In honor of Women’s History Month, I present my personal top 20 girl power songs (20 because it proved impossible to narrow it down to 10). It should surprise no one that this list is heavily slanted towards martial anthems and 90s R&B. Turn up your speakers and enjoy.
20. BO$$ by Fifth Harmony
Boy I think you know who run this house.
This song doesn’t really cover much territory that isn’t already covered by other songs on this list, but any song that name-checks Michelle Obama has my respect. Their martial anthem “That’s My Girl” deserves an honorable mention.
19. Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill
That girl thinks she’s the queen of the neighborhood. I got news for you: She is!
Perhaps surprisingly, I’m not as into Riot Grrrl as you might expect. But obviously I can’t go without mentioning Bikini Kill.
18. Hard out Here by Lily Allen
If you’re not a size six and you’re not good looking, well, you better be rich or be real good at cooking.
Lily Allen has had it up to here with this nonsense.
17. I’m a Woman by Peggy Lee
I can make a dress out of a feed bag and I can make a man out of you.
Feminism can sometimes put too much focus on women’s ability to do traditionally male things. This song reminds us that traditionally female work is difficult and valuable, too. Which of its countless covers is the best? You be the judge.
16. Can’t Hold Us Down by Christina Aguilera and Lil Kim
The guy gets all the glory the more he can score, while the girl can do the same, yet you call her a whore.
It was a tough call between this and “Fighter,” but those straight-shooting lyrics elevate “Can’t Hold Us Down.”
15. Wannabe by The Spice Girls
If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.
I came of age in the era of Spice Girl hate, so it took me a long time to realize just how unusual this song’s pro-female-friendship message was.
14. Bad Girls by M.I.A.
Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well.
I’m supposed to be commenting on the songs, not the videos, but that video. Can we make M.I.A. the next Bond, please?
13. You Don’t Own Me by Leslie Gore
I’m not just one of your many toys.
You might expect that this song would have become less relevant in the past 54 years. You would be wrong.
12. Salute by Little Mix
Get your killer heels, sneakers, pumps or lace up your boots.
11. Just a Girl by No Doubt
Take this pink ribbon off my eyes.
A song for every girl who was ever left out of the treehouse.
10. Bitch by Meredith Brooks
I do not feel ashamed.
No one but Brooks could call herself a bitch and sound so incredibly chill about it. There’s no anger here, no defensiveness. She’s a bitch and if you can’t deal with it, that’s your problem.
9. Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benatar
Before I put another notch in my lipstick case, you better make sure you put me in my place.
Pat Benatar was the first woman to appear on MTV, and this song is dripping with rock-star confidence. I pity any man who made the mistake of underestimating her.
8. Survivor by Destiny’s Child
I’m better than that.
Yes, Beyoncé is on this list twice. This is a great song of empowerment, but what really makes it is the assertion that she’s not going to ruin her ex’s life just because he tried to ruin hers. She’s better than that.
7. Raise Your Glass by P!nk
We will never be, never be, anything but loud.
The ultimate misfits’ anthem by the champion of them all.
6. Video by India.Arie
Keep your silicone. I prefer my own. What God gave me is just fine.
India.Arie knows that only one person’s opinion of you matters: Your own.
5. Q.U.E.E.N. by Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu
Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.
It’s hard to pick just one Janelle Monáe song when there are so many to choose from. “Tightrope” explores the balancing act we all have to do; “Yoga” deserves a spot just for the line “You cannot police me, so get off my areola.” But nothing tops her self-love anthem, “Q.U.E.E.N.”
4. Freedom by Queen Latifah, Yo Yo, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, MC Lyte, Nefertiti, Salt-N-Pepa, Patra & Meshell Ndegeocello
I don’t give a damn if your eyes can’t see.
It’s no coincidence that nearly all the truly great girl power songs are by black women.
3. Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves by The Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin
So we’re coming out of the kitchen ’cause there’s something we forgot to say to you.
I wasn’t planning on including Aretha Franklin because it feels unfair to force her to share a list with mere mortals, but she sneaked in anyway, alongside that great icon of gender nonconformity, Annie Lennox. I base my life on the philosophy “What Would Annie Lennox Do?”
2. Run the World (Girls) by Beyoncé
Strong enough to bear the children then get back to business.
Let’s just declare Beyoncé queen of everything and be done with it.
1. It Ain’t Nuthin’ But a She Thing by Salt-n-Pepa
Weaker sex, yeah right, that’s the joke. Have you ever been in labor? I don’t think so, nope!
No one embodies 90s girl power like Salt-n-Pepa. In four minutes, they hit all the highlights of early third wave feminism, embracing both strength and sensitivity while giving shout-outs to female workers, leaders, and single mothers. If you needed an introduction to feminism, this would be a great place to start.
What are your favorite girl power songs? Tell me in the comments!