Cover Rina Sayawama (Photo: Greg Lin/ Instagram: @greg.lin)

Smashing stereotypes and breaking rules, these women are propelling the music industry into a future that embraces diversity, self-expression and authenticity

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Rina Sawayama

Japanese-British musician, Rina Sawayama has been the talk of town since the release of her self-titled debut album in 2020 for its innovative fusion of electropop, R&B and nu-metal genres, which is why her ineligibility to qualify for the Mercury Prize caused much uproar. Told that she was "not British enough" despite living in the U.K. since she was four years old, Sawayama began a worldwide social media campaign to change the outdated rules of the music awards industry. 

With the support of her fans, including Elton John who declared Sawayama his favourite album of 2020, the rules of the Brit Awards were recently changed to qualify artists who have been resident in the UK for more than five years. Igniting an important conversation on British culture and the increasingly globalised world, Sawayama's music is groundbreaking in more ways than one. 

Related: Rising Malaysian Musician NYK Talks Challenges During The Pandemic & His New EP

Above Rina Sawayama is a Japanese-British artiste who made her debut in 2020
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Priya Darshini

Nominated for Best New Age Album at the upcoming 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, Priya Darshini's debut album with Chesky Records, Periphery, is a musical exploration on the concept of belonging. A departure from her background in Bollywood films and classical Hindustani and pop music, her enchanting single, Home, gives voice to the feeling of not belonging that many immigrants and third-culture kids often feel. 

The Chennai-born, Mumbai-raised musician joins the short list of Indian names nominated for the Grammy Awards: Anoushka Shankar for Best Global Music Album and Norah Jones for Best American Roots Music.

See also: Meet 9 Amazing Asian Women Who Gained International Renown As Pioneers

Above Priya Darshini is signed to Chesky Records
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Audrey Nuna

A thrilling, genre-bending clash of pop percussion, smooth rap, hard beats and trap synths, Audrey Nuna's music is unapologetic. Ahead of the much-anticipated release of her EP, the young rising star has already collaborated with music powerhouses, DJ Snake and Jack Harlow. And her style is equally as bold. Drawing inspiration from her Korean heritage and New Jersey upbringing, she has recently linked up with New York-based genderless fashion label, Bobblehaus to present eclectic, unique capsule collection. 

Nuna's refusal to conform to convention is a breath of fresh air in the music industry, making her one of the leading young Asian artistes, along with Beabadoobee and Rei Ami, to watch in the coming years. 

See also: How Rising Hip Hop Starlet Zamaera Weaved Her Story Into An Orchestral Debut EP

Above Audrey Nuna and Jack Harlow released the official video to 'Comic Sans' at the end of 2019
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Jennifer Lee a.k.a. TOKiMONSTA

The electronic music scene is notoriously male-dominated but LA-based DJ and producer, Jennifer Lee, also known as TOKiMONSTA, has overcome the odds to be one of the most successful players in the game, associated with big industry names such as Justin Timberlake, Anderson Paak, Zhu and ODESZA. She was the first Asian-American female producer nominated for a Grammy in the Best Dance/Electronic category in 2019 and it was for an album she created after being diagnosed with Moyamoya disease and undergoing two brain surgeries. 

She also founded her own creative label, Young Art Records, to nurture emerging talent from diverse backgrounds.

See also: 12 Asian Actresses Making It Big In Hollywood

Above TOKiMONSTA collaborated with Yuna to release 'Don't Call Me' in 2017
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Yuna

Malaysian R&B singer-songwriter, Yuna has risen to international fame with a musical portfolio of heartfelt ballads and catchy pop tunes, such as Dance Like Nobody’s Watching. But her ascent has not come without its fair share of challenges. The musician has shared her experiences over the years of encountering label executives and fashion magazines who asked her to take off her hijab. 

By staying true to herself and her principles, Yuna is breaking the mold of what a successful woman in music is supposed to look like and opening a world of possibilities for young women everywhere. 

See also: The World's First Hijab-Wearing Pro Wrestler, Nor 'Phoenix' Diana On Facing Life's Toughest Blows

Above Usher and Yuna released 'Crush' in 2016
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Nicole Zefanya a.k.a. NIKI

Nicole Zefanya, known also as NIKI, has recently declared that she no longer wants to fit into any neat boxes in terms of her music and career. Born and raised in Jakarta, NIKI started out making covers of R&B songs on YouTube, opening for Taylor Swift in Jakarta at just 15 years old. When she moved to Nashville, she signed with New York-based, Pan-Asian record label, 88rising, where she produced her debut EP R&B album, Zephyr. 

But with her latest album, Moonchild, she sheds the pressures of being the world's next 'R&B princess' and focuses instead on creating music that is loyal and authentic to her own experiences. Making a bold feminist statement with her song, Wide Open, and experimenting with rap in Nightcrawlers, the 21-year-old breaks free from expectations put on her by the industry and herself. 

Related: Rising Stars In Music: Meet Olivia Rodrigo, Chloe x Halle, And Phoebe Bridgers

Above 'Moonchild' is NIKI's latest concept album