‘Tis the season, everyone! Election season, that is. A lot has happened in our country since Trump was elected president in 2016, and this upcoming midterm election is huge.
In the past two years of the Trump White House, we have seen the emergence of countless sexual assault allegations in Hollywood and beyond and continued controversy surrounding the credibility of survivors. Trump himself was elected despite numerous allegations of sexual assault against him, and he has vocalized support for others who have been accused -- perhaps most notably, the recently-appointed Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Our country is in a time of intense social change and feminist revolution. Despite the great strides that have been made -- including the Women’s March and the founding of the Time’s Up movement -- the voices of women still often fall on deaf ears. So for times like these critical midterm elections, when legitimate change is on the horizon, here’s a playlist to keep you empowered. There’s a lot to fix, so pop in your headphones, get your ballot ready, and blast these feminist tunes.
“Thank u, next” by Ariana Grande
Following her very public breakup with Pete Davidson, Ariana sneakily released a single. Throughout the catchy, heartfelt song, she candidly and honestly says thank you to each of her exes (by name). She acknowledges the lessons they have each taught her and motivates herself to move forward. Perhaps the most touching line falls in the second verse, in which Ariana sings, “Plus I met someone else / We havin’ better discussions / I know they say I move on too fast / But this one gon’ last / ‘Cause her name is Ari / And I’m so good with that.” Use this tune to practice self-love and acceptance.
2. “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore
Originally recorded by Lesley Gore in 1963, “You Don’t Own Me” is one of the original feminist anthems. Recorded by a 17-year-old Jewish, lesbian girl from Brooklyn, the song juxtaposes Gore’s smooth, sweet voice with a stark declaration of self-worth and empowerment. Over three decades later, the song catapulted back into the public with an iconic lip-sync scene in the 1996 movie, The First Wives Club, starring Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Bette Midler. In 2012, the song made another appearance in an ad encouraging viewers to vote in support of issues such as reproductive rights, marriage equality, and equal pay.
3. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin
Aretha’s message here is pretty straightforward, and it has stayed relevant since its original release in 1967. All women are asking for is respect — something that many of us still do not receive. Show some love to our recently deceased Queen of Soul and declare your right to some R.E.S.P.E.C.T.!
4. “***Flawless” by Beyoncé
Queen B makes herself abundantly clear with her feminist message here. The second verse of the song uses audio samples from a TED Talk given by feminist writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie entitled, “We Should All Be Feminists.” Here are just a few of the powerful words: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man.’” Beyoncé and Chimamanda are both correct: we should all be feminists, and you are flawless.
5. “Polly” by Nirvana
“Polly” tells the dark true story of the abduction and rape of a 14 year old girl in Tacoma, Washington, in 1987. Amazingly, she survived and escaped her torturer by jumping out of his truck at a gas station and getting the attention of passersby. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain decided to put a feminist twist on the narrative, by having Polly fool her kidnapper into thinking she enjoyed her torment, making him let his guard down and escape. Cobain was an outspoken advocate for gender equality and LGBT rights. On one occasion, when he found out that some of his fans were spreading hate speech at Nirvana concerts, he responded by writing a letter on the liner notes on their next album, which stated, “If any of you, in any way, hate homosexuals, people of a different color, or women, please do this one favor for us — leave us the fuck alone. Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”
6. “Hey Girl” by Lady Gaga ft. Florence Welch
After watching the recent remake of A Star is Born, one can safely say that Lady Gaga is one of the greatest performers and musical feminists of our generation. But this particular track from her 2016 album Joanne featuring Florence Welch speaks to one of the most basic and precious facets of feminism: women supporting other women. The chorus proudly announces, “Hey girl, hey girl / We can make it easy if we lift each other / Hey girl, hey girl / We don’t need to keep on one-in’ up another / Hey girl, hey girl / Hey girl, hey girl / If you lose your way / Just know that I got you.” Send this one to the special gal pals in your life.
7. “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett
This one is a straight-up feminist powerhouse. Joan Jett’s signature wild vocals shine on the title track of her 1980 album, as she proclaims, “I don’t give a damn ‘bout my reputation / You’re livin’ in the past, it’s a new generation / A girl can do what she wants to do and that’s what I’m gonna do.” Listen to this when the patriarchy gets you fired up and you just need to headbang and throw some stuff around.
8. “I am Woman” by Helen Reddy
While Helen Reddy was pursuing her music career in the 1970s, she wanted to record songs that would empower women. Having been belittled by men in show business by crude remarks and general disrespect, Helen wrote and sang “I am Woman” to inspire women everywhere to stand up for themselves. In a 2003 interview, the Australian songstress explained, “I couldn’t find any songs that said what I thought being a woman was about. I thought about all these strong women in my family who had gotten through the Depression and world wars and drunken, abusive husbands. But there was nothing in music that reflected that.” Needless to say, her lyrics “I am strong / I am invincible / I am woman” have provided a soundtrack to the feminist movement since its release.
