, and not too heavy on the “boys are the reason for living” tip (which I would also agree with).

To open this up a little more, in addition to naming bands, if you can think of particular songs that would fit the bill (even if other songs from the band might not be appropriate for a pre-teen) go ahead and offer them up.

So: suggestions?

53 Comments on “Music for Girls”

  1. The latest issue of Bust magazine had a tiny bit about the band Smoosh, which consists of two girls, aged 11 and 13, playing indie pop/rock. Their website is just dreadful, but you can hear samples from their first album on Amazon. It sounds like pretty good stuff.

  2. I really like The Pierces… two sisters from the southern US, they play the guitars, etc. A little heavy, but lovely.

    Many songs from folk-y people: Christine Lavin, Dar Williams, The Be Good Tanyas

    Frente! is fabulous.

    Bond, a rock-ish chamber music quartet (all women) are fun to listen to, but no lyrics.

    Hoku and Shonan Knife are two more from abroad.

  3. Poe (Well, she programs the instruments, dunno if that counts)
    Fiona Apple (she does piano parts)
    Tori Amos (lots of piano parts)
    Ani DiFranco (guitar bits)
    Bjork (also does the writing/programming thing)
    Cibo Matto (weird, but awsome)
    Switchblade Symphony (Not everybody’s musical cuppa, maybe not thematically appropriate for kids, what do I know?)

    The Donnas are good fun, but perhaps a bit more boy/sex-oriented than Dennis wants

    I recently started listening to Hitomi Yaida (professionally nicknamed Yaiko) and she does some of the guitar work, and writes the music… but it still might not count, and it’s also not especially easy to find in the US

  4. If you like the Japanese music, then you need to listen to Shonen Knife, the princesses of Japanese punk pop. Their Daydream Believer cover will hook you, then their songs about cats, banana chips and hot chocolate will bring you to a happier place.

  5. You forgot Jem, DJ Rap (“Learning Curve,” not the DJ stuff… there aren’t really “instruments” per se here but whatever), Lisa Gerard (solo or as part of Dead Can Dance), Loreena McKennit (also a harpist). Less pop though. Rasputina, but they may be a bit young for that.

    In the “not sure if the females also play the instruments” category there’s BoA and Freezepop (hey, they covered the ‘Jem’ theme song after all).

  6. Byron, “Learning Curve” is largely inappropriate for pre-teens, in my opinion. It’s got a song called “Fuck With Your Head”, for instance. While I like DJ Rap, I don’t think I’d encourage young kids to listen to her stuff.

  7. Ooh, I also forgot The Dresden Dolls.

    But they may also qualify as Adult Content, parental guidance suggested, or something.

  8. I definitely second the female folkies: Christine Lavin and Dar Williams both have large swathes of their repertoires that are non-boy-oriented. So too does Laurie Anderson, though I suspect she may be less attractive to a teenager’s ear. India Arie and Alicia Keys are two more who are terrific musicians, but not necessarily to a teen’s taste.

    The Squirrel Nut Zippers do big band, blues, and the like, with women and men both on instruments and vocals. Cool to dance to, assuming the girls aren’t heavily biased against stuff that sounds like their grandmothers’ music.

    Heather Alexander is another name to watch out for. She does Celtic and pop-sounding stuff (okay, I’ll cop to it — she is a filker, as well) that’s cool.

    Aside: John — Was it you who enthusiastically endored the La’s about a month or two ago? An opportunity to get their music came up right after I read such a recommendation, and they’re now in heavy rotation on my speakers. If it was you (or one of your commenters), thanks.

  9. If it wasn’t me, it might as well have been since I adore The La’s. So: You’re welcome.

  10. Okay – not a ‘girl’ band, but certainly fits the criteria otherwise…

    They Might Be Giants

    Witty. Whimsical. And certainly not anti-girl in attitude.

  11. It was a hip hop song that every one knew.They loved it so much they played it about 26 times a day.But they find out the song was not a actually song,it was a movie but with beats.

  12. In the folk style, there’s also Rosie Thomas – lovely voice. Kaki King is nice, but no lyrics. And I’ll add to the votes for Dar Williams.

