Uplifting songs about and by women
December 11, 2013 4:18 AM   Subscribe

Most of the music I listen to is by men, and about men. The songs I have from female singers are either somewhat depressing or about love. I would love to get recommendations for uplifting songs by strong women that are not about love.
posted by blub to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much any album by:
Janelle Monae
Erykah Badu [esp. New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)]
Joanna Newsom
Tracy Chapman

All of these artists have SOME songs about love, but it's not the focus of their work in the way I think you mean.
posted by UncleBoomee at 4:29 AM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

KT Tunstall - Suddenly I See (and quite a lot of her stuff actually)
posted by crocomancer at 4:32 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here are some from my recently-listened-to playlist:

Tightrope - Janelle Monae

Beirut - Yasmin Hamdan

Rien de Rien - Edith Piaf

ymmv on what constitutes "uplifting", but these all do it for me in different ways. However, if Janelle Monae doesn't make you smile then you might be broken.
posted by greenish at 4:35 AM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

Eva Cassidy's How Can I Keep From Singing and any/all Natalie Merchant.
posted by headnsouth at 4:39 AM on December 11, 2013

I Got Life - Nina Simone
Ain't Got No Troubles - Eden Brent

Also the Indigo Girls, Dar Williams, Jill Sobule.
posted by bunderful at 4:45 AM on December 11, 2013

Start with Wonder & you'll be hooked (song starts at 2:35 but the story is good too).
posted by headnsouth at 4:46 AM on December 11, 2013

From the days of yore, I am woman. From this year, I am Woman.
posted by vapidave at 4:53 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just introduced my daughter to Ute Lemper, especially her Berlin Cabaret songs and she loves them. Peaches is pretty strong, lyrically. I love Grimes but you may find her not "strong" enough (she writes and does the instrumentals for her songs but her voice is very soft and coy). Early Sinead O'Connor when she would randomly yell in the middle of songs about her abortions or political issues (but a lot about relationships too), I don't know if enough of her oeuvre is uplifting for you. Miss Platnium is awesome (I love Mercedes Benze). Lily Allen (best known for Fuck You) always makes me smile - she sounds like she is having so much fun!
posted by saucysault at 4:54 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Joni Mitchell - anything by Joni Mitchell. The album Hejira springs to mind
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 5:02 AM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

Le Tigre, The Donnas, the Ravonettes. OH! The Pipettes!
posted by bunderful at 5:03 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not sure what genre of music you are looking for. A lot of the suggestions seem to be from mainstream artists, Riot Grrls, or artists that started in Womyn's Music and then crossed over. You might want to check out some of the core artists of the Womyn's Music Movement of the 70s & 80s. Folks like Holly Near or Cris Williamson.
posted by hworth at 5:26 AM on December 11, 2013

I find Fever Ray darkly uplifting if you like Bjork. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dolly Parton's 9 to 5 fits your bill pretty well.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 5:49 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Shawn Colvin's Steady On qualifies. Her big hit Sunny Came Home can also be heard as uplifting, as can Kill the Messenger, and A Whole New You, though none in a completely unambiguous way.

Colvin's a songwriter with breadth and depth and real poetry in the lyrics; every one of her albums is worth listening to carefully.

Two other strong woman songwriters who write on broad themes to look into are Tori Amos and Kate Bush.
posted by bertran at 5:56 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Esperanza Spalding might do it for you too.
posted by bertran at 6:10 AM on December 11, 2013

Check out Tedeschi Trucks Band, featuring Susan Tedeschi on lead vocals and Derek Trucks on lead guitar. She's a blues singer, so there are naturally songs about love, but she is SUCH a badass. Not to mention Derek Truck's slide licks fall off his guitar like beautiful golden tears.
posted by Dr. Zachary Smith at 6:15 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gossip New Direction

Queen Latifa & Monie Love Ladies First
posted by brookeb at 6:23 AM on December 11, 2013

Oh good god. Kate BUSH. Yes.

Kate Bush can write songs about relationships, sure, but she can also write songs about rubber bands, machines that control the weather, Hitler (I'm not Godwinning, it's a beautiful song, one of my favourites of hers), how much she loves music, and she's an amazing storyteller.

