Since 2007, Billboard‘s Women in Music Awards ceremony has stood as a venerable tribute to the exceptional contributions of women in the music industry, and its prestigious “Woman of the Year” award serves as the pinnacle of recognition for these outstanding artists. As the industry evolved, so did the need for a platform that would not only acknowledge but also celebrate the talent, resilience, and influence of these remarkable individuals. Billboard, with its finger firmly on the pulse of the music world, recognized this imperative and introduced the Women in Music Awards, an annual affair that has since become a cornerstone in celebrating the achievements of women across various facets of the music business.

Over the years, the “Woman of the Year” award has emerged as the crowning jewel of the ceremony, honoring individuals who have not only excelled in their craft but have also left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape. This prestigious accolade serves as a testament to the groundbreaking achievements of female artists who have shattered glass ceilings and blazed trails for generations to come. And in this industry, the award has been a constant fixture in recognizing not just musical prowess but also the resilience, innovation, and leadership exhibited by these women –– making it a symbol of empowerment and inspiration for aspiring artists.

By highlighting the achievements of trailblazers such as this year’s awardee, Latin superstar Karol G, among the likes of industry powerhouses like Olivia Rodrigo, Beyoncé, and Taylor Swift, the ceremony not only pays homage to their individual brilliance but also underscores the collective impact of women on the evolving fabric of music as we know it.

As Billboard Philippines looks back on eight of the most iconic honorees throughout history, we recognize just how much the award continues to resonate as a beacon of recognition for the best and most influential names in the music industry.

1. Beyoncé (2009)

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In 2009, Beyoncé was awarded the third-ever ‘Woman of the Year’ award during a career-high moment that followed the release of her album I Am…Sasha Fierce and it’s coinciding worldwide tour of the same name. Describing the pop juggernaut’s impact, Billboard‘s editorial director at the time, Bill Werde, stated “Beyoncé is a multi-platinum artist and a multi-talented woman who clearly embodies the qualities of excellence and achievement that the Billboard Woman Of The Year Award was created to honor.” Upon accepting the award, Beyoncé remarked “I am the luckiest young woman in the world”, and proceeded to extend her gratitude towards her family for always being there to support her.

2. Taylor Swift (2011 & 2014)

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Courtesy of Getty Images/Billboard

To be honored as Billboard‘s ‘Woman of the Year’ once is already a significant achievement, so one can imagine just how remarkable you have to be to win the award twice. Taylor Swift is the only woman to have ever been awarded the distinction twice ever, earning her first award in 2011 and the second in 2014. The music publication honored Swift’s chart-topping success, innovative genre transition, and ability to connect with a diverse audience through authentic songwriting –– also noting that her influence extended beyond the musical realm. In her acceptance from 2015, the industry icon made a powerful statement in her speech, saying; “I really just feel like we need to continue to try and offer something to a younger generation of musicians. Because somewhere right now your future Woman of the Year is probably sitting in a piano lesson or in a girls choir. Today, right now, we need to take care of her. Thank you.”

3. Lady Gaga (2015)

lady gaga billboard women in music 2015 woman of the year

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Aside from being awarded the Rising Star award in 2009, Lady Gaga carved out her own unique path to become recognized as one of the most influential musical visionaries of our time –– which led to her being awarded ‘Woman of the Year’ in 2015. In her acceptance speech for the award, the pop star said “To be here today means that I’m recognized for my songwriting and for my legacy, which means a lot because…women provide a wisdom to music that is very unique and special. It is a perspective that no other person can have because we bear life, and we go through things that no one goes through. And more importantly, because it’s right because we’re all equal.”

4. Madonna (2016)

madonna billboard women in music 2016 woman of the year

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The ‘Queen of Pop’ Madonna was awarded ‘Woman of the Year’ in 2016 –– more than 30 years since she first debuted on the music scene. The pop icon’s speech upon being honored with the title showcased her signature wit and sarcasm, which she used to point out numerous hypocrisies within the music industry. Yet upon closing her acceptance speech, Madonna emphasized the power of strong women, stating “What I would like to say to all women here today is this: Women have been so oppressed for so long they believe what men have to say about them. As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth and each other’s worth. Seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to collaborate with, to be inspired by, to support, and enlightened by.” And with plenty of experience in the industry, there are no better words to live by than the advice of a living legend such as her.

5. Ariana Grande (2018)

ariana grande billboard women in music 2018

Courtesy of Mike Coppola for Getty Images/Billboard

Pop songstress Ariana Grande was honored as ‘Woman of the Year’ in the same year she released her Grammy winning record, Sweetener. According to Billboard‘s VP of Content at the time, Ross Scarano “Ariana Grande is a star on her own terms, never bending to any particular musical trend or path in the industry, Certain in her convictions, she consistently stands up for herself and her decisions in a world that often isn’t hospitable to that sort of strength in young women. She’s got guts, she’s making some of the best music of her career, and she’s absolutely deserving of Woman of the Year.” In her acceptance speech, Grande proclaimed “I’m really looking forward to embracing whatever happens and whatever comes my way” –– to which she went on to continue her successful solo career as one of the biggest pop acts of today.

6. Billie Eilish (2019)

billie eilish billboard 2019 woman of the year women in music

Courtesy of Rich Fury for Getty Images/Billboard

In the same year as she released her debut studio album, Billie Eilish was awarded Billboard‘s ‘Woman of the Year’ right before she even turned 18 years old. Though it was undoubtedly the biggest year of her career, it was undoubtedly a well-deserved honor as stated by Hannah Karp, Billboard‘s Editorial Director. “Billie has disrupted the entertainment industry through her music and social media platforms, leaving an indelible impact on the global cultural zeitgeist,” said Karp. In Eilish’s acceptance speech upon winning the award, she emphasized how “It’s really weird to be woman of the year at 17.” Yet following that point, Eilish has continued her resounding journey of success with various wins in her career –- such as multiple Grammys, an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and more.

7. Olivia Rodrigo (2022)

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Courtesy of Emma McIntyre for Getty Images/Billboard.

Following the smashing success of her debut album SOUR and its lead single “driver’s license“, there was no doubt that Olivia Rodrigo was deserving of Billboard‘s ‘Woman of the Year’ award. Karp described Rodrigo’s career trajectory to as “the stuff of pop music legend”, which is an uncommon phenomenon in an industry as crowded as the music scene. In Rodrigo’s acceptance speech, she stated “It’s not always easy being a young woman in the music industry but I found so much strength from the female songwriters and artists who have come before me and paved the way and opened doors for so many young women like me. And that’s what’s so amazing about this event: every woman here today is working to break down those barriers and change the narrative and support each other and I’m so inspired by all the incredible women in this room. And I want to thank you all for your support. I am supporting all of you.”

8. SZA (2023)

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Though SZA made her breakout debut with 2017’s Ctrl, the widespread acclaim to her sophomore release SOS warranted recognition as 2023’s ‘Woman of the Year’ honoree. “Since she burst onto the scene in 2017, SZA has defied genres and continually released raw, powerful songs which have landed her music on the Billboard charts”, said Karp in her official statement. The American singer-songwriter embraced her impact as an influential figure, saying “I really just want my life to be more than music, to be more than just an artist. I want to serve others, I want to serve people, and to be open and available to whatever God wants from me, and saying yes to everything that’s scary.”

The 2024 Women In Music event is happening this March 6 (March 7 PH Time) at the YouTube Theatre in Los Angeles, California and will be broadcasted the following day.