  13. I don’t think this is quite what you’re looking for, but since almost every preteen girl seems to love Harry Potter, I found a band a few months ago called Harry and the Potters, who specialize in ‘Wizard Rock.’

    Check thier website out at

    The songs are all very lo-fi, having been recorded in a barn. But the songs are fun to sing along to, and they’re all about the Harry Potter books.

    Wow, I sound like their publicist. Sorry about that.

  14. Folk UnderGround! :-D

    Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac, The Pretenders, Pat Benatar, Sheryl Crow – all good with instruments, vocals and songwriting.

    The Bangles, and the Go-Gos? Not sure how much boy-pining they do as I’m mostly familiar with their hits. Bananarama… Blondie… Heart. Suzi Quatro and Joan Jett are both great examples of women-in-rock at a time when it was unusual… but maybe not pre-teen lyrically.

  15. I’m a fan of a band called Girlyman, sort of pop-folk with lots of harmonies. I wouldn’t have a problem with kids listening to any of their songs but I can imagine objections based on the sexual orientations and political persuasions of the band members, subtly but clearly expressed in a number of the songs. They have, nonetheless, quite a few songs that even the staunchest conservative couldn’t object to, and the band consists of two women and one man, all of whom write, sing, and play. Offhand I’d probably recommend “Maori” for kids, mainly because it contains the line, “My God, get away, you smell like fish heads.”


    Denali ( might be something else to try; they’re no longer in existence, but lead singer Maura Davis also played instruments and wrote songs.

    Oh, and I’d second the Folk UnderGround rec…

  16. Well, I seem to be coming from a decidely lower form of musical knowledge than everyone else, but I am getting great ideas for my own 3 year old girl! Thanks everyone!

    My daughter is a bit of a show tune gal, so I can suggest music from Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat (or I can sing you every song, as we may have listened to them more than once!). I also really like Avril Lavigne’s lyrics, despite her package-y success. She sends out a girl power vibe. Sarah McLachlan is always good, although a bit morose for the younger set, maybe. My daughter also really liked James, but since she becamse more verbal we have cut that right out due to, uh, questionable lyrics (to say the very least).

    She also really likes R.E.M. (Orange Crush is her favourite song right now), but of course that has nothing to do with positive girl musician influences. Still a great band, though, despite lack of estrogen.

    ANyway, I’m off to discover the La’s.

  17. Chill:

    DJ Shadow – Endtroducing (not girls)
    Blue Note Presents: New Canadian Jazz (some female artists)
    Serial Experiments Lain Sdtrk
    Kaki King – …I forget off the top of my head (warning: not actual title)
    Weakerthans – Reconstruction Site (also not girls)
    Vienna Teng – [I forget] (Like Norah Jones, but fuzzier vocals. Cuter too.)


    M.I.A. – Argular (extremely talented female artist)
    Beastie Boys – Intergalactic/Paul’s Boutique (I liked them as a kid, I can’t be the only one)
    TLC – Fan Mail (shut up – I liked it)
    Cherrybomb – No album name ’cause they didn’t have any to sell at their show (bad move on their part)


    Takako Minekawa – anything by this lady is gold (she’s a DJ emerging from the Shibuya-ka scene and married to Cornelieus. Very good, lighthearted music)
    Tujiko Noriko – again, anything. it’s all the same (limited range of influences on her full lengths, but a second stellar DJ out of Japan)
    The Boredoms! (not serious suggestion, but Yoshimi P-We plays well and screams loudly)

  18. I third (or so) the Dar Williams recommendation. She’s wonderful. Ani DiFranco would be a good choice if Dennis downloads music–some of her songs are very adult-themed, but others would be appropriate. I have to recommend Laura Nyro, Carly Simon, and Carole King–classics I grew up with. Also Patty Griffin and Patty Larkin.

  19. You know, now that I think about it, there is the soundtrack to Josie and the Pussycats (the recent movie, not the cartoon series), which is largely kid-friendly (with the possible exception of fake boy band Du Jour’s song “Backdoor Lover,” which is included on the soundtrack). It’s sung by the former lead singer of Letters to Cleo and features songs written by the guys from Fountains of Wayne among others. In other words, rather better than anyone has the right to expect it to be.

