Studies show music holds a lot of power; it can change your mood, lower stress, make you more productive at work… But beyond that, for centuries songs have been utilized as a way to educate the masses, both as hymns originated by the Greeks who sang tales to honor the Gods, and via Schoolhouse Rock’s catchy question, “Conjunction junction, what’s your function?”
In recent decades, more women have taken to song to shine light on gender inequalities, and doing so in an industry with an enormous gender “play” gap. The latest data from USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative shows of songs ranked in the Top 100 charts, only 17.1% were by female artists.
Nevertheless, she persisted.
Female artists have shared their truths—writing about gender stereotypes and double standards, womanhood and boldly exemplifying what being a woman with confidence can look like. (Hint: It’s not as one-size-fits-all as society seems to suggest.) Whether these artists knew how far their message of women’s empowerment would reach, their words have given a voice to the struggles many women still face, and their melodies continue to inspire women around the world with hope and the understanding that we’re not in this alone.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month—or just women in general—here are 31 songs to blast on repeat to remind you of how truly fierce, strong and wonderful you and your fellow women are.
What do we want? Respect! When do we want it? Now! This song is as relevant today as it was in 1967 when it was released.
Ooh, your kisses, sweeter than honey
And guess what? So is my money
Swift takes on everything from manspreading to gender stereotypes in her powerful music video of this song. Stick around for the ending.
I’m so sick of running
As fast as I can
Wondering if I’d get there quicker
If I was a man
TLC details how exhausting it can be to try to conform to what society calls beautiful, and reminds women to look to no one other than themselves to define their beauty.
I used to be so cute to me
Just a little bit skinny
Why do I look to all these things
To keep you happy?
Maybe get rid of you
And then I’ll get back to me, yeah
“Good As Hell” is exceptionally upbeat for a song about moving on from heartbreak, and fights the stereotype that without a man you’re incomplete. But honestly, all of Lizzo’s songs empower women, so you really can’t go wrong.
You know you a star, you can touch the sky
I know that it’s hard but you have to try
If you need advice, let me simplify
If he don’t love you anymore
Just walk your fine ass out the door
Originally written for the Charlie’s Angels soundtrack, this quickly became one of the best women’s anthems and one of the biggest songs Destiny’s Child ever created. Say it louder for the people in the back! “Depend on no one else to give you what you want.”
Question, tell me how you feel about this
Try to control me, boy, you get dismissed
Pay my own fun, oh, and I pay my own bills
Always fifty fifty in relationships
Steinfeld challenges the toxic notion that women are “the competition” and celebrates wanting to be like “most girls” because we’re all on the same team.
Most girls are smart and strong and beautiful
Most girls, work hard, go far, we are unstoppable
Written as a commentary on the death threats the Dixie Chicks received after sharing their political opinions in 2003, “Not Ready to Make Nice” calls out the harsh treatment women receive for having a point of view and unapologetically combats the stereotype that women need to be placid people-pleasers.
I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell, and I don’t have time
To go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round
This entire song is filled with jabs aimed toward the double standards women face, and juxtaposes the labels given to women for acting in a way men are praised for.
When a female fires back suddenly big talker don’t know how to act
So he does what every little boy would do
Makin’ up a few false rumors or two
Although an optimistic song, Keys calls attention to how much women carry on their shoulders daily, reminding women that although they might not be perfect, they have the (super) power to take on whatever is placed in front of them.
I hang my head from sorrow
State of humanity
I wear it on my shoulders
Gotta find the strength in me
‘Cause I am a superwoman
On the surface, this catchy tune is about a night on the town. But when you listen closely, it’s about daring to break down the gender barrier of what it means to “feel like a woman.”
Color my hair, do what I dare
Oh, oh, oh,
I want to be free yeah, to feel the way I feel
In case it was unclear, Bey set the record straight for us: Who runs the world? Women.
Boy you know you love it
How we’re smart enough
To make these millions
Strong enough to bare the children
Then get back to business
Confidence looks good on everyone.
So you say I’m complicated
But you’ve had me underrated
…What’s wrong with being confident?
A viral question was posed to women on the interwebs: What would you do if all men had a 9pm curfew? The majority of women shared they would simply love to go on a walk. This song is all about that desire to feel safe and without fear.
‘Cause I’m just a girl
I’d rather not be
‘Cause they won’t let me drive
Late at night
Oh I’m just a girl
Guess I’m some kind of freak
‘Cause they all sit and stare
With their eyes
If someone manages to push you down, throw your hair in a messy bun, put on your little black dress and pick yourself back up. You will dance again.
