I remember the first time I saw Alanis Morissette. It was her music video for You Oughta Know. Her hair was long and black, the image was blurry, but most of all, she was angry. You could feel it in the slashing tone of her voice, the irregular movements of her body, and the lyrics, so fiercely telling off her former lover. And as a little girl, that left an impression. I couldn’t recall ever seeing a woman as unfiltered and pissed off as she was, swinging her unruly hair against the desert, which reflected the simmering heat of her rage. Watching Alanis made me feel strong. That moment helped me recognize how music could be a source of empowerment.
And this is how I feel about a lot of feminist anthems that have made their way into the female psyche. Songs like Chaka Khan’s I’m Every Woman to Christina Aguilera’s Fighter and Sia singing Titanium can get me pumped into a feminist super version of myself. But there’s something about that first Alanis song and many of the songs that came out around that time. Perhaps it has to do with my own growth through innocent girlhood at this time, but the female songs that blossomed in the 1990s can’t be matched.
So, I’m going to share my favorite bad ass female songs in case you need the occasional power ballad that really will get you shaking your fists in the air.
Bitch – Meredith Brooks
Before this song, I had never heard the word “bitch” used as a compliment. It was always an easy slur to spew out whenever a woman wasn’t easy going or spoke her mind. This song takes hold of that insult and reframes it as a kickass man-eating mantra. God, I love this song.
Strong Enough – Cheryl Crow
Ugh. This song speaks for itself.
Hold On – Wilson Phillips
If you saw how many times I pump my fists to this song, you’d be embarrassed for me. This isn’t a ballad, it’s an anthem for life. With golden lyrics like “no one can change your life except for you, don’t ever let anyone step all over you,” you can’t get more empowered than that!
Man! I Feel Like a Woman – Shania Twain
Just because it’s fun, and she’s wearing a top hat with sexy men dancing behind her. If a feminist ballad can’t flip gender norms then I don’t know how to please you!
Torn – Natalie Imbruglia
About being raw, honest and exposed. This song always makes me feel heard and able to talk about being unhappy or used up.
Talkin’ About A Revolution – Tracy Chapman
Technically, this song came out in 1988, but as I heard it in the 90s, it feels of that era to me. While this song is about the poor rising, revolutions always get me wanting to stand up and take action.
What’s Up – 4 Non Blondes
From the grunge look to screaming at the top of your lungs, this song tells me not to hold back. If you have a voice, use it!
Wannabe – Spice Girls
The Spice Girls ruled the 90s, and as a group promoting Girl Power, it’s no surprise that this song demands a little love.
Criminal – Fiona Apple
Provocative, sensual and naughty. Despite her confessions in the song, she’s outspoken and frank, which I love.
Just A Girl – No Doubt
The first line, “take this pink ribbon off my eyes,” gets me every single time I listen to this song. It’s full of all the belittling phrases woman hear constantly, but it flips it all around with the angry, tired, sarcasm riddled throughout. “Am I making myself clear?”
Stay – Lisa Loeb
Why does it feel so empowering to sing about the problems within relationships? I don’t know, but I love it. It’s like I can feel the strength in talking about it and being understood.
You Gotta Be – Des’ree
This song will give you wings to take on any challenge with grace. It’s written like a list of wisdom to every woman and never ceases to move me. Pure brilliance. And did I mention Des’ree is a pillar of beauty and strength in this video?
Talk about feminist power ballads…Now I’m all fired up!
Did I miss any? What songs from the 90s really get you revved up? Share your favorite with me in the comments below! And if you want extra credit, listen to Sisters Are Doing it For Themselves by The Eurythmics featuring Aretha Franklin (and yes, this is a late 80’s song but I had to include Annie Lennox somehow!). Sadly Melissa Etheridge didn’t make the cut this time!