“It’s a man’s, man’s, man’s world,” James Brown sang on his iconic 1966 song. Unfortunately, his sentiment is still relevant almost 50 years later, and the music industry often resembles a boys-only club rather than an equal-opportunity harvester of fresh talent. But through it all, there have always been strong, independent, supremely talented women to lead the charge for equality and show that they can rock just as hard as men — sometimes harder.
Belicia — Destiny’s Child, “Independent Women, Pt. 1”
“You don’t have to be smart and try so hard. You’re pretty and can marry rich.” These are words I hear from well-meaning relatives, but nope. Sorry. Not into it. I can make it on my own, and I know the ladies of Destiny’s Child will back me up on this. These girls reached success at an early age under the management of Beyonce’s mother, and they created this anthem to unify all the independent women of the world. Sure, gifts are nice, but Destiny’s Child can throw down cash on their own jewelry, clothes, car and house, because they depend on no one but themselves. In the same way they take charge of their own financial situations, they seize control in relationships, and if a guy tries telling any of the ladies what to do, they’re dismissed. While “it ain’t easy bein’ independent,” you can’t “depend on no one else to give you what you want.” So stay in school, make your own cash and set your own standards that you won’t lower for anyone.
Amy — Beyonce, “Grown Woman”
Beyonce. Girl power. They're basically synonymous. For years, Beyonce has used her music to tell the world that she does whatever she wants. She doesn't conform to society. She doesn't accept inequality. She's one of the biggest artists of our generation, yet she remains incredibly humble and grounded. Through her songs, Beyonce has encouraged girls to not accept disrespect, go after their dreams and more importantly, to love and believe in themselves. She "knows the world and knows who [she is]," and inspires girls to live life with the same confidence. And don’t get caught bad-mouthing her, otherwise the “Beygency” will come after you.
Amanda — Pat Benatar, “Love is a Battlefield”
With a feisty, kick-butt attitude and killer black leather pants to match, Pat Benatar was (and still is) an ‘80s pop-rock hero. Although many of her songs had an empowering, no-nonsense message, “Love Is A Battlefield” strikes me as one of her most influential hits. Benatar reminds women they are strong, even in the midst of heartbreak, and her powerful voice makes a heartfelt declaration when she sings, “We are young, heartache to heartache we stand, no promises, no demands.” Benatar is not afraid to admit love is something to endure and fight for, and she does not shy away from the pain when she concludes that “love is a battlefield.” The song itself is far from sappy, and the upbeat tempo combined with the echoey background vocals create a mysterious, awe-inspiring sensation. If comparing the chaos of love to a battlefield isn’t enough, the music video features a girl power dance-off against the men. Nothing is tougher than a girl with killer vocals and unbeatable dance moves.
Jim — Bikini Kill, “Double Dare Ya”
It would be a crime for me to not pick what has arguably become the most iconic song of the Riot Grrl movement. Sonically, it’s classic as classic punk can be, with Kathleen Hanna’s combative vocals piloting the band through buzzing hardcore guitar riffs. It would be a mosh-ready classic even without its message, but the lyrics issue a challenge: “Dare ya to do what you want, dare ya to be who you will.” It’s no surprise how deeply the passion and urgency of “Double Dare Ya” connected with women. To this day, it’s a textbook example of hardcore punk’s conceptual roots: aggression and pain serving as the creative fuel for a message that demands to be heard. Bikini Kill aim to subvert the status quo and make the world a better place. Start with yourself. Take pride in your gender. Double dare ya.
Kristin — Against Me!, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
Against Me! lead singer Laura Jane Grace has opened up many people’s eyes as to what girl power can really be. In 2012, when Grace came out as a transgender woman, many people were concerned about what that would mean for the anarcho-punk band, as the genre is not always accepting of women, especially transwomen. But Grace stayed behind the microphone, and in 2014, Against Me! released “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” an album she’d been working on even before coming out. It brought gender to the forefront of discussion and made Grace a spokeswoman for trans issues. The title track deals with Grace’s struggle for acceptance as a woman: “You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress / You want them to see you, like they see every other girl.” With “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” Grace showed that not every girl anthem has to be about our strengths. They can also show our weaknesses.
Jackie — Sara Bareilles, “Love Song”
Who says power anthems have to be about relationships? On her 2008 smash hit, Sara Bareilles sings about breaking the mold her record label pressured her to fit, relaying her frustration trying to write music in her own style that would still sell. “Love Song” was her retaliation, where she finally learned to reject the standards she was being held to. “If all you have is leaving, I’ma need a better reason to write you a love song today,” she sings, and to that I say: “PREACH, SARA, PREACH!” It’s also worth noting that “Love Song” earned Bareilles two Grammy nods in 2009 — more validation than she ever got from her record label.
Ashika — Sylvan Esso, “Hey Mami”
Sylvan Esso’s “Hey Mami” is simple in melody, yet powerful in message. The duo’s popular single encapsulates the feminist zeitgeist surrounding a 2014 viral YouTube video, in which a woman wearing modest clothing walks the streets of New York for 10 hours and receives various levels of unwanted, occasionally aggressive, attention from strangers. Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident, and Sylvan Esso sympathizes with all women who have been objectified with their chorus, “Hey mami, I know what you want mami.” It’s a wakeup call to all cat-callers that we don’t want or deserve the verbal abuse.
Bryan — Charli XCX, “Sucker”
Charli XCX doesn’t like to mince words. She opens her second full-length album with the gleefully defiant title track, a fuzzy, glam-rock blitzkrieg in which she exclaims, “You said you wanna bang? Well fuck you, sucker!” While the obvious implications of the chorus are sexual, the song is also a giant middle finger to every snot-nosed industry bigwig who didn’t give her the time of day on her first album. “Oh dear God, do you get me now? Wow, you’re awesome,” she sings in the pre-chorus, sarcasm practically bleeding from the speakers. Now Charli’s getting nonstop invites to every blue yacht party stocked with bleach blondes, but she’s too busy building an empire to accept. You missed out, sucker.