Get up off my knees and just remember that I am
More than just somebody’s puppet I can
Find the cord and then I’ll cut it I stand
A pretty good chance to dust myself off and dance
Instructions for how to survive in a man’s world. Ladies, take notes.
You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold
You gotta be wiser, you gotta be hard
You gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger
Released in 1980, Parton sings about the glass ceiling and how frustrating it is to work for the “rich man’s wallet,” while getting paid less to do so.
9 to 5, for service and devotion
You would think that I would deserve a fat promotion
Want to move ahead but the boss won’t seem to let me
I swear sometimes that man is out to get me!
When Grande released the music video for this song, she dedicated it to “my fellow goddesses who work their asses off every day to ‘break the glass ceiling.’” Every time a woman sings this song, an angel earns its wings.
And I can be all the things you told me not to be (Yeah)
When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing (Yeah)
And he see the universe when I’m the company
It’s all in me
A funky song that takes on being unapologetically yourself, even if that doesn’t fit the mold—Monae’s rap at the end deserves a Grammy all on its own.
Even if it makes others uncomfortable
I will love who I am
An instant confidence boost, Gomez reminds us to never accept less than what we’re worth.
I’m not gonna beg for you
I’m not gonna let you make me cry (make me cry)
Not getting enough from you
Didn’t you know I’m hard to find?
A refreshingly honest song about not sweating whether or not others will judge you and your life choices, Musgraves points out you should kiss lots of boys, or girls, “if that’s something you’re into,” and promotes acceptance of all types of love—but especially love for yourself.
You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t
So you might as well just do whatever you want
Shakira doesn’t care much for society’s incessant need for women to be “ladylike,” and gives women permission to let their wild side run free. Ahoo!
A domesticated girl that’s all you ask of me
Darling it is no joke, this is lycanthropy
The R&B icon gave us a song that teaches us how to take past pain and create something beautiful with the brokenness instead so we don’t have to learn it the hard way.
She has no regrets
She accepts the past
All these things they
Helped make to make she
Breakups are the worst. But getting reacquainted with your real self, and finding yourself made stronger in the process, is a silver lining we should celebrate.
Though it took some time to survive you
I’m better on the other side
I’m all good already
So moved on, it’s scary
I’m not where you left me at all
24. “Quiet” by MILCK
“Quiet” was originally written about MILCK’s (whose real name is Connie Lim) struggles with anorexia and domestic violence. But her urgency for listeners to speak their truth is so relatable and empowering nonetheless.
Would I be that monster, scare them all away
If I let them hear what I have to say
This song is one big middle finger aimed straight at misogyny and stands up for all women who live they way they want. Because really, what others do is none of your business.
How many rules am I to break before you understand
That your double-standards don’t mean sh*t to me?
I know exactly what you say when I turn and walk away
But that’s OK ‘cause I don’t let it get it to me
You need to watch the powerful music video to get this full dose of self-love.
Wait a second,
Why, should you care, what they think of you
When you’re all alone, by yourself, do you like you?
Perhaps the queens of #GirlPower, the Spice Girls always celebrated their squad because girlfriends will “always be there” to “spice up your life.”
If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends
(Gotta get with my friends)
Make it last forever, friendship never ends
Chun Li was one of the first female characters to appear on the popular game, Street Fighter. This feisty song reminds women they can be fighters, too.
How many of them could’ve did it with finesse?
Now everybody like, “She really is the best”
You play checkers, couldn’t beat me playin’ chess
Hill embodies strength in this song as she faces her storm head on, because she has the confidence to trust she’ll still be standing on the other side.
More powerful than two Cleopatras
One of the most empowering songs you’ve likely never heard of, “Lovely” argues you can be yourself and that is enough. Which, in the age of Instagram filters, we could all benefit from taking that lesson to heart.
I don’t wanna be her
I just want to be little old me
Shouldn’t have to think
Who am I suppose to be today
A fairly bold message of female independence to send in 1963, but Gore sings it proudly. And you should, too!
You don’t own me
Don’t try to change me in any way
You don’t own me
Don’t tie me down ‘cause I’d never stay
Photo by pop.roxana/Twenty20
Megan Nicole O’Neal is a writer with a passion for storytelling, traveling and whenever possible, mixing the two. The UCLA alum lives in Los Angeles; more specifically westside coffee shops with equally strong wifi and dark roasts. Connect with Megan on Twitter at @megan_n_onealor her website mnoneal.com.