Popgirlz on friendship-building and nurturing networks

We get to know the Popgirlz Scotland collective a little bit better, while they curate a special playlist for us featuring just a fraction of their talented members

Feature by Tallah Brash and Rachel Alice Johnson and Josephine Sillars | 04 May 2023
  • Josephine Sillars and Rachel Alice Johnson

The Popgirlz Scotland collective have come a long way since launching in 2019. From a simple idea to create a safe and respectful space for women in the Scottish music scene, they've gone on to tackle gender discrimination in Spotify playlists – most famously the Scotify playlist – and most recently, following a series of complaints, have initiated a conversation with BBC Introducing, asking them to consider incorporating a lyric box to their song uploader.

Popgirlz have also been guest lecturing at universities all over the UK in recent years, hoping to enact positive change in the music industry from the ground up with Nurturing Networks. Using Vick Bain's Counting the Music Industry findings, they've been highlighting the gender gap, inequality and discrimination found in the music industry, from poor representation for women, non-binary and people of colour in everything from playlisting to festival programming. Alongside POWA and Fanny Riot, they've helped create the Friendly Fests database, highlighting which festivals display clear safe space policies on their website, calling for those who don't to do so.

While the pair behind Popgirlz Scotland, Rachel Alice Johnson (Kohla) and Josephine Sillars, are musicians in their own right, for our pop special, we get to know more about the collective, before handing over the reins to them to talk us through some of the lesser known artists in the collective that they love, with a specially curated playlist to run alongside it featuring some more familiar faces. First though... 

Tell us a bit about Popgirlz and how the collective came about?
Popgirlz Scotland is a support group for female, non-binary and trans artists in the Scottish music scene that are comfortable in a space centred around the experiences of women in music. Rachel Alice Johnson (Kohla) created the group with the idea of making a safe, motivating space for womxn artists. Kohla initially found it difficult to meet other womxn artists and make friends, coming from a fine art background. Cultivating a healthy music scene is of key importance to Popgirlz, with friendship-building encouraged over traditional networking. Josephine Sillars joined the collective in 2020 and helped lead the Popgirlz Scotland campaign against Scotify, promoting equality in algorithmic playlisting.

How has the collective grown since launching?
Popgirlz was created in late 2019, but grew substantially over lockdown, and includes a collaborative Facebook group, Instagram and Twitter where members can help and support one another. The collective now has 200 members, ranging from new and up-and-coming acts, to established artists including Honeyblood, Be Charlotte and Siobhan Wilson. Post-pandemic, Popgirlz organise social in-person events where members can meet, collaborate and build friendships.

What are some of the challenges you've come up against since launching?
Our biggest challenge is lack of financial support. We work on a volunteer basis and our inbox is constantly flooded! We are hoping to source funding this summer so we can provide more help to members (and avoid our own burnout).

What would you say is the most important thing about Popgirlz?
The most important thing for us is friendship-building. By supporting each other, we allow all of our careers to flourish. The group is a place where members can discuss the pros and cons of working with management, PR, venues, festivals and various other elements of the industry in a non-judgemental and learning-focused space. There is room at the table for all of us, and it’s important to recognise that we are stronger together!

What's next for Popgirlz?
We are continuing to lecture internationally from September 2023 (we have just returned from our England tour) and are planning to bring our presentation into schools for the first time. We are also hoping to source funding to grow the collective as we are currently run by volunteers. We will also be hosting social events over the summer, with plans to start Popgirlz UK and Ireland very soon due to high demand. We are also currently running a campaign on our social media to encourage BBC Introducing to add a lyric box to their online uploader. This would help safeguard what is broadcast and promote the lyrical work of singer-songwriters.

Under-the-Radar Popgirlz Picks


Photo: Elle MacKay
IG: @cortnemusic
Cortnë is a casually-cool alt-pop singer-songwriter from Glasgow’s Southside, who draws inspiration from past relationships, feminism and religious imagery. On the angst-driven Lungs she explores themes of modern love and isolation with layered harmonies and forward-thinking lyrics. On Bliss she evokes the likes of acoustic ballad-era Paramore to deliver a punchy and emotive performance, at both times dreamy and hyper-focused. [Rachel Alice Johnson]


Photo: Rhianonne Stone
IG: @thisisetain
Imagine if Big Thief was just one Northwestern Irish girl living in Glasgow? That’s Étáin. A singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist, Étáin's music is so peaceful to listen to. My favourite of her songs is Tonne of Bricks from her 2017 EP, which is a fresh and chaste song that just instantly was stuck in my head from the first time I heard it. I would really love to see her and Manchester’s Dilettante share a lineup. [Josephine Sillars]

Florence Jack

Photo: Eleanor Jack
IG: @florencejackmusic
If Blair Waldorf were a Northeastern Scottish popstar, she would be Florence Jack. It’s her sassy Queen B energy in Boss and her effortless emotional glamour in Lovely and Dance With You. Florence writes, records and produces her music too – you can hear her personal touch through her backing vocals and lush piano and string arrangements. There’s a timeless elegance to Florence’s music – a natural songwriter. [RAJ]


Photo: Rhianonne Stone
IG: @fran.ortisi

Francesca is a singer-songwriter and producer originally from Sicily. She experiments with vintage alternative pop in the Nelly Furtado-esque single Obstacle, poised with edge and an 'eat-you-up-and-spit-you-back-out' energy. She layers soulful vocal melodies on top of crisp Balearic-infused dance beats. On dreamy single Away she writes and performs like a 90s Olivia Rodrigo, her vocals soaring against acoustic and electric guitar slides. [RAJ]


Photo: Raiona Marnie
IG: @katerina.music.official
KATERINA is a Greek artist based in Ayr. She only has one song released, and while instrumentally minimalist, the melody, story and arrangement of Ballad of a Hollywood Dreamer is instantly captivating. The melody reminds me of 90s alt-rock, and her voice has a deceptive power to it. I am eagerly awaiting more music from her. [JS]

Maud The Moth

Photo: Simon Kallas
IG: @maudthemoth
Maud The Moth is an Edinburgh-based avant-garde, art-pop singer-songwriter who is simply incredible. Originally from Spain, she writes complex and emotive music that stylistically draws on a vast range of influences – from classical, jazz and rock as well as romanticism and surrealism. Her last album, Orphnē was released in 2020, with a live session from the Brudenell Piano Sessions released in 2022. Orphnē is a powerful, powerful album. [JS]

Mima Merrow

Photo: Najma Abukar
IG: @mimamerrow
Mima Merrow is one of my favourite artists in Glasgow right now. Originally from Belfast, her album Almost Home was released last year, and it is a stunning and poetic debut. Her lyrics are honest and her instrumentation is beautifully atmospheric. Her alternative-folk style of writing is instantly catchy – and I am really annoyed that I consistently always seem to miss her live shows! I am really excited for Mima Merrow this year. [JS]

Minerva Wakes

Photo: Kelly Muir
IG: @minervawakes
One for all the trip-hop girlies! Minerva Wakes is a multi-artform project from Jo D’arc (The Twistettes) that includes dark trip-hop and glitchy psychedelia with poetry, photography and projections incorporated into her live show. The music is dark and enticing. To be expected from Jo, the bass tones are great, and especially on tracks like Perfect Soul, the dynamics completely pull you in. [JS]


Photo: Diana Georgieva
IG: @__nikhita

For me, South-Asian-Edinburgh-based Nikhita is an international R'n'B popstar waiting to happen. Her airy vocals glide in every direction on the Lolo Zouaï-tinged Unwrap Me, contrasting perfectly against the song’s fresh synths and MC Salum’s expressive bars. On Aphrodite she delivers a hypnotic vocal line on top of soulful keys and precisely placed trappy hi-hats – reminiscent of Z-era SZA. Her songwriting is delicate and impactful, creating an addictive listen. [RAJ]

Serena Sophia

Photo: Fraser Scott
IG: @serenasophiamusic

Serena Sophia is the powerful pop diva we’ve all been waiting for. A singer-songwriter, dancer and actress from Glasgow, her songs flicker between dance pop icon on Is The Answer Love, featuring driven piano, trip-hop beats and eclectic techno synths, to jazz-pop icon on Giving Me and Hold On. On the latter, the trained saxophonist builds up a sassy brass band, layering sharp finger snaps against a passionate, cutting vocal delivery akin to Good Girl Gone Bad-era Rihanna. It’s strong, feminine, divine energy and we love it. [RAJ]

Popgirlz x The Skinny
Listen to the 'Popgirlz x The Skinny' playlist on Spotify, featuring tracks from all of the above Popgirlz artists as well as the ones below. Enjoy!

Kohla, Josephine Sillars, Philomenah, Dahlia, Misty Galactic, Eve Simpson, Gefahrgeist, Elisabeth Elektra, Siobhan Wilson, KLEO, SHEARS, Sev Ka

Follow Popgirlz on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; Kohla launches her debut album at Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, 9 Sep