Bronte Coles, Deepa Alam and Abbey Lenton celebrate International Women's Day the very best way they can: by looking back on the best female-led songs of the past three decades.
1999 – Man I Feel Like a Woman, Shania Twain
“Let’s go girls!”
When I was little I remember being given Shania Twain’s Come on Over album, on a cassette tape, for Christmas. I can’t have been more than 4 or 5 but I managed to develop an inexplicable obsession for this song in particular, one that still lives on today. I would listen to it repeatedly, which believe me was a much harder feat than it is today because I was constantly having to rewind the tape to the exact point where the song started.
The song itself is what can only be described as a dance anthem for female empowerment. The country-pop vibes, laced with Twain’s kick-ass attitude makes you want to use that female prerogative she’s on about to unashamedly dance alone in your bedroom while raising a glass as a polite F-U to the patriarchy. And as if the song wasn’t already cheeky enough, the film clip takes it to the next level, parodying Robert Palmer’s infamously sexist film clip for “addicted to love” through a role reversal.
While I was probably too young to really understand what Twain was singing and dancing about, I know that playing this song made me really proud to be a little girl. Today, it makes me really proud to be a woman.
1996 – Wannabe, Spice Girls
The Original Girl Gang™, The Spice Girls showed us the real meaning of Ovaries b4 Brovaries, with the help of a killer catchy hook – zigazig ah! A study done in 2014 showed this song is actually the catchiest pop song since the 1940’s. With its Chicks b4 Dicks lyrics “If you wannabe my lover, you gotta get with my friends” (incase you needed reminding) was the perfect slogan to girldom.
Ginger, Scary, Sporty, Baby and Posh left behind a Girl Power legacy, which continued being relevant. The song was revamped in 2016 for a campaign called #WhatIReallyWant released by Project Everyone pushing for better quality education for women, equal pay for equal work and an end to gender-based violence and child marriage.
I remember listening to this tune all through my childhood (I didn’t realise this song was as old as me). But regardless, this song is just so youthful. The song completely refreshed British pop music, and still is counted within my Best Bangerz™ list to pull out at parties. I remember dancing it to it so hard with my girl group when I was 6 years old, and honestly, at 20 years old can’t say much has changed.
1996 – Say You’ll Be There, Spice Girls
So damn nice, you’ve gotta say it twice: the Spice Girls are so iconic that they were selected multiple times for this list. ‘Say You’ll Be There’ is not only my favourite song of the ‘90s, I deadset think it is one of the best Pop songs ever written. Relatively down tempo, incredibly memorable lyrics, and a harmonica solo?!?!?! ‘Say You’ll Be There’ is solid from start to finish. The Spice Girls are manufactured pop at its absolute finest. I feel like today’s commercial music industry is so afraid of coming across as contrived, that we’ve lost the fun. I don’t want another acoustic cover of a Robyn song, I want to see you dance!
‘Wannabe’ and ‘Say You’ll Be There’ are the opening two tracks on their debut album Spice (name a more iconic duo), and it is not all that often that an album opener will hit you like a wrecking ball like that. The Spice Girls have always been so important to me. They were marketed to young girls in the ’90s and 2000s, and told us that no matter who we were, there is something amazing about us.
“GIRL POWER’S COMIN’ ATCHA!”
2006 – Dear Mr. President ft. Indigo Girls, Pink
Unlike most of Pink’s music, Dear Mr. President functions as a piece of political commentary. Channelling her usual rebellious and IDGAF attitude into an open letter to George W. Bush, the then President of the United States, the song touches on the feelings of disillusionment that began swell toward the end of his presidency.
With a single guitar providing the accompanying music, the stripped back style elegantly highlights the lyrics, through which Pink is critical of a number of Bush’s shortcomings. Specifically she shuns his actions in regards to the Iraq war, his disregard for the lower classes struggling on minimum wage as well as his attitude toward gay and women’s rights movements, asking “what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?”
From her blatant questioning to the exquisite harmonising from the Indigo Girls, not to mention the gusto of an emotional pink belting out “whiskey and cocaine” (a moment of silence please), this song has on more than one occasion brought tears to my eyes. Since this song was first released, America, and the world, have been blessed with 8 years of Barack Obama. But now, more than ever, America needs this song.
2004 – Cool, Gwen Stefani
I forgot this song existed until I was watching the indie-drama film Somewhere. I remember being so shook when I heard this song as Elle Fanning was ice-skating while this song was playing in the rink. It hit me so hard with nostalgia and I was so thankful I had found it again; the only feeling I can relate it to is when you find money you didn’t know you misplaced, but instead the money isn’t money, it’s a cupcake that’s gone stale, but not too stale so you can still eat it. Either way, in the end you’re left feeling not happy, but definitely not sad either.