  20. I second the Tori Amos and Bjork. Jane Siberry (great song: “everything reminds me of my dog”) and the Mediaeval Baebes. Also Jorane who plays cello and sings at the same time (from Montreal, Quebec). Rasuptina is another grrrl/cello group but quite heavy.

  21. Eva Cassidy.

    Not very well known, and tragically died fairly young, so her body of work is limited. But her voice is just amazingly beautiful. She has her own songs, and many covers. Her versions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Fields of Gold” are just gorgeous.

  22. Hmmm, let’s rule out Courntey Love as a role model.

    How about little love for Joan Jett, please?

    OK, maybe not all of her stuff is pre-teen appropriate, but she kicks serious butt.

    Oh & Puffy is (are?) great, plus they’re just so darn cute!

  23. Another vote for Dar Williams; I am sad I can’t hook my stepdaughter on her, though I think that’s because she *doesn’t* sing endlessly about skater boys. Oy.

    My plug is for the Chenille Sisters…

  24. Classical.

    Take them to their local symphony, where odds are pretty good that they’ll find “girls (women) actually play[ing] instruments”.

    Show them the web site of Jennifer Higdon, the Pittsburgh Symphony’s Composer of the Year for 2005-2006.

  25. Shonen Knife–one of my favorite Japanese girl bands. Their songs are upbeat and just so darned singable.

    Murmurs–Another exclusively female band, but their albums are almost impossible to find. I would categorize them as Pop music minus the bubblegum.

    Gush–The Murmurs with a new name.

    Be Good Tanyas–Not your typical bluegrass band.

    Indigo Girls–Possibly the greatest female band ever. At least I think so.

    Nellie McKay–A 19-year-old singer/songwriter
    /pianist who has been described as a cross between Doris Day and Eminem. Her sound is definitely original and incorporates blues, jazz, rock, and rap. Her tunes are very catchy, but some of them contain explicit lyrics.

  26. Sleater-Kinney would be my first choice — and I plan to introduce my Diva to them once she’s a little older. Their newest might be a bit too old (it talks about having kids and other, more adult themes), but two good choices might be “All Hands on the Bad One” and “The Hot Rock.” As usual, a parental-type person should give ’em a listen to make sure the family standards aren’t violated.

    Of course, we are a little musically odd in our house. The three-year old Diva is addicted to Elvis (Costello, not that other one) and They MIght Be Giants.

  27. I actually have a four year old girl who loves music, so I can give you tons of anecdotal recommendations, or at least field tested seconds on the recommendations offered so far. I think that much of it may work for an older child, but then again, it may not. I’m always looking for things that she’ll enjoy that I’ll also like, particularly at repetitions on the order of several thousand. For this reason, although NOT a girl band, I can’t praise They Might be Giants enough. They have a huge body of work, all of it eminently listenable, most of it child-friendly, and my daughter absolutely LOVES them. We got her their kid oriented alphabet CD “Here Come the ABC’s” and she can sing almost every song from memory. She also loves the TMBG songs “Birdhouse in Your Soul”, “Sleeping in the Flowers”, “Stomp Box”, “Violin”, “Ana Ng”, “Robot Parade”, “Clap Your Hands” and, well, you get the idea.
    I’ll also second Joan Jett. My daughter started off with “Bad Reputation” (has the word damn, but rocks so hard I doubt your daughter will notice it…mine didn’t) from the Shrek Soundtrack, and has since enjoyed her cover of “Crimson and Clover” and her classic “I love Rock ‘n’ Roll”. She also enjoys the Go-Gos, though we pick over which songs we allow her to listen to. Older No Doubt (first and second album) is an excellent source as well. She does love Shonen Knife, so I can second that recommendation. I can also second the Bangles , or at least “Walk Like An Egyptian”.
    My daughter is peculiar in that she has a low tolerance for slow or mellow or folksy music, so much of what was suggested here would send her into fits of “Can we skip this, please?” variety (it tears my heart that she does this to Poe, for example, who just rules — and Tori Amos and Indigo Girls would surely be the same) but there are exceptions. She enjoys Carole King’s Sendak based songs (particularly “Alligators All Around”), Carly Simon’s Pooh songs (from the Piglet movie) and Karen Carpenter’s “Sing”.
    She likes Bjork, sometimes, but it’s a little musically complex for her. She loves Beck, though, so go figure. She’s crazy about the Ramones “I wanna be sedated” which we think is hysterical, but I’m sure other parents would find inappropriate. And although mentioned in the original post, so the asker already knows how good they are, she loves Superchic[k].
    She also grooves to the muppets plus anyone. Julie Andrews and the muppets, Gene Kelly and the muppets, the muppet Treasure Island soundtrack, Belafonte and the muppets, you name it. Her tolerance for sappy goes way up if you throw in some muppets.
    Mostly I just throw stuff at her that I think is ok for her to listen to and wait to see what sticks. She’s surprisingly vocal about what she does or doesn’t like, particularly if we don’t have any expectations on what she should like or show any kind of disapproval of her taste. Her latest favorite : the Propellerheads remix of the Jungle Brothers’ “Take California”. With any luck, we won’t have to go through that boy band pre-teen thing, but I’ll get back to you in about five years on that.

  28. Dennis might want to check out the mp3 blog Womenfolk, which is devoted solely to women musicians (mostly rock, indie, and folk), and which is probably responsible for doubling my music purchases in the past year.

  29. My 4-year-old daughter is a fan of Queen. Of course, there are only a handful of songs that she listens to, and that I’ll let her listen to.

    We Will Rock You
    We are the Champions
    Bicycle Race
    Another One Bites the Dust
    I want to break free
    Somebody to love
    You’re My Best Friend
    Crazy Little Thing Called Love

    I DEFINITELY skip “Fat bottomed girls” when it comes on.

  30. Bettie Serveert, from their album “Dust Bunny”:

    Story in a Nutshell
    What Friends?

    (among others…)

    “What Friends?” was my now-5 year old nephew’s favorite song for a while. Every time he came over he wanted to hear it and dance to it.

    I don’t know if you’ll be able to find them. That album isn’t on iTunes.

  31. Another possibility is Cincinnati band Over The Rhine.

    ‘Patience’ has some poppy tunes on it. Alas, it’s not on iTunes. They have some other albums. ‘Films For Radio’ might have something good.

    Or how about Neko Case? Her album “The Virginian” has some uptempo songs, like “Honky Tonk Hiccups”.

    “The Tigers Have Spoken” might also be a good album for uptempo songs: If You Knew, Soulful Shade of Blue, Train from Kansas City, Loretta, This Little Light.

  32. Another possibility is Neko Case’s old all-girl punk trio, Maow, which is on iTunes.

    That will require some adult selection of songs. “Ms. Lefevre” is fun, if a little bit bondage-y. “One Night Stand” is probably out of the question. “Mean Mean Man” could be good. “J’ai Faim” is in French, so should be lyrically safe.

    Speaking of French, another possibility would be Paris Combo, a French jazzy/swingy band. My favorite song of theirs is “Moi, mon âme et ma conscience” It’s on iTunes.

  33. WooHoo!

    Thanks for all the recomendations. ITunes is going to be busy tonight while I try out a bunch of new (and old) stuff. I don’t know why I hadn’t remembered Joan Jett myself. I probably still have a poster of her around somewhere… :>

  34. My 11 year old daughter is a Heather Alexander fan (we’re lucky, she been coming to the local convention for the last three or four years running).

  35. More: Edie Brickell, Suzanne Vega, Aimee Mann, Sam Phillips

    Beth Orton
    the Breeders
    the Cardigans
    Cowboy Junkies
    the Heartbeats Rhythm Quartet
    Innocence Mission
    Iris Dement
    Jonatha Brooke
    Kelly Hogan
    “The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides”, a collection of children’s songs performed by alt-country artists.
    Juliana Hatfield
    Kate Bush (rubberband girl)
    Kirsty Maccoll
    Moonpools & Caterpillars
    Nora O’Connor
    Saint Etienne
    Shawn Colvin
    the Sundays
    Syd Straw
    Texas (the scottish band) especially Ricks Road

    There’s some nice old-fashioned sounding songs on “Jon Rauhouse’s Steel Guitar Air Show”, sung by Kelly Hogan and Neko Case.

  36. Aretha Franklin – her classic songs are easy to love, and very accessible to young kids. Plus, she’s got a strong voice and strong personality

    Ella Fitzgerald — There’s no better jazz singer, male or female

    Kathy Kallick — if you like bluegrass / folk music, she’s got a great voice and some good kid-friendly music

  37. Duh, me!

    While Dennis’ girls may be too old (he doesn’t specify, I don’t think), there’ve been a couple of mentions here of three- and four-year-olds. And I totally forgot that my own four-year-old daughter loves these bits now on the TV channel Noggin, called “Move to the Music” and featuring Laurie Berkner. Who, yes, is out front playing guitar (and who has a woman on the keyboards in the band, as well). Definitely aimed at the three- to six- (or so) set, but pretty fun and certainly rated G.

  38. This is probably the wrong time to start a holy war… but…

    Dylan Tweney says:
    Ella Fitzgerald — There’s no better jazz singer, male or female

    And I must respectfully disagree. She’s wonderful, but… Billie Holliday! Yes, I have no actual meaningful commentary to make.

  39. The only CD I’m allowed to listen to in my car anymore is Gwen Stefani’s Love Angel Music Baby – especially the track “Crash”. Not sure how appropriate some of the tracks are, but my 4-year old goes nuts for Gwen. No Doubt is also allowed for variety. And my husband is NOT permitted to dance or sing to either. “Only for girls Daddy.”

    Another great gem for all children (and adults too!) is Nilsson’s The Point.

  40. In the vein of Puffy Ami Yumi: The Brilliant Green.

    Joanna Newsom is also fantastic.

  41. *thinks*

    You might try Nickel Creek. They’ve got a female singer that leads some of their songs, and plays an instrument, and I don’t think their songs are at all bad. “Sabra Girl” and “The Hand Song” are really good. (If you can stand music that isn’t completely rocking out) Main instruments: mandolin, fiddle, guitar. Great harmonies.

    Delirium is pretty cool. I’m not sure about their lyrics, because I often can’t understand them (Innocente is my favorite so far). The Cranberries have a female lead singer, with an interesting song, but I don’t know about the appropriateness of their songs, either.

  42. For all you Poe fans, Hello was great – but if you haven’t got Haunted you’re really REALLY missing out.

  43. Anyone mention Tegan and Sara yet? Also maybe Sarah Harmer. And Joydrop.

  44. don’t mean to get all old school but let’s not forget cyndi lauper, who has a beautiful voice and wrote some beautiful songs, that were only slightly marred by the synthesizers.

    also, the roches. might not be that attractive to young girls, but then again they might. pg-rated women’s folk, but they sing about things you wouldn’t expect.

    the lilo and stitch soundtrack.

    also a bit old school, but since everyone is talking about bjork, how about the sugarcubes? they were, if possible, even quirkier than bjork solo, and their song topics are bizarre and delightful (remember “motorcrash” and “birthday”, which is the classic little girl song?)

  45. The Brand New Heavies had a female vocalist. And it is very cool music.

    But I would seriously think twice about limiting your daughters music to female only stuff. Makes very little sense.

    The Christian group angle is pretty clever. I hear a lot of good, clean acoustic/bluegrass/folk stuff on some of the Christian stations these days.

  46. Hillary duff-fine (even though i hate her), but Christina Anguilera??!!! Are you crazy?!!!! DID YOU EVER SEEN HER VIDEOS?! really, it’s not appropriate for kids.

  47. Try these. They’re great for preteen girls, give or tske even! I enjoy them as much as my youngest who’s 7. It is all good, clean, positive music: The beu sisters, a*teens (best albums: new arrival, spirit, greatest hits), Hoku, Disney Girlz Rock, Aly and AJ (their album into the rush), myra. Also try Jesse (boy) McCartney’s album JMac. And the Beatles album “1.” My girls love Christy Carlson Romano as well. I’m very selective about my kids’ music. Hope this helps.

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