27 Empowering — and Feminist — Songs to Add to Your Playlist

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May 18, 2024 at 5:15PM UTC
There’s nothing like singing your heart out to a song you love, but it’s even better when the lyrics promote a message you believe in. Whether you’re picking a song for karaoke night or just jamming out on the subway, here are 27 feminist songs that’ll please your ears — and your personal morals.

27 feminist songs.

1. Run the World (Girls) (Beyoncé)

It’s hard not to start a list of empowering feminist songs without Beyoncé’s classic. Released in 2011, "Run the World (Girls)" was different from Beyoncé’s past sound; in an interview with Billboard, she said the song was “a bit African, a bit electronic and futuristic.” This upbeat anthem will lift you up with lyrics that demand power and attention.

2. I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor)

The narrator of “I Will Survive” is familiar with dark times, and this song is the one they’ll sing to get through them. Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” resonated — and continues to resonate — with those who feel they’re in the face of adversity. Whether it’s failing, struggling with a broken heart or even losing someone you love, this Grammy Award-winning song will help you get through it.

3. Like a Girl (Lizzo)

Lizzo has taken the music scene by storm with music that yells positivity. She’s got clever lyrics that have found their way into every teenage girl’s Instagram captions, preaching self-love, body positivity and confidence. The lyrics in her track “Like a Girl” focus on being an independent woman, starting with “Woke up feelin’ like I just might run for president.”

4. Hard Times (Paramore)

Hard Times holds onto the themes of “I Will Survive” with a narrator that’s going through a difficult period. The lyrics specifically sing of someone who’s experiencing depression even when there are bright moments. Yet with Paramore’s pop-rock sound, the song doesn’t stay in that dark place but moves forward. Lead singer Hayley Williams noted that writing “Hard Times” was a form of therapy for her and that the song’s about “acknowledging the bullsh*t of your own life.”

5. Might Not like Me (Brynn Elliott)

My mom sent my sister and me this song soon after it came out, telling us it’d be our new “girl power" song. With fun vocals and an upbeat track, Brynn Elliott’s pop song uplifts women who have ever felt bad or wrong for being better than a guy. The chorus sings, “If you don’t like girls that are stronger than you/If you don’t like girls that are faster than you/If you don’t like girls that are smarter than you/Well then you might not like me.”

6. Girl on Fire (Alicia Keys)

Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” is definitely a top feminist ballad of the decade. The song was originally released in September of 2012 and first performed at the MTV Video Music Awards alongside Nicki Minaj and Gabby Douglas. Since its release, “Girl of Fire” has seen two other iterations: the Inferno version with rapping from Minaj and a slower, even more emotional Bluelight version.

7. The Future is Female (Madame Gandhi)

Madame Gandhi made a name for herself before this hit song, speaking out against period stigma with a blog post about free bleeding while running the London Marathon. Feminism seems to run in Gandhi’s blood (pun intended), as themes from her blog post trickle into her music. “The Future is Female” empowers women by encouraging them to speak up and confront toxic masculinity. She sings, “The biggest threat is a girl with a book/The system must make room for all that we do/We’ve been bleeding each month since we gave birth to you!”

8. Love Song (Sara Bareilles)

Contrary to the song’s title, “Love Song” is not your typical romantic ballad. Bareilles wrote the song after being frustrated with her songwriting work; instead of trying to fit the standards of her label and pop conventions, she sat down to write something for herself, according to an interview with MTV. “Love Song” speaks of someone who’s going to do what they want to do instead of adhering to the rules, just as Bareilles did.

9. Love Myself (Hailee Steinfeld)

One of the tenants of modern feminism is self-love, especially when it means you’re not relying or dependent on a partner. Hailee Steinfeld’s 2015 electropop song speaks to this philosophy, with a narrator that champions herself — because she doesn’t need anybody else.

10. Bad Girls (M.I.A)

M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” uses hip hop and Middle Eastern influences to empower women with themes of sexuality. The accompanying music video, released in 2012, was shot in Morocco and features women covered in leopard print, with only their eyes showing. Along with M.I.A., these women hold machine guns and do stunts, much to the surprise of the men around them. The video was made in solidarity with the Women to Drive Movement.

11. Confident (Demi Lovato)

In the world of positivity, self-love and higher self-esteem, Demi Lovato’s “Confident” fits right in. The song has an intense energy, driven by drums and finger snaps so you’ll never miss a beat. “Confident” is about showing what you’re made of and being powerful and authoritative in your own skin.

12. Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves (Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin)

Annie Lennox challenged herself to write a “pop song that could be played on the radio yet was a feminist anthem.” She succeeded with the track “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves,” which features vocals from Aretha Franklin. Franklin was offered the job after Tina Turner turned the opportunity down because the song was “too feminist.”

13. Girls Like Girls (Hayley Kiyoko)

“There’s no female anthem for a girl stealing another guy’s girl, and that’s the coolest thing ever,” Hayley Kiyoko told US Weekly about her song “Girls Like Girls.” The electropop tune empowers young women and their sexual identity, preaching not only feminist but LGBTQ+ acceptance.

14. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper)

Cyndi Lauper’s single was an instant classic, reaching number two on the US Billboard Top 100 Chart. The upbeat pop anthem went on to receive Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Best Female Vocal Pop Performance. Since its release, over 30 artists have covered the song — from Miley Cyrus to the Chromatics.

