Some of the most powerful songs—electrifying hits, moving ballads, or rebellious anthems—have come from women. The artists here celebrate their womanhood and what makes them different, inspiring us to do the same.
Sometimes, all it takes is one song to inspire—but luckily, we’ve gathered a few dozen. Whether it's International Women's Month or any month, treat yourself to a confidence boost with these empowering melodies.
"Run the World (Girls)" by Beyoncé
This is an obvious choice. Queen Bey's powerful, high-energy anthem is everything, from a crowd favorite to a straight-up battle cry.
"Nasty" by Janet Jackson
After Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton "such a nasty woman" in the 2016 election, Jackson's 1986 hit's Spotify plays increased by 250 percent, becoming an unofficial theme song for the incident. "Nasty boys don't mean a thing," Janet sings, but nasty women, on the other hand, get sh*t done.
“Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways
A 1976 track that is seemingly eons ahead of its time, “Cherry Bomb” is a relentless and staggering hammering of sex positivity. Amidst its dark, chugging punk guitar riffs, lead singer Cherie Curie, who was just 18 years old at the time, leans into every parents’ most antiquated fears as she shouts about hand jobs, virginity, and blue balls—all while adorned in a delicate pink bustier.
"Q.U.E.E.N." by Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu
This power duo shows it's okay to be provocative, vulgar and seductive in the face of judgement on this funky collab, which ends on a powerful rap from Monáe on equality.
"Bad Girls" by M.I.A.
We have M.I.A. to thank for this badass mantra for those of us who simply DGAF.
"Independent Women" by Destiny's Child
The iconic girl group pays tribute to the self-sufficient, self-motivated and self-made women who rock that "I depend on me" lifestyle.
"I'm Every Woman" by Chaka Khan
Nothing quite helps you acknowledge your inner greatness than Chaka Khan's power vocals.
"Wonder Woman" by Lion Babe
This is the soulful, groovy superhero anthem for our everyday Diana Princes.
"***Flawless" by Beyoncé feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This fan favorite, which includes snippets from Adichie's "We Should All Be Feminists" TED Talk, is a no-brainer addition to this list. It juxtaposes an analysis on gender inequality ("We teach girls that they can have ambition, but not too much") with Queen Bey's saucy lines of self-empowerment ("I woke up like this").
"Woman" by Kesha feat. The Dap-Kings Horns
Kesha has become a voice for female empowerment and fighting sexual harassment through music (like her moving Grammys set) ever since coming back from a grueling legal battle with Dr. Luke. On this feel-good track, the singer shamelessly embraces being "a motherf*cking woman."
"Bad Reputation" by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Rock 'n' roll queen Joan Jett makes it okay to live your life to the fullest and not give a damn about what other people think.
"Doves in the Wind" by SZA feat. Kendrick Lamar
Who else can better express how men don't "deserve p*ssy" than the breakout star who empowers side chicks, voices her relatable insecurities and can still be a total savage. ("/ ," she sings in a verse.)
"No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms" by Ibeyi
In this track, Ibeyi alternates lines with snippets from Michelle Obama's October 2016 address at a Democratic rally in New Hampshire. In it, the former FLOTUS berated Trump for bragging about sexually assaulting women—without even saying his name.
"Respect" by Aretha Franklin
What do women really want? Aretha's been spelling it out for years.
"You Don't Own Me" by Lesley Gore
This is the determined theme song for the woman who is in control of her body, her choices and her life. 55 years after its original release in 1963, the track is more relevant than ever.
"I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor
If you've been listening to this daily since November 9, 2016, now is not the time stop. It's the ultimate motivator for getting through the dark times.
"Tomboy" by Princess Nokia
Nokia, known feminist and advocate for self-confidence, empowers people who don't adhere to traditional "feminine" body standards with this song. "I make my own shit work for me—I manipulate the male gaze," she told Genius about the track. "This is my body, and you’re going to look at me, world, whether or not you like it."
"Girl on Fire" by Alicia Keys
Leave it to Alicia Keys to give you an instant confidence boost with one fired-up song.
"Quiet" by MILCK
MILCK's power ballad became the unofficial anthem for the Women's March after women around the world sang it at demonstrations around the world, and it went viral. A year later, its uplifting message still sticks.
"Born This Way" by Lady Gaga
With this iconic intersectional track, Gaga inspires individuals from the LGBTQ community and from diverse backgrounds to live their best lives.
"Bodak Yellow" by Cardi B
This is the ultimate song for the woman who's pulled herself up by the bootstraps to reach red-bottom-wearing success, much like Cardi B.
"I'm Coming Out" by Diana Ross
The disco legend inspires us to not just make an arrival, but to also announce it in the most glamorous way possible.
