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10 Iconic Feminist Anthems

From Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” to Ariana Grande’s “God Is A Woman” – and everything in between.

Oysmita Majumder Mar 08, 2022

Beyonce, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and Ariana Grande

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On occasion of International Women’s Day, we’re ranking the 10 best feminist songs of all-time, featuring Ariana Grande, Beyoncé, Litte Mix and more.

10. “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” – Beyoncé

No list of feminist anthems is ever complete without a couple of Beyoncé tracks in the mix. Released in 2009, this powerful post-breakup track remains just as iconic even today. Shot completely in grayscale, the Grammy-winning dance-pop/ R&B number features a groovy click-clap beat along with the catchy ‘punching the air’-style dance move which has been largely imitated and referenced by global pop culture. Powered by a theme of celebration of individuality and getting right back on track following a cold breakup – the track visualizes Beyoncé’s bold and sensual alter ego Sasha Fierce flexing her newfound independence from an ex who didn’t appreciate her worth, hence making him regret losing his shot.

Acting up, drink in my cup
I can care less what you think
I need no permission, did I mention
Don’t pay him any attention
Cause you had your turn and now you gonna learn
What it really feels like to miss me

9. “WAP” – Cardi B ft. Megan Thee Stallion

I know what you must be thinking, but let me explain. How many times have we seen male musicians write lyrics objectifying and degrading women – reducing them to mere sexual objects as props in music videos? Some of these infamous “anthems” like “Blurred Lines” (incorporates: victim-blaming and dubious consent) and “U.O.E.N.O” (incorporates: date rape) in fact went on to become hits, yet neither were as hotly-debated or heavily criticized, as two confident, self-made women making music about verbalizing their carnal needs and asserting sexual dominance.

Evidently, women (especially black women) who have been hypersexualized for eons by the male gaze in the music industry, don’t have the right to assert a claim over their bodies and make venereal songs if it’s out of their own accord. This 2020 hip-hop hit hence sets out to break the shackles of social acceptability by highlighting and celebrating female pleasure and sexually empowered women. For what it accomplishes – “WAP” takes its rightful spot at #9 on our list. That apart, the track has some pretty interesting lyrics as well. See for yourself.

I don’t cook, I don’t clean
But let me tell you, how I got this ring

8. “Kings and Queens” – Ava Max

Dripping in royalty and finesse, this dance-pop number by Ava Max was trending on the Instagram Reels tab all through 2020, and rightfully so. One of the more modern feminist anthems of the decade, this track contains a sample of Bonnie Tyler’s 1986 song “If You Were a Woman (And I Was a Man),” and aims at breaking away from the “damsel in distress” image of women waiting to be rescued by their knights in shining armors. Instead, Max in quite luxe, Game Of Thrones fashion, celebrates girl power, demanding all the men to start respecting and granting equal rights to the queens in their lives.

The singer also prophesizes how a world run by queens would essentially serve as a better, more well-balanced and unified world, despite not resorting to war and violence from the get go. The biggest highlights of the track are her stellar high notes, the futuristic music video sets and the powerful electric guitar solo that we hear in the second verse of the song. The singer has become known for her feminist anthems, having previously released tracks like “Not Your Barbie Girl” (2018), which we highly recommend.

No damsel in distress, don’t need to save me
Once I start breathin’ fire, you can’t tame me
And you might think I’m weak without a sword
But if I had one, it’d be bigger than yours

7. “God Is a Woman” – Ariana Grande

This 2018 R&B soul/pop number, combining hip-hop influences – is a wildly successful feminist track by the queen of pop anthems herself, Ariana Grande. Meant as a tune for embracing femininity, interspersed with equal doses of Grande’s spiritual and sexual awakenings, this track enunciates the concept that there’s nothing more empowering than a sexually liberated female owning her libido, a factor that been used against generations of women to shame us into submission and obedience.

Complete with a gender-flipped recital of Samuel L Jackson’s Ezekiel 25:17 speech from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction by none other than Madonna, the music video shows the singer seamlessly warding off hate comments and is replete with cosmic imagery, Biblical references and artistic shots inspired by female genitalia. Upon release, the track drew heavy criticism from religious corners for associating the image of God with femininity and erotic imagery, and was branded as blasphemous.