She's a genius and one of my most beloved musicians, let alone female musicians, of all time.
posted by greenish at 6:32 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's a range:

PJ Harvey
Mazzy Star
Janis Joplin
Veruca Salt
Patti Smith
Belle & Sebastian
Mazzy Star
The Raveonettes
Cat Power
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Sonic Youth
Fiona Apple
posted by miss tea at 6:43 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anything by The Soviettes!
posted by barnoley at 6:43 AM on December 11, 2013

Behold, I have time travelled from the 80s to bring you the following recommendations:

Roam, B52s (also Deadbeat Club, also Summer of Love)

Our Lips Are Sealed, the Go-Gos (also We Got The Beat)

Get Out The Map, the Indigo Girls
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:44 AM on December 11, 2013

Q.U.E.E.N. by Janelle Monae
Shock by Ana Tijoux
Galileo by Indigo Girls
Work It by Missy Elliot
When We Grow Up Diana Ross
Paper Planes by MIA
Beauty in the World by Macy Gray
Brighter than the Sun by Colbie Caillat
Stronger by Kelly Clarkson
Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys

PEACHES, Grimes, Awkwafina, Azalia Banks, Bjork, Gillian Welch, Kate Bush, Dar Williams
posted by enzymatic at 6:44 AM on December 11, 2013

Since I mainly listen to woman musicians, this is just random stuff that occurred to me (besides Janelle Monae, I feel like you've got the message on Janelle Monae):

- M.I.A. (especially the latest album)
- Le Tigre and Kathleen Hanna's new band, the Julie Ruin
- most Nicki Minaj songs (YMMV I guess?)
- Marnie Stern (I haven't listened to her latest but in general she is pretty badass)
- Ke$ha (seriously - most of her songs are about partying and generally being unapologetic)
posted by SoftRain at 6:47 AM on December 11, 2013

Ndodemnyama (Beware, Verwoerd!) by Miriam Makeba.

Verwoerd was the Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958-66 who was one of the architects of Apartheid. The lyrics mean "Beware, Verwoerd, here come the black people!"
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:55 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kirsty MacColl
Tori Amos (though she tends to have a Marmite effect on people)
Erin McKeown

Also - Della Reese's cover of It Was A Very Good Year is one of my all-time favourites.
posted by mippy at 7:14 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Laura Veirs - Carol Kaye
posted by oulipian at 7:14 AM on December 11, 2013

Fantastic answers here so far! My #1 suggestion is Dessa. I guess I would refer to her style as... hyper-intellectual noir rap? She's tough to classify. I'm a Dessa evangelist, so forgive me if this sounds like an advertisement.

I wouldn't classify these songs as uplifting per se, but they are definitely songs for and about female strength and solidarity, and they were clearly written as missives from one woman to another: Dixon's Girl (lyrics) and Alibi (lyrics).

There's also The Bullpen (lyrics). Dessa has said in interviews that she'd rather be your tenth favorite rapper than your favorite female rapper, and that's kind of what this song speaks to, in my mind. She has a few other songs that are definitely about women, but they're quite sad and even mournful (Anabel and Dear Marie are the first that come to mind).

Here are Dessa's albums on Bandcamp: A Badly Broken Code - Castor, the Twin - Parts of Speech.

If you're OK with outrageously filthy lyrics, Brooke Candy is a straight-up amazing genius who will probably take over the world someday. Very NSFW unless your employer is incredibly open-minded: Das Me (video) in particular is an irrepressibly joyful ode to womanhood, and Everybody Does is pretty much just her boasting about how awesome she is (spoiler alert: she's really awesome).
posted by divined by radio at 7:14 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might dip a toe into country music. Women singers and songwriters abound. Dixie Chicks could be a good place to start.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:41 AM on December 11, 2013

Meredith Brooks' song Bitch made it onto a "girl power" mix I made for the cast of an all-women play I was doing at the time. And was well received. It does kind of talk about relationships, but it's an empowering approach - "I'm a real person and that means I'm complicated, just like all people are. Deal with it. ...But I know that deep down you like that anyway, dude."

Tori Amos' God implies that God's kinda falling down on the job and maybe a woman should take over.