"Just a Girl" by No Doubt
Gwen Stefani originally wrote this song as an act of rebellion against her strict parents who wouldn't let her drive out late at night, but with its snarky lyrics satirizing the way society shelters young women, it had all the ingredients to be a punk feminist peaen.
"Don't Touch My Hair" by Solange feat. Sampha
Solange's A Seat at the Table pays tribute to her identity as a black woman and empowers fellow black women along the way, especially with songs like this one, which expresses the frustrations of being disrespected as a person of color.
"Just Fine" by Mary J. Blige
The R&B; queen imparts a lesson on accepting yourself with class ("So I like what I see when I'm looking at me/ When I'm walking past the mirror") and not letting anybody kill your vibe.
"U.N.I.T.Y." by Queen Latifah
The rap icon stands up for her fellow women and calls out abusive men whose wrongs range from street harassment to domestic abuse. "Who you callin' a bitch?" she retorts at the patriarchy.
"No Scrubs" by TLC
You deserve better than the easy, sleazy guys. Let TLC help you brush them off.
“Pynk” by Janelle Monáe
Monáe pays tribute to women’s bodies in this fresh and funky cut from Dirty Computer, her 2018 album where she celebrated sexual freedom. The “vagina pants” from the music video are a major plus.
“Juice” by Lizzo
Lizzo just makes us want to get up and dance with this self-love anthem. The flute-playing breakout star not only celebrates herself, but she also inspires us to do the same. “If I'm shinin', everybody gonna shine,” she sings in the chorus.
“God Is a Woman” by Ariana Grande
Ari likens women to divinity in this powerful pop banger. When she released the music video, she even dedicated it to “my fellow goddesses who work their asses off every day to ‘break the glass ceiling.’”
“Pussy Is God” by King Princess
King Princess, a pop up-and-comer and openly gay singer, also equates womanhood to holiness in this proud celebration of queer love and women’s bodies. The track challenges the taboo nature of the word “pussy” and embraces “the anatomy that has been marginalized through all of our history,” she explained in one interview.
“Girls Need Love” by Summer Walker
Rising R&B star Summer Walker calls out the double standard between men and women openly discussing sex and desires. (“Girls can't never say they want it.”) On “Girls Need Love,” she delivers an honest, sensual, and at times provocative picture of a woman as a sexual being.
“9 to 5” by Dolly Parton
Parton’s 1980s country anthem is a timeless classic that celebrates working women and calls out the capitalistic patriarchy, all in a day’s work.
“Nameless, Faceless” by Courtney Barnett
Indie rocker Barnett responded to her misogynistic trolls with this grungy track that shows how women deal with toxic masculinity and male privilege. Her chorus includes a poignant Margaret Atwood quote too: “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Women are scared that men will kill them.”
“Asexual Wellbeing” by OkayKaya
Rather than gloss over the intricacies of womanhood, OkayKaya states them plainly and colloquially. The Norwegian singer-songwriter delightfully fumbles through confessions of yeast infections and adequate sex, making music that feels oddly sexy and sweetly comforting, through its depressive tendencies and Jon Bon Jovi jokes.
“Poppin” by Rico Nasty
As women, rage and anger hold a different connotation. They're emotions that are considered "unnatural" and "unpretty," and add to the misconception that we're unfit for effectively processing emotion. But Rico Nasty pushes against that. The rapper uses rage effectively and decadently, shouting affirmations of self-worth and reassurance: “I’m a poppin’ ass bitch, let me remind ya.”
“Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” by Shania Twain
Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman '' works because on its surface, it’s just about going out, dancing, and drinking. But it’s the song’s underlying message of androgyny that nail it in (without alienating her country audience), as she sings about skirts and “men’s shirts,” while wearing a top hat and thigh-high leather boots.
“Girl Blunt” by Leikeli47
There’s not much to Leikeli47’s “Girl Blunt.” It’s satisfyingly simple perfection with a syrup-y smooth callback to Leikeli’s New York roots with a beat built off of the city’s litefeet clapping/drum pattern. Leikeli hops on only to remind us of her one rule: “This shit is a girl blunt. I only smoke girl blunts.”
“She Wolf” by Shakira
Shakira is hot, and she knows it and we know it. On “She Wolf,” she unapologetically warns about indulging in her animal instinct, howling into the depths of a pulsating disco backing.
“D.I.Y.” by Bbymutha
As a single mother of two sets of twins, Bbymutha’s sound is a swaggering display of female dominance and unadulterated confidence. The southern rapper bounces across the beat, demanding respect and loyalty over money and fame.
“Your Dog” by Soccer Mommy
For all of the male gaze and suffocating ownership, Soccer Mommy answers back, defiantly decalring: “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog.”
Listen to all the songs in the playlist below, and follow Harper's BAZAAR on Spotify. FOLLOW
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