Music has the ability to empower the listener just as much as it does the artist. For members of less-represented communities especially, music offers a confidence boost for those moments when they feel powerless in the world.
We’ve put together a list of 25 songs to help inspire people who want to live their lives as loudly and authentically as they choose, because regardless of who you are or where you come from, everyone is entitled to musical empowerment.
“Express Yourself” – Madonna
Originally written as a feminist anthem about independence, Madonna‘s 1989 dance-floor standard has since become synonymous with self-love and holding oneself in high regard. The song’s lyrics directly address women and urge them to not settle for men who don’t treat them like the queens that they are. In the years following the song’s release, it has been embraced by Madonna’s gay fans around the world and has simultaneously become an anthem of personal expression and female empowerment.
“Titanium” – David Guetta & Sia
Sia‘s soaring voice on David Guetta‘s dance-pop hit “Titanium” can make even the most timid person feel invincible — or, in this case, as impenetrable as titanium. Sia’s rallying cry of “You shoot me down but I won’t fall, I am titanium” became a unifying theme at the memorial for the Pulse nightclub shooting last year, where Sia teared up while performing the song.
?”Q.U.E.E.N.” – Janelle Monáe & Erykah Badu
Before Janelle Monáe starred in two award-winning films in the same year, she sang and danced alongside legendary soul crooner Erykah Badu in her “Q.U.E.E.N.” video. Monáe has stated in interviews that “Q.U.E.E.N.” (an acronym for Queer, Untouchables, Emigrants, Excommunicated and Negroid) was written for those who are ostracized and marginalized by the world we live in. It’s impossible to not feel galvanized by Monáe’s impassioned closing rap consisting of quick jabs of wisdom like “You can take my wings but I’m still gonna fly” and “Categorize me, I defy every label.”
“Born This Way” – Lady Gaga
In one of the loudest love letters to the LGBTQ community in music history, Lady Gaga assures all her fans that no one is excluded from Mother Monster’s love. The song’s message of unapologetic self-love and self-expression has since become a cornerstone for the contemporary queer rights movement; the song itself has become a staple of pride parades around the world.
“Don’t Stop Me Now” – Queen
When it comes to feeling empowered to live life as proudly as one chooses, no one’s attitude can compare to legendary Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. The theme of “Don’t Stop Me Now” is simple enough: He’s having a good time and doesn’t want anyone to stop his fun. With rumors running rampant about Mercury’s sexuality at the time of the song’s release, the song held special significance. The song has come to stand in for Mercury’s middle finger to all those who aimed to detract from his happiness.
“Stronger” – Kelly Clarkson
Original American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson has candidly discussed her mental health struggles as a result of pressure she felt to maintain a certain body image. “Stronger,” the titular track from her 2011 album, is a manifestation of how she felt after emerging from what she calls “a very dark time.” It’s a simple idea, albeit a powerful one: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
“No Tiene la Culpa” – Romeo Santos
It’s no secret that Romeo Santos lives up to his name: Most of the songs in his repertoire tell stories about different girls he falls for. “No Tiene la Culpa” differs from anything else Santos has done in that it tells the story of a gay youth struggling to accept himself (at one point even considering suicide) and his journey that eventually ends in happiness. In a spoken interlude toward the end of the song, Santos delivers the statistic that more than 30 percent of young people who commit suicide every year are gay. Little Manuel’s happy ending serves as an inspiration for queer Latinx youth who may feel like they’ll never see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Bodak Yellow” – Cardi B
Yes, whether you realize it or not, Cardi B‘s breakout banger is as empowering as it is electrifying. The hook of the song sees Cardi brag about being able to afford multiple pairs of Christian Louboutin shoes — a Bronx status symbol that can cost upward of $1,000 for a good pair. What’s more empowering than listening to an exotic dancer-turned-superstar rapper talk about being able to buy her own expensive things?
“Just Like Fire” – P!nk
P!nk‘s career has always been characterized by an underlying “f— you” attitude that runs through lots of her music. Her song for the Alice Through the Looking Glass soundtrack “Just Like Fire” carries that same sentiment of not letting anyone else tell you how you should act or live.
“Roar” – Katy Perry
Katy Perry‘s 2013 hit is a quintessential pop anthem about being knocked down and getting back up even stronger than before: “You held me down, but I got up / Get ready ’cause I’ve had enough … I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter / Dancing through the fire / ‘Cause I am the champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar.” Consider it a more empowering version of “Firework.”