9. “Cactus Tree” by Joni Mitchell
In California in 1968, the sexual revolution had begun, and Joni Mitchell was an active participant. The mellow, acoustic strumming of “Cactus Tree” tells an autobiographical story about Joni’s various lovers during this time period. She croons, “She will love them when she sees them / They will lose her if they follow / And she only means to please them / And her heart is full and hollow / Like a cactus tree / While she’s so busy being free.” She cherishes each experience, but she doesn’t want a relationship. Joni sings about her conviction as a strong single woman who wants to explore her sexuality and open herself up to new experiences, defying society’s expectations for her to be a traditional housewife.
10. “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” by Against Me!
Given President Trump’s recent controversial proposal to change the Title IX protections of the transgender community, this one is an essential addition to the playlist. In short, the proposed revision to the Title IX rules would limit the definition of gender to “either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.” This song is the title track on punk band Against Me!’s 2014 album, and deals with lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s gender transition and coming out. “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” voices the everyday struggles of a trans woman who yearns to be accepted by society. In light of the Trump administration’s dismissal of the trans community, Laura Jane’s musical pleas still apply today.
11. “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac
For the witchy woman in all of us. Stevie Nicks started writing this song after reading a book called Triad by Mary Leader about a girl who becomes possessed by a spirit named Rhiannon, who was a goddess of seeds and maker of birds. The mystical lyrics describe a woman who “rules her life like a bird in flight.” Many want to love her, but she is out exploring herself. Play this while you cast a spell to fix our country.
12. “Woman” by Kesha
This one is a pumped-up, slightly humorous revamp of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman.” In typical Kesha fashion, she sings about her party-girl status, but this time she uses it to empower herself and her fellow ladies as she exclaims, “I’m a motherfucking woman!” She can buy her own things, take care of herself, and does not need men hitting on her all the time. After her case of sexual assault allegations against music producer Dr. Luke was dismissed in 2016, this anthem proves that Kesha has not given up on herself, and neither should you.
13. “Hard” by Rihanna
Rihanna knows how to write a lady anthem. “Hard” was released in November of 2009, just a few months after photos of the Barbadian singer’s bruised face surfaced and her then-boyfriend Chris Brown was charged with assault and criminal threats. Clad in military gear in the music video, RiRi tells us not to look at her as a victim — she’s a strong, independent woman who can provide for herself. She sings, “No pain is forever, yup you know this / Tougher than a lion, ain’t no need in trying.” Blast this if you need a boost of confidence.
14. “Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato
In this catchy statement of girl-power, Demi Lovato shows us that she doesn’t need a man to live her best life. To anyone who has made you doubt yourself, clap back with these lyrics. On life without her ex, she boasts, “Now I’m out here looking like revenge / Feelin’ like a ten, the best I ever been.” Sometimes you just need to take a break to remind yourself how badass you are. Demi does a great job of reminding all of us that our personal worth is not dependent on our attachment to a significant other.
15. “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra
Written by Lee Hazlewood in 1966, the writer originally intended to record the song himself because it wasn’t really a “girl’s song.” But Nancy Sinatra insisted she take on the lyrics herself, saying “coming from a guy it was harsh and abusive, but it was perfect for a little girl to sing.” Throughout the song, Nancy calls out someone for “lyin,’” “‘messin,’” and “playin.’” In cheeky 1960s style, Nancy uses the fashionable go-go boots as a weapon when she warns, “One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.” Put this song on for when you need a little spring in your step.
16. “Women Is Losers” by Janis Joplin
Despite the questionable title, this song is truly a feminist piece. With her classic wailing voice, Janis Joplin questions the patriarchy and essentially scoffs at the notion that women should be inferior to men. She makes a statement about male dominance, announcing, “They wear a nice shiny armor / Until there is a dragon to slay.” Despite the cowardice she sings of, she humorously ends the song with the line, “Men almost seem to end up on top, oh!” Put this on for a good laugh. Simply because Janis is right: the patriarchy is stupid and women are amazing.
17. “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
Although it seems to have been written as a response to a breakup, this song can relate to any struggle. Gloria explains, “At first I was afraid, I was petrified / Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side,” before launching into a determination to move forward. This is your Hail Mary for when all else fails. Despite all the crap in the world, in the country, in your personal life — you will survive.
18. “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” by Tracy Chapman
This one is a rallying cry for all of us. Chapman calls out those who vocalize a need for change but don’t actually do anything in the first line: “Don’t you know, talkin’ ‘bout a revolution sounds like a whisper...when they’re standing in the welfare lines.” She exclaims that the poor are going to stand up for themselves and take what’s theirs, offering hope for the future while encouraging her listeners to take action. If you are eligible to vote, take advantage of your ability to make a difference.
Listen to the entire playlist on Spotify right here!