There are so many amazing female artists in the music industry that it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to finding catchy, meaningful female power songs. If you’re unsure where to start looking, or just want some new music to flesh out your fem-power playlist, here are a few tracks to get you started.
1. “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy
You can’t go wrong with a song that starts out with the phrase “I am woman, hear me roar,” and this 1972 classic only gets better from there. Just take a look at the first verse of this fem-power song:
“I am woman, hear me roar In numbers too big to ignore / And I know too much to go back an’ pretend / ‘Cause I’ve heard it all before / And I’ve been down there on the floor / No one’s ever gonna keep me down again.” This song is full of lyrics just like that — words that show just how strong a woman can be. Sometimes, we’re at our strongest when we pick ourselves up and brush off the dust to show everyone we can’t be broken and we can’t be stopped once we put our minds to something. It’s a bit old-school if you’re a fan of more modern pop music, but the message still shines through more than 40 years later.
2. “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore
There have been many cover versions of this song over the years — it was performed by The Blow Monkeys for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack and by Grace for Suicide Squad — but Lesley Gore is the mind behind this 1963 feminist anthem. The lyrics are a simple admonition for the men in Lesley’s life — don’t tell me what to say or do, and don’t put me on display when we go out. The song is an anthem for women who want to be themselves, whether they’re single or in a relationship, and a warning to the men or women in their lives that want to change them. No matter what version of this song you listen to, it deserves a place of honor on your fem-power playlist.
3. “Bitch” by Meredith Brooks
‘90s kids have indelible memories of this song — it’s the one that would get us in trouble when we would sing along to the badly edited version that came on the radio. The word “bitch” has a bad reputation — it’s the title that gets hung on women who speak up, stand up for themselves, have opinions and basically do anything outside the carefully crafted molds women are supposed to stay in. “Bitch” turns the negativity of the word around by owning it — just take a look at the chorus of this ‘90s classic: “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover / I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint / I do not feel ashamed / I’m your hell, I’m your dream / I’m nothing in between / And no, you wouldn’t want it any other way.” Be everything — be an angel, a bitch, a mother, a friend, or anything else you need or want to be. Own it and love being you. That’s exactly what this song is about and why it should have a spot on your playlist.
4. “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She Thing” by Salt-N-Pepa
Another ‘90s women’s anthem, “Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She Thing” comes from one of our favorite '90s groups. At its core, this rap song is about gender equality, and that’s reflected in the lyrics: “The thing that makes me mad and crazy, upset / Got to break my neck just to get my respect / Go to work and get paid less than a man / When I’m doing the same damn thing that he can / When I’m aggressive, then I’m a bitch / When I got an attitude you call me a witch.” Again, this goes back to the same message as the previous song — if you step “out of line,” you’re a bitch — but we can proudly own that title. We can be everything and anything we want to be and when it comes down to it, it ain’t nuthin’ but a she thing after all.
5. “Woman” by Kesha
While we tried to stick to classics, we just couldn’t pass this new song up. This is the second song off Kesha’s recently premiered new album, and it’s quickly shaping up to be a fantastic women’s anthem. This song may be a bit harsh on the language, but the lyrics are nothing but empowerment. “Don’t buy me a drink, I make my money / Don’t touch my weave, don’t call me "honey" / ‘Cause I run my shit, baby.” For Kesha, the song is also about taking back control over her life — her recent ordeal with being unable to break free of a record contract that bound her to her abuser made headline news, especially during the trial. Seeing a woman, any woman, break free and take her life back is the epitome of fem-power.
6. “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” by Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox
You can’t go wrong with a duet between Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics, especially when it’s got lyrics like this: “Now this is a song to celebrate / The conscious liberation of the female state! / Mothers, daughters, and their daughters too / Woman to woman, we’re singing with you / The inferior sex got a new exterior / We got doctors, lawyers, politicians too / Everybody, take a look around / Can you see, can you see, can you see / There’s a woman right next to you.” This 1985 classic was released in the '80s, and with lyrics like that, it’s easy to see why it became so popular. The words of these two amazing singers carry through to this day when we’re all doing it for ourselves.
7. “Superwoman” by Alicia Keys
Being a woman isn’t easy, but every struggle we face makes us a little bit stronger. It is any wonder that we’re all superwomen in our own right? This empowering Alicia Keys track captures this feeling much better than we ever could: “Cause I am a superwoman / Yes I am, Yes she is / Even when I’m a mess / Still put on vest / with an S on my chest / Oh yes, I’m a Superwoman.” We all have that superhero suit, whether we know it or not, that we can put on when we need to. Just being a woman in today’s world makes you a superwoman!
8. “Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monae featuring Erykah Badu
Janelle Monae is definitely a queen, and her song of the same name deserves a place of honor on any fem-power playlist. This track, featuring Erykah Badu, captures not only the struggle of women in the music industry, but of black women as well. “Are we the lost generation of our people? / Add us to the equation but they’ll never make us equal. / She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel / So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal? / They keep us underground working hard for the greedy / But when it’s time to pay they turn around and call us needy.” This song has a phenomenal message that needs to be heard, which is why it gets a well-deserved spot here on our list.
9. “Unpretty” by TLC
TLC was easily one of the most well-known all-female groups of the '90s and their songs always carried great messages for the girls of the time. “Unpretty” is one of their most powerful songs and it’s all about teaching women to love themselves instead of relying on what others think about their outward appearance. “Never insecure until I met yo / u Now I’m bein’ stupid / 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.” The final scene in the video of Chilli kicking out the boyfriend who tried to pressure her into getting implants is brilliantly filmed and a testament to the power that all women have to take control of their bodies. The video also features Left Eye interpreting much of the song’s lyrics into American Sign Language, spreading the song’s message to even more people.
10. “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone
You’ve probably heard this song recently — it seems to be extremely popular for singers trying out for American Idol and other talent shows because of the power that is required to make this song really pop. Nina’s voice is amazing, and the lyrics of this song seemed like the perfect way to wrap up this list. “It’s a new dawn / It’s a new day / It’s a new life for me / And I’m feeling good.” This song is about a woman capturing her own inherent power and turning into something new and good for herself, and you can’t get more powerful than that.
We hope that these songs have found a place of honor in your feminism-themed playlist. If we missed your favorite song, let us know — we’re always looking for new suggestions for our playlists too!
Top photo: Janelle Monae, "Q.U.E.E.N."
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