“Go to Hell” – Empress Of
Brooklyn-based synthpop singer Empress Of released “Go to Hell” earlier this year, and it delivers a message as clear as day to all those who doubt her: go to hell. “Everyone around me thinks I’m going to fail, but they can go to hell.” Empress Of has never been one to mince words with her music: her previous single “Woman is a Word” is a feminist slapper, telling belittling men “I’m only an image of what you see / You don’t know me.” If you ever feel like people are doubting you and your ability to succeed, give “Go to Hell” a listen.
“Tell” – Le1f & DonChristian
Queer rapper Le1f’s slinky 2015 track “Tell” is addressed to someone who he sees struggling to come out, and encourages them to find happiness by living their truth. Le1f himself struggled throughout his coming out process, telling Genius he “couldn’t imagine living a lie.” Le1f sympathizes with all those suffering in the closet, having been there himself: “You should show who you want to be / Don’t be too hard on yourself.”
“We R Who We R” – Kesha
Pop animal Kesha‘s music has always been about embracing your inner freak and showing the world that you aren’t ashamed of that freak at all. “We R Who We R” is the epitome of that spirit. Like Kesha’s breakout hit “TiK ToK”‘s idea that “the party don’t start till I walk in,” “We R Who We R” confidently declares a similar sentiment: “Tonight we’re going hard / Just like the world is our ours / We’re tearin’ it apart / You know we’re superstars, we are who we are!”
Feeling Myself – Nicki Minaj & Beyoncé
Beyoncé is by no means a stranger to the empowering anthem: she’s proudly declared that girls “Run the World,” and that everyone should go about their lives knowing they’re “***Flawless.” “Feeling Myself” sees Beyoncé delivering a similar message, albeit in a less serious and more entertaining medium: a Nicki Minaj song. Nicki’s lines about being able to buy whatever she wants and being the object of countless mens’ affection is enough to make anyone feel even a little bit more empowered.
“Confident” – Demi Lovato
?The titular single to Demi Lovato‘s 2015 return to pop rock album oozes the confidence that Lovato sings so much about having. “What’s wrong with being confident?” Lovato asks with a swagger that many pop stars today could use some of.
“Wild Things” – Alessia Cara
“If you don’t like our 808s, then leave us alone” Alessia Cara tells haters in her smash-hit single “Wild Things.” The song’s theme of living unapologetically and taking pride in who you are can resonate with anyone, and serves as a mission statement of sorts for Cara’s career.
“Sissy That Walk” – RuPaul
“Sissy That Walk” is by no means RuPaul’s first musical message of self-love and empowerment. “Pick myself up, turn the world on its head,” the song opens against a dance-ready beat. And for those who may belittle and tear down others, Mama Ru has one thing to say (besides “you better work”): “Unless they paying your bills, pay them bitches no mind.”
“Brave” – Sara Bareilles
Before she wrote the music behind the hit Broadway musical Waitress, Sara Bareilles was encouraging all her fans to be “Brave.” The message is simple, but it effectively communicates all that Bareilles wants for her fans: “Say what you wanna say / And let the words fall out / Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.”
“Mean” – Taylor Swift
When we first met Taylor Swift, she was a little-known country singer with dreams of stardom and the big city. “Mean,” a country twanger from her sophomore album, addresses an unnamed hater for making her feel less than what she is, and for kicking her when she’s down. She resolves to achieve her dreams despite how he treats her, and he’ll live to regret it. What better way to feel empowered than to prove your haters wrong?
“Fighter” By Christina Aguilera
One of Christina Aguilera’s earlier hits, “Fighter” deals with Aguilera’s rocky breakup with an unfaithful partner. Rather than harbor resentment towards him for his acts, Aguilera instead opts to take the high road, thanking him for what he did: “It makes me that much stronger / Makes me work a little bit harder / It makes me that much wiser / So thanks for making me a fighter.”
“Can’t Hold Us” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Macklemore‘s rapid-fire flow through his verses of his 2011 hit “Can’t Hold Us” is enough to make anyone feel a little bit more awake. The song’s chorus, delivered by Seattle singer Roy Dalton, contains the crux of Macklemore’s verbose raps: “Tonight is the night, we’ll fight till it’s over / So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us.”
“Me, Myself, & I” – G-Eazy & Bebe Rexha
?G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha‘s track about riding solo is enough to make anyone consider never making any friends ever again. Over a relaxed pop beat, Rexha croons “I don’t need a hand to hold / Even when the night is cold / I got that fire in my soul.” With words like that, how can one not feel inspired?
?”Radioactive” – Imagine Dragons
Though “Radioactive” might not strike most listeners as the most “empowering” song, it does succeed in making listeners feel a little bit more invincible than they did before. One might say they might even feel… radioactive.