With a host of powerful dance covers to its name, this is just one of those tracks to stir the inner goddesses within us and make us feel confident, feminine, powerful and sexy – all at the same time. What more can we ask for from an empowerment anthem?

I can be all the things you told me not to be
When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing
And he see the universe when I’m the company
It’s all in me

6. “Build A Bitch” – Bella Poarch

This 2021 dark-pop number by U.S. navy veteran-turned-Tiktok star Bella Poarch may have a lighthearted sing-song cadence but it’s contrasted by much darker lyrical annotations, satirizing the concept of a ‘build a bear workshop.’ Poarch speaks out against the unrealistic standards that society has set for women, and shows absolute, unwavering disapproval towards them. She calls out the savior complex often exhibited by men while dealing with women and also shuns the concept of perfection, asking women to embrace their flaws and not to finetune or custom-build their original selves to cater to the skin-deep fantasies of a few entitled men.

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The music video is just as empowering, set against the mise-en-scène of a manufacturing factory that promises to build men the “perfect” girl of their dreams as per their infinite customization requests. Enter Poarch, who’s initially marked as a ‘defective’ model and is sent for incineration because she failed to adhere to the male gaze standards. She however, manages to break free from this system. In the final scenes, Poarch liberates the other women from captivity and supplies each of them with weaponry, following which the “defective” female squadron vandalizes what’s left of the factory and then proceeds to take over the world, not willing to let themselves be merely chained down to their external, physical traits anymore.

Need someone who falls apart
So he can play Prince Charming
If that’s the kind of girl he wants
Then he forgot
This ain’t build a bitch
You don’t get to pick and choose

Before heading into our top five picks for this list, we’d like to add honorable mentions for:

Taylor Swift’s “The Man,” Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow,” Demi Lovato’s “Confident,” Christina Aguilera’s “Can’t Hold Us Down,” Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Woman,” Lesly Gore with “You Don’t Own Me,” Milck’s song “Quiet,” Fifth Harmony’s “BO$$,” Gloria Gaynor’s unforgettable “I Will Survive” and finally, Katy Perry’s “Roar.”

5. “Flawless” – Beyoncé

There’s something about Beyoncé and grayscale videos, when it comes to making chart-breaking feminist anthems. This trap-influenced pop record by Beyoncé is highlighted by a fierce monologue by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi’s TedxEuston conference speech, “We Should All Be Feminists,” which again, points out society’s unrealistic expectations of women, while exposing its double standards when it comes to treating males V/S females.

This 2013 track is equal parts fiery and outspoken, combining recurring sped-up, chipmunk style vocals with Beyonce’s much fitting angry growling and headbanging, as she continually chants the word “flawless” in the chorus – honoring female existence. The track also got a subsequent remix with a spitfire verse from rapper Nicki Minaj to further amp up the badass factor of the track.  

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”
Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices, always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
And we don’t teach boys the same?
We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings, in the way that boys are

4. “I Am Woman” – Helen Reddy

This old-school style soft rock track has been widely responsible for inspiring generations of women in actively taking up the fight against patriarchy and battling gender-based norms, to pursue their dreams and establish their own identities. The socio-cultural shockwaves first created by this 1972 track decades ago seem to influence and drive women even in today’s day and age, going by the countless comments of appreciation and stories of personal achievements still received by the late singer on her social media channels.

This legendary Seventies anthem helped reinforce the ‘Women’s Liberation Movement’ by spotlighting women’s limitless capabilities – and most of all, resilience. Of course, who can forget the iconic karaoke scene in Sex And The City 2 where the four strong, independent women out on a nightclub escapade of Abu Dhabi get onstage to sing this track, and are joined in unison from the audience by women of all ages, sizes and ethnicities who’ve found a unifying spirit vis-à-vis the message incorporated in this track.

You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul

3. “Most Girls” – Hailee Steinfeld

“You’re not like most girls.” Exactly how many times have we heard or even personally experienced this line being told and were expected to take it as a compliment? On this exact thought arc, this 2017 electro-pop track by Hailee Steinfeld offers a fresh and much-needed narrative on the ‘most girls’ cliché that has been a frequently wielded “power move” by the opposite sex, to assert their pseudo-condescending dominance and passive-aggressively bring down other women.