This single was a change of tone from others released from her solo album ‘Love, Angel, Music, Baby’. A refreshing change to her Madonna-esque, pop/hip-hop, this-shit-is-bananas trademark, she showed us a softer side to her with sweet hymn about post breakup friendships (they actually exist! [If your ex isn’t a total tool]).
This synthpop, new-wave track is both sparkly and heart-breaking. A simple tune opening with 80s-synth keyboards and electric guitar has the sultriness, yet the vulnerability added with her voice to grab even the most apathetic.
2006 – Fergalicious, Fergie
Nothings SCREAMS 2000s louder than the Black Eyed Peas. Pushing out hit after hit, was there ever a So Fresh CD released without the super group? I was always mystified by Fergie’s humps and lady lumps, even well before I worked out what ‘mixing milk with Coco Pops’ was. In fact, I still don’t know what that means…
In 2006, Fergie went it alone with an astonishing solo album. Off The Dutchess came an impressive number of successful singles. ‘London Bridge’, ‘Glamourous’ and ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ all claimed the top spot on the US Charts. ‘Clumsy’ and ‘Fergalicious’ claiming second. And how good is Fergalicious???
Dedicating a song to one’s own greatness is nothing short of honourable. The rap is killer, and the wordplay is sharp. I dare you to show me anything that’s thinner than her eyebrows and thicker than her beats.
2011 – Video Games, Lana Del Rey
Video games was my first taste of Lana Del Rey. With a voice so hauntingly sweet that it’s almost hypnotic, I quickly fell in love with her entire catalogue. However, Video Games always stood out to me as one of her most relatable pieces of work; a song about an internal struggle between being so content with life, yet discontent at the same time, because we’re always told that there’s something better out there for us. The theme of the song is one of basic human nature that even as a 15 year old I found I could relate to the lyrics despite not yet knowing what it was like to be so in love with someone that merely sitting around watching them play video games for hours on end could be your sole source of happiness, the honesty in her lyrics and made me feel like I did. When coupled with the melancholy undertones in the music, the song becomes oddly comforting, because in a way it makes you realise you’re not alone in this perpetual struggle between content/discontent.
2013 – Buzzcut Season, Lorde
The album Pure Heroine, released when Lorde was only 15 years of age, deserves so much praise. Referred to “the future of music” by David Bowie, it was an easy pick that the track for this decade had to come from our girl next-door. Just choosing which track was the difficulty. Through her moody and haunting anaesthised pop, she was creating such intricate songs that only revealed more layers with each listen. She became the elegant spokesperson for post-digital suburban ordinariness and a backseat on wasted youth culture.
Buzzcut season though, is a stellar example of what makes Lorde so enthralling. She explained in an interview for Rookie that this song was about her summer memories, and the soft electropop piano clearly sounds like nostalgia.
However, the production wasn’t the tipping factor on why this song is my gem of the decade. Lyrically, the song talks about the ridiculousness of modern life, and romanticises the ordinary and everyday experiences to be so beautiful. “We ride the bus with the knees pulled in / People should see how we’re living”, just sounds like a recount of a life we all know and live, but this girl has a way of making you yearn for it.
With all the limelight and acclaim Lorde receives, she is still underrated for a girl with her capacity and her age. Her agile voice changes octaves in moments, her production is always tantalising, her lyrics are poetry and social commentary, her best friends’ include Taylor Swift and she’s only 20 years old. She’s got so much juice left in the tank and I can’t wait to wither old with her tunes.
2016 – Hold Up, Beyonce
Beyonce is not just the queen of now, she was also the queen of the noughties. Oh and the queen of the late nineties as well! Of the millions and millions of years of this planet, do you ever stop to think how fortunate we all are to exist at the same time as Beyonce? But of her incredible and wide-spanning career, last year really changed the game for the entire music industry. Lemonade was unprecedented. More than an album, it was an odyssey. An exercise in story telling like we’ve never seen before. Video killed the radio star, and Beyonce killed the game. ‘Hold Up’ was a highlight: honest, brutal and absolutely shimmering. What did we do to deserve this song?
I could go on and on about this artist, but in the spirit of International Women’s Day, why don’t we leave this summary to another great performer diggin’ Beyonce..“But my artist of my life is Beyoncé. And this album to me, the “Lemonade” album, is just so monumental. Beyoncé, it’s so monumental. And so well thought out, and so beautiful and soul-baring and we all got to see another side to you that you don’t always let us see.” -Adele