And I know you asked for songs by women, but Peter Gabriel and Youssou N'Dour teamed up on a song about women years ago, Shaking The Tree, that is definitely about women (I want to say that it got unofficially adopted as a song by a women's movement in Africa, but that may have been apocryphal).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:52 AM on December 11, 2013

Whitney Houston's One Moment In Time

Gloria Estefan's Reach

Both were Olympic anthems, if that makes a difference.
posted by zizzle at 7:55 AM on December 11, 2013

Kay Weaver's One Fine Day never fails to pick me up.
posted by worldswalker at 8:04 AM on December 11, 2013

I'm kinda surprised that no one has mentioned Lorde.
posted by Kololo at 8:04 AM on December 11, 2013

Man by Neko Case
posted by cabingirl at 8:26 AM on December 11, 2013

I don't know if this is what you're looking for, or the exact opposite of what you're looking for, but here are some songs by Florence + and the Machine about getting beyond love:

Dog Days are Over
Shake it Out
posted by BrashTech at 8:30 AM on December 11, 2013

Lift up your hearts and sing me a song
That was a hit before your mother was born...

Yes we can can, Pointer Sisters
New Attitude, Patti LaBelle
Think, Aretha Franklin
Summertime, Janis Joplin
Pretty as you Feel, Jefferson Airplane/Grace Slick
Danny's All Star Joint, Ricki Lee Jones
posted by she's not there at 8:37 AM on December 11, 2013

Response by poster: Oh wow, these suggestions look great! Thank you all so much! It feels like a whole new world of music is opening to me.
posted by blub at 8:45 AM on December 11, 2013

RVIVR has both male and female vocalists. They made basically my favorite punk album of 2013, The Beauty Between. You should check it out! It's catchy, positive, and uplifting and it totally rules.
posted by capnsue at 9:16 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Every time I am in a sour mood and need to get myself out of it, I watch and listen to this ("Get Happy" performed by Judy Garland in the film Summer Stock).

Very uplifting. The song has some religion in it, but I'm not religious at all, and its presence in the song doesn't bother me, just as a caveat.
posted by dearwassily at 9:44 AM on December 11, 2013

Good Mother by Jann Arden. Song about celebrating good parents and the role they play in our lives. (I'm assuming you are ruling out "romantic love"... this is parental love).
posted by kimdog at 10:13 AM on December 11, 2013

I recently have really liked "Brave" by Sara Bareilles.
posted by luciernaga at 11:09 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I really like Laura Nyro, partly because I find the lyrics to be completely mind-boggling.
posted by ovvl at 11:48 AM on December 11, 2013

Nthing many of the suggestions above, BUT...
I'm a massive fan of Cheryl Wheeler, a funny, poignant, wistful, uplifting singer-songwriter.

Favorites include...
Estate Sale
When Fall Comes to New England
Driving Home

And, just in case you want a terrific song about wishing to be in love, she also wrote Arrow.

Cheryl is an extraordinary live performer. If you ever have the chance to see her play, please go.
posted by underthehat at 12:33 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Dr. Zachary Smith at 12:33 PM on December 11, 2013

Nobody's mentioned Ani DiFranco yet, so I'll go ahead and do that.

I just discovered Lorde, and I can't stop listening. She's so fab!

I did not just discover Janelle Monae, but I had to repeat the recommendation. She's that great.
posted by epj at 1:27 PM on December 11, 2013

Man, there are so many good female artists, I'm glad you've decided to seek some out.

Janelle Monae: "Tightrope," "Many Moons"

One of the best popular artists out there. The themes she sings about can be dark, but she sings about them from a place of personal power.

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings: "Fish in the Dish"

This group does amazing soul music. Many of the songs are about relationships, but this is one that isn't. And it is just tremendously fun.

Bjork: "Alarm Call"

You've heard of Bjork, but I don't know how much Bjork you've heard. Bjork's music is just chock full of personality. Even when she sings about romantic/sexual feelings it's not in a way that suggests she's defined by them.

Doomtree: "Dots & Dashes"

An "indie" hip-hop group that includes female rapper Dessa. This particular track is one of my favorites. Not all of the tracks feature female vocals but this one does.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: Just about everything? I mean, some of it is about love/sex, but "Do You Want to Touch Me (Oh Yeah)" is not your typical love song. Plenty of songs not about that, though, "Bad Reptuation," "