15. A Living Human Girl (The Regrettes)

I found The Regrettes through their feature on the Hamilton mixtape with their cover of “Helpless.” Their punk rock sound is exhilarating, but what’s more exciting are their feminist, empowering lyrics. “A Living Human Girl” is the band’s first single. It celebrates women of all kinds, especially those who don’t conform to feminine stereotype. Frontwoman Lydia Night sings, “Sometimes I’m pretty and sometimes I’m not/So let’s take a listen hit me with your best shot.”

16. F You (Lily Allen)

English singer Lily Allen takes on a sexism, homophobia and racism in this hit pop track. According to NME and Rolling Stone, Allen originally began writing the song as a protest against George W. Bush but later admitted the song can be relevant everywhere; she made references to the English parliament elections while performing the song in 2009.

17. Q.U.E.E.N. (Janelle Monáe ft. Erykah Badu)

While “queen” might already signal women’s empowerment, Janelle Monáe took her anthem’s title to the next level. The funky, hip hop and R&B song’s title is actually an acronym “for those who are marginalized,” Monáe said in an interview with Fuse HQ. “Q” is for the queer community, “U” for untouchables, “E” for emigrants, “E” for excommunicated” and “N” for those labeled "negroid." “Q.U.E.E.N.” preaches intersectionality, ending with Monáe’s powerful rap: “March through the streets because I’m willing and able/Categorize me, I defy every label.”

18. PYNK (Janelle Monáe)

Janelle Monáe’s “PYNK” may be more focused on women than “Q.U.E.E.N,” but once again she’s making a stand for inclusive, intersectional feminism. PYNK is not only about self-love but also sexuality and what Monáe deems “pussy power.” The Grammy-nominated video shows a group of women dancing together, clad in pink fluffy pants that look like labias — yet there are also some dancers that simply wear pink or even swing a baseball bat between their legs. It’s gender-inclusive, queer, feminist — and catchy.

19. I’m Every Woman (Chaka Khan)

Chaka Khan’s powerful vocals soar in this 1978 disco song, and her performance shined in the music video where she dressed in five different outfits to play “every woman.” You may know the song from Whitney Houston’s popular cover in 1992, which revitalized the song when “I Will Always Love You” was still number one on the charts. Whenever you listen, this song is sure to lift you up.

20. NASA (Ariana Grande)

Although “God is a Woman” might be a more obvious feminist song choice, I love the themes in Ariana Grande’s NASA from “Thank U, Next.” Grande sings of loving someone else but also the importance of taking space for herself. It’s an important balance to remember, one she sings in a catchy pop tune: “Give you the whole world, I'ma need space….You know I’m a star, I'ma need space.”

21. Don’t Touch My Hair (Solange ft. Sampha)

In “Don’t Touch My Hair,” Solange empowers herself and other black women by standing up against those who think they “can attack people of colors’ spaces.” The song specifically calls out the microagression of asking to touch a black woman’s hair. She reclaims her own space and her body in the R&B/soul track, singing, “You know this hair is my sh*t/Rolled the rod, gave it time/But this here is mine.”

22. Pussy is God (King Princess)

At just 19, King Princess made a name for herself in the music world with songs that champion queer love and sexual expression. “Pussy is God” celebrates sex, romance and finding the right partner — it was co-written and written about her now ex-girlfriend Amandla Stenberg. Pitchfork wrote that this track brings “the once-private into the public, euphorically.”

23. Perfect (P!nk)

P!nk may be known for her in-your-face, aggressive vibe, and that’s exactly what you’ll get in this song — yet with lyrics that will (forcefully, if anything) lift you up. “Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel/Like you’re less than f*ckin’ perfect,” she sings. The music video, although controversial for its graphic depictions of self-harm, aims to help audiences struggling with depression and other mental health challenges.

24. Tears Dry On Their Own (Amy Winehouse)

“Tears Dry On Their Own” is Amy Winehouse’s second-highest charting single, second only to “Rehab.” The soul/pop song speaks of a narrator whose man has left them; while they may cry, they’ll work to grow and move on. “I cannot play myself again,” Winehouse sings. “I should just be my own best friend.”

25. Sit Still, Look Pretty (Daya)

There’s so much more potential for women than just sitting still and looking pretty. Daya tackles women’s ambition and empowerment with her synthpop hit “Sit Still, Look Pretty.” In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, she said the song was about “being a girl that goes after her own dreams and really fight for what she wants and not letting anyone get in the way of that.”

26. You Don’t Own Me (Lesley Gore)

“You don’t own me/I’m not just one of your many toys,” sings Lesley Gore in her 1963 track. At just 17, Gore sang of themes from the second-wave feminist movement, refusing to be someone else’s property or submissive to someone else’s will. The song went on to become a top-10 single and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016.

27. ***Flawless (Beyoncé ft. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

Beyoncé, empowering lyrics about women, a speech from a renowned Nigerian writer and Beyoncé? There’s not much more you’ll want from this 2013 track, which features two musical parts — “Bow Down” and “Flawless” — divided by Chimamanda Jgozi Adichie’s speech “We Should All Be Feminists.” “Feminist,” Adichie’s speech ends, “the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

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Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoeakaplan.com.

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