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When you pop in your earphones and hit play, what do you expect? Music should do so much more than merely entertain us. It should engage and captivate us in a way that no other medium does. If you take the time to discover them, there’s a wealth of masterful female singers and songwriters you may just adore. With their insightful lyricism and skilled composing, these women have the ability to inspire whilst at once entertaining. If it’s high time you updated your music collection, here are four incredible female singers you simply must include.

Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple makes turning her classically trained hands to soulful, sullen ballads seem almost effortless. If you’ve yet to experience (because it is an experience) one of her tracks, you must rectify that as soon as possible. Her lyrics are weighted in her own emotions, which range dramatically from record to record. At times she is doused in dripping sorry, while at others her outlook is positively joyous. My favorite songs include “Shadow Boxer” and “Dull Tool”; but her back catalogue is astounding, so you should really explore it yourself. Don’t be alarmed if you recognize her husky, seductive voice immediately. During her career, she’s written and sung some popular theme tunes, including her latest for the hit series The Affair.

Regina Spektor

Somewhat overlooked in discussions of female singers, Regina Spektor is an uplifting songwriter, whom we all should appreciate more than we do. Yet another classically trained pianist, she’s gained a cult following since her debut back in 2001. If you’ve heard any of her songs, it would be “Us.” It may be her most famous tune, yet it’s by no means her greatest. Her 2012 album “What We Saw from the Cheap Seats” is perhaps the finest example of her talents. To give you the highlights, “Oh Marcello” verges on comedic writing, while the power ballad “How” showcases Regina’s impressive lung capacity. The album is a must-listen and will make you fall in love with this female singer’s addictively innocent voice.

Joan Armatrading

It would be darn rude to write this piece and neglect to mention the sublime Joan Armatrading. Her career is as long as it is varied. Though she begun writing and singing back in the 1970s, her music and the vivid pictures it paints have stood the test of time among female singers. Forget Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Woman.” Joan’s “Me Myself and I” is the original anthem for independence. When she assertively proclaims, “I wanna be by myself, I came in this world alone,” you believe every word of it, and that’s just the beginning. This woman really ought to be an inspiration to not only her own generation, but all that have followed.

Amanda Palmer

amanda palmer bookIf I could tell you just one thing about New York-born Amanda Palmer, it would be that she started the “Rebellyon.” After claiming that her ex-label Roadrunner Records wanted to edit one of her music videos because they thought she looked “fat” in it, this inspiring lady took to the internet. Having always had a mass following online, she reached out to her adoring fans. What followed was unbelievable – a storm of real belly photos, some with lyrics and supportive messages, appeared on Twitter and the like. Her fans spoke out. They supported her decision to maintain a “normal” weight; more than that, they encouraged it actively and even aggressively.

This example is by no means defining of Amanda Palmer, but it shows her spirit. She’s feisty and independent (literally from any record label now). This is evident in her music, which is immensely engaging. Her writing is witty and wry, entwined with in-jokes and laden with double entendres. Favorites include the rather fierce “Girl Anachronism” from her days with the Dresden Dolls and “Runs in the Family” from her 2008 album. Whether you listen to her bands or solo material, it doesn’t matter. She stands out from other female singers. Her music is at once charming and ferocious.

Amanda doesn’t confine herself to the medium of music; last year, she released her first non-fiction book. Part autobiography, part self-help, the book reaches into this woman’s compelling history and draws out meaningful life lessons. If you already like her music, think of “The Art of Asking” as an ideal companion piece to it.