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Why? Well, because all women (of course) need to constantly be in competition with each other, and can’t be allowed to co-exist in peace. Here, Steinfeld shuns a lover who uses this line on her after a date, instead, opting to sing about how “most girls” are strong, smart and beautiful and should be lauded for their fighting spirit. The music video is vibrant and colorful, paying homage to women belonging to different races and professions and preferring different lifestyle choices –  respecting their right to choose what’s best for themselves. The infectiously uplifting vibe that laces the track is further enhanced with the array of messages referring to “Most girlsas ‘fierce,’ ‘committed,’ ‘relentless’ and ‘unstoppable’ to further enunciate the underlying message of unity in solidarity.

You know some days you feel so good in your own skin
But it’s okay if you wanna change the body that you came in
‘Cause you look greatest when you feel like a damn queen
We’re all just playing a game in a way, tryna win at life

2. “Salute” – Little Mix

The top two songs on this list are undeniably ones that have the highest nostalgia factor for me personally, and I believe for a lot of the people who’ve read thus far. “Salute” was released back in 2014; and as a wide-eyed, pop music-admiring eighth grader, I still remember how the track instantly piqued my attention after I heard it play at a school fest and essentially kicked off my obsession with Little Mix’s music.

Mixing intricately-stacked, layered vocal melodies, an electrifying dance routine and a fiercely empowering message, this pop number is lined with appropriate military influences, right from the air raid siren intro, to the marching band drums, the member’s military-inspired fits, the recurring and catchy “Salute, ATTENTION!” chant and last but definitely not the least, the iconic ‘salutation’ gestures which are incorporated throughout the dance routine.

In sync with these elements, the track seeks to “recruit” women of all forms and nationalities, to stand united in the war against patriarchy and urges them to break free from limiting, gender-based shackles. Though not as hyped as most other singles in their discography, “Salute” makes for one of the greatest Little Mix concert openers of all-time, and would become a surefire Number One hit if it was released today because of its stellar, avant-garde composition and production values.

Sisters, we are everywhere
Warriors, your country needs you
If you’re ready, ladies, better keep steady, ready, aim, shoot
Don’t need ammunition, on a mission
Now we hit you with the truth
Representing all the women, salute, salute

1. “Run The World (Girls)” – Beyoncé

For our #1 pick of this list, we have the OG feminist anthem that took the whole internet by storm in 2011. Growing up in a convent, all-girls school environment, this electropop/R&B track was a staple at every annual dance competition and became the first Beyoncé Knowles song I heard and obsessed over.

“Run The World” was, is and shall always remain one of the most legendary feminist anthems for generations to come. Sampled from Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor,” both the the track and its music video encompass a fiery military-influenced beat, the now-iconic ‘shoulder jerking’ choreography (which we recently saw revived in K-Pop group ITZY’s viral “Wannabe” dance routine) and elements that celebrate traditional African culture. It screams two things: iconic and empowering.

In the music video, Beyoncé embraces both her feminine and masculine sides as she launches into a dynamic dance routine inspired by Mozambique dance trio Tofo Tofo as she challenges and faces off in a head-to-head battle against an all-male SWAT squadron, with her all-female regiment right backing her up every step of the way. She seamlessly takes them down one at a time without wielding any weapons or force. The final, gooseflesh-inducing scene culminates as she directly confronts the (now retreating) squad captain. She then proceeds to to rip off his badge of honor and put it on herself as her army of warriors now stand behind her to salute their newly-crowned captain, in tandem. Since its release, the song has gone on to become an anthem for celebration of womanhood and femininity throughout the world, and reflects women’s illimitable strength and power, stemming from the relentless self-belief that we can achieve anything we put our minds to, and that we are not inferior or less powerful to men in any way, shape or form.

I work my nine to five, better cut my check
This goes out to all the women getting it in, you on your grind
To all the men that respect what I do, please accept my shine
Boy, you know you love it
How we smart enough to make these millions
Strong enough to bear the children (children)
Then get back to business.

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