The Best Female Empowerment Songs


1989 MTV Video Music Awards

These days, there are as many fake female empowerment songs as their are Louis Vuitton knock-offs in Chinatown. Listen up, ladies: True girl power isn’t found in smashing the windows out a dude’s car, or said dude paying your bills, bills, bills. To be a true feminista, a woman has to exude self-confidence, self-respect, self-reliance, tippin’ the tightrope of sexy and tk and with aplomb. Finding a true female empowerment anthem can be like finding a gem in a pile of hard rocks. Here, it’s not about volume. Instead, we gonna break down the most magnificent songs over the past five decades that bring out the true bawse in Her.

“Respect” Aretha Franklin (1965)

Beyonce, I’ma let you finish. But Aretha recorded the greatest female empowerment song of ALL TIME! The Queen gets her props when she comes home. Ironically, this iconic song was written by a man (none other than Otis Redding), Aretha flipped the script as the strong, confident woman who balls so hard, she’s prepared to give her man all her money. All she’s asking in return, honey, is a little respect, so she can take care of bizness–all said and done in just over two minutes. Bow down.

“Lady Marmalade” Patti LaBelle (1975)

If you like your Marmalade tarted up with Can-Can pop drag queens, go with the cluttered 2001 Moulin Rouge version with Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya, and Lil’ Kim. But in 1975, Patti LaBelle and her original soul sistas [Nona Hendrix and Sarah Dash] brought brought the original feral punnany power to the scene. Creole Lady saaanging in French, “Do you want to be with me tonight?” Soul sisters ranging from mocha choco to cafe au lait were strutting down sidewalks knowing they could put it on ol’ Joe anytime. Plus, speaking French sounds so classy, don’t it?

“I’m Every Woman” Chaka Khan (1978) or Whitney Houston (1993)

How fitting: This was Chaka’s first hit since leaving Rufus to stand on her own. Written by the dynamic duo of Ashford and Simpson, Chaka’s video (pre-MTV) was a one-woman fashion empowerment show, displaying her in every role. Then, for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1993, a very pregnant Whitney actually pays homage, by calling out Chaka’s name and giving her, Simpson and labelmates TLC cameos. The jury accepts both versions.

“Ladies First” Queen Latifah feat. Monie Love (1989)

Her stage name means “docile” in Arabic; but back in 1989, Dana Owens took no prisoners. On “Ladies First,” off her debut album, the militant Queen spat daggers like “A woman can bear you, break you, take you.” Add the iconic Africentric video, with La Generalissima in flossed-out military garb, grooving with hard-hitting dancerse, amidst photos of  Harriet Tubman, Angela Davis and other revolutionary images. Monie Love also slayed dragon’s testicles: “I’m the daughter of a sister/ Who’s the mother of a brother who’s the brother of another/ Plus one more; all four/ Have a job to do, we doing it/ Respect due, to the mother who’s the root of it.” All Hail the Queen(s). Indeed.

“Tyrone” by Erykah Badu (1997)

OK, if you’re gonna go with one kick-ya-man-to-the-curb song, this is the joint. Bananas to think this song never made it to Erykah’s debut Baduizm. But the live record stands alone, starting with the first stanza: “I’m gettin’ tiiiired of yo shit.” As women praise-danced to Badu’s tale of a woman wising up to her trifling boyfriend’s ways, men were scratching their heads, wondering with the next “chirp-chirp!” on their Nextel two-way if they WERE Tyrone, or if they were gonna have to ring Ty-Ty up. That’s a powerful hook.

“Survivor” by Destiny’s Child (2001)

All due respect, Beyonce fans: You can keep “Irreplaceable,” “Single Ladies” and “Girls Run the World.” Rather than pointing “to the left,” equating an engagement ring to the keys to an imaginary chastity belt; or set up an unrealistic worldview (when US women still are earning 70 cents on the dollar and losing their reproductive rights left and right); “Survivor” is the true empowerment anthem in Bey’s hit parade. This Destiny’s Child song is relatable to anyone who’s ever been downtrodden or knocked down, and prods you push through the pain to get to the other side–whether you’ve endured major bandmate drama, or just need to finish a killer workout.

“Shame” by Jill Scott (2011)

Jilly from Philly knows a lil’ sumthin’ sumthin’ about making a women feel good (and, based on her other poetic lustful lyrics, a few good men too). Off her fourth album, “Rolling Hills” was a close second, which prompts women to recognize the power betwixt your thighs. But what tipped the scales was the sampling of Special Ed’s “I’m the Magnificent” while Jill belts out “I can stand on my own/ I’m magnificent/I’m a queen on a throne/I’m magnificent!” she turned the lead single into a chin-jutting anthem that dude is missing out on a good thing. So yeah, man, kick rocks.