Women Write the Most Empowering Music—​and These Songs Prove It

Being a woman as beautiful as it is nuanced. That’s why the artists who capture femininity best span iconic punk figures, house DJs, rappers of the 21st century, country singers, grunge front women, and everyone in between.

In every era of music, there has been a handful of women quietly leading the charge, embodying the power and delicacy in a space that has always been predominantly dominated by men. So we have a few women-led anthems to give you a bit of a boost. From Blondie to Björk, Shakira to Joan Jett, here are our favorite songs that will make you feel proud to be a woman in 2021.

“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.

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“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 shit done.

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“Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways

A 1976 track that’s seemingly eons ahead of its time, “Cherry Bomb” is a 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.

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“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.

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“Bad Girls” by M.I.A.

We have M.I.A. to thank for this mantra for those of us who simply DGAF.

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“Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child

The iconic girl group pays tribute to the self-sufficient, self-motivated, and self-made women who live that “I depend on me” lifestyle.

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“I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan

Nothing helps you acknowledge your inner greatness better than Chaka Khan’s power vocals.

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“Wonder Woman” by Lion Babe

This is the soulful, groovy superhero anthem for our everyday Diana Princes.

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“WAP” by Cardi B and Meghan Thee Stallion

The cultural significance of “WAP” made it one of the best songs of 2020. Its extremely explicit lyrics make no apologies for their salaciousness, as Cardi B and Meghan Thee Stallion exchange words of complete sexual ownership, with Cardi even proclaiming, “I don’t cook, I don’t clean / But let me tell you how I got this ring.”

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“***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 bold lines of self-empowerment (“I woke up like this”).

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“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 motherfucking woman.”

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“Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

Rock ‘n’ roll icon Joan Jett makes it okay to live your life to the fullest and not give a damn about what other people think.

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“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 live her truth. (“High key, your dick is weak buddy / It’s only replaced by a rubber substitute,” she sings in a verse.)

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“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.

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“Respect” by Aretha Franklin

What do women really want? Aretha’s been spelling it out for years.

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“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. Over half a century after its original release in 1963, the track is more relevant than ever.

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“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.

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“The Pill” by Loretta Lynn

Historically speaking, country music embraces traditional American life. That is, until Loretta Lynn took great pride in breaking a lot of those confinements. On “The Pill,” she basks in the newfound freedoms that come with birth control, including making her husband stay at home while she hits up a night out on the town.

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“Tomboy” by Princess Nokia

Princess 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.”

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“Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys

Leave it to Alicia Keys to give you an instant confidence boost with one fired-up song.

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“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. Years later, its uplifting message still sticks.

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“Born This Way” by Lady Gaga

With this iconic pop track, Gaga inspires Little Monsters from all walks of life to live to their fullest.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“Don’t Touch My Hair” by Solange feat. Sampha

Solange’s A Seat at the Table honors her identity as a Black woman; and on “Don’t Touch My Hair,” she voices the frustrations of enduring racial microaggressions and reclaims her body and personal space.

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“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.

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“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.

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“No Scrubs” by TLC

You deserve better than the easy, sleazy guys. Let TLC help you brush them off.

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“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.

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“Juice” by Lizzo

Lizzo just makes us want to get up and dance with this self-love anthem. The flute-playing superstar 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.

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“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.’”

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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“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.

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“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.”

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“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.

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“Girl Blunt” by Leikeli47

Leikeli47’s “Girl Blunt” is satisfyingly simple perfection with a syrup-y smooth callback to the artist’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.”

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“She Wolf” by Shakira

On “She Wolf,” Shakira unapologetically warns about indulging in her animal instinct, howling into the depths of a pulsating disco beat.

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“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.

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“Your Dog” by Soccer Mommy

For all of the male gaze and suffocating ownership, Soccer Mommy answers back, defiantly declaring: “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog.”

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“Hot Topic” by Le Tigre

From Sleater-Kinney and Angela Davis, Le Tigre’s “Hot Topic” runs through a litany of iconic, mostly queer women to thank each of them respectively. The track acknowledges the ageism and frustrations that come with being a woman in power, but nevertheless, urges their inspirations to keep moving forward: “You’re getting old, that’s what they’ll say / But don’t give a damn I’m listening anyway.”

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“Hyperballad” by Björk

Björk’s appeal lies in her apparent dichotomies. She’s a soft-spoken woman who dresses and sings loudly and defiantly, and a musical mastermind who mixes techno’s intensity with poetic lyricism. On “Hyperballad,” Iceland’s brightest experimental pop star proves the power in nuance again, as she asks for more independence in a committed relationship. It’s a ballad that takes on what most ballads never do, centering on autonomy, self-assurance, and communication.

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“Land: Horses / Land of a Thousand Dances / La Mer(de)” by Patti Smith

Patti Smith’s “Horses” is a beautifully dense and symbolically rich 10-minute journey through the troubles of life via one of the generation’s most notable poets/singer-songwriters. Smith propulsively moves through the confinements and restraints that life seems to put on us, and then unravels them frantically, as she sonically fights for freedom.

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“Celebrity Skin” by Hole

In an era when garage rock was finding its commercial success (and subsequent flood of fleeting bands adjacent to the genre), Hole stood out in their obviously natural grunginess. Fronted by Courtney Love, the group’s biggest success was “Celebrity Skin,” which grapples with the idea of femininity, fame, and overexposure.

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“In the Party” by Flo Milli

“Dicks up when I step in the party,” are some of the first words that come out of Flo Milli’s mouth on “In the Party.” Straight out of the gate, Flo Milli brings nothing but unadulterated affirmations and attitude notched to the umpteenth level.

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“Free” by Ultra Naté

In electronic music, most of what makes the mainstream surface is business techno, but rarely do the Black women, who pioneered the genre and its sound, rightfully get their acknowledgement. “Free” is not only a must-listen for house music historians, but it’s a triumphant track about breaking free: “You’ve got to live your life / Do what you want to do.”

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Listen to all the songs in the playlist below, and follow Harper’s BAZAAR on Spotify. FOLLOW

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