Canada has had a surprising number of all-female acts over the years. Many of these were indie bands or outside of the pop/rock umbrella. There were a few, however, that enjoyed radio hits, were honoured at the JUNOS, scored gold records, and achieved some international success.
Most prefer to note the distinction between girl groups and female rock bands. Girl groups and boy groups simply sing and harmonize together with others writing their songs and playing musical instruments for them. Female rock bands, in contrast, write their own songs and play their own instruments. Canada has had examples of both over the years.
When such acts hit the mainstream, they tend to become extremely popular, so one may wonder why there weren’t more of them. We have seen that, since the early 90s, few male soloist superstars have emerged unless they did something outside of mainstream rock and roll. They have preferred, instead, to form rock bands. Canadian women, in contrast, have usually preferred to go solo. Part of the answer lies in understanding the differences in Canadian male and female culture, values, and attitudes. Rather than going into this, let’s take a look at some of the Canadian all-female acts. We will not include female duos but those groups consisting of three or more members.
Indie all-female acts include Cub, Magneta Lane, Fifth Column, Maow (sometimes called Meow), Jale, Ladies of the Canyon, The Organ, Plumtree, and Pony Up. The Be Good Tanyas, The Wailin’ Jennys, and The Good Lovelies were fairly successful folk/country bands. Below are mini-profiles of some of the better-known pop/rock groups.
This is a four-member JUNO-nominated female heavy metal group from London, ON that formed in 1996. They have, since then, released six studio albums and have had success in the United States and Britain. The band’s debut album Spit went GOLD in the United States, as their song “Brackish” became a hit in heavy metal circles. Kittie formed when two members met during an extracurricular gymnastics class. The band is still active and released its sixth studio album I’ve Failed You in August 2011.
This R&B girl group was assembled via Popstars, a televised reality series that was a precursor to Canadian Idol. Five members were selected out of thousands of applicants. In 2001, the group released a platinum album, scored the huge hit “Days Like That,” a cover of Fierce’s song, and were nominated for two JUNOs the following year. The five disbanded and three members have released material as soloists, the most prolific of which is Julie Crochetière.
This pop/rock band began as Tigerlily during high school in Cranbrook, BC. In 2001, Lillix was signed by Maverick Records, releasing debut album Falling Uphill two years later. Three singles were released including a cover of The Romantics’ “What I Like About You” which was featured in the Freaky Friday and 13 Going on 30 soundtracks. They received two JUNO nominations in 2004. After their second album Inside the Hollow and single “Sweet Temptation”, Maverick Records folded and two members left the band. The group reformed with added male members and is no longer an all-female group.
This short-lived pop/punk band from Vancouver enjoyed the hit single “I’m Afraid of Britney Spears” which appeared on the Dude, Where’s My Car? soundtrack. They released albums in 2002 and 2003 before disbanding. Lead vocalist Colette Trudeau is Métis. Lead guitarist Brittin Karroll has written songs with Bif Naked. The two other members of the band were Foxx Herst (bass) and Leah Emmott (drums). The band’s name comes from basketball jargon.
This was a trio of high-profile Canadian female recording artists from Atlantic Canada: Kim Stockwood, Damhnait Doyle, and Tara MacLean. The group was not as successful as the individual artists’ solo careers; however, Shaye’s song “Happy Baby” received a JUNO nomination in 2004 for Single of the Year. They released two albums before calling it quits. Doyle is now with the indie band The Heartbroken. Stockwood is still active as a soloist, releasing the album Back to the Water in March 2011. MacLean released studio album Wake in 2008.
Vocalist/guitarist Jenny MacIsaac, guitarist Jen Blackwood, bassist Claire Blake, and drummer Naomi Langworthy formed this Toronto-based pop/punk band in 1995. They toured both sides of the 49th parallel to packed houses and were interviewed by VH1. Their only album, Here We Go (Warner), came out in 2002. MuchMusic began showcasing the MV for “Who’s the Fool Now?” but it was “It’s Over” that became a #4 hit in Canada. “Summer Song” was their third single. They toured for the next two years but dropped off the map after that, sadly.
West End Girls
This was a beloved Vancouver-based early-90s teenage trio consisting of Camille Henderson (daughter of Chilliwack frontman Bill Henderson), Aimee MacKenzie, and Silvana Petrozzi. The West End is a ritzy area of downtown Vancouver. Their debut (self-titled) album was released in 1991 and spawned two Top 40 singles and two Top 10 hits: “Not Like Kissing You” (which made the year-end Top 100) and “I Want U Back” (cover of the Jackson 5 song). The album was certified GOLD and The West End Girls received a JUNO nomination for Most Promising New Group of the Year. They toured with Roxette. First Petrozzi then Henderson left the band in 1992 and were replaced by Janele Woodley and Celia-Louise Martin respectively. The new lineup released their second album We Belong Together in 1993. “R U Sexin Me” and “Pure” received JUNO nominations. As their sophomore album did not sell as well as their first, the group broke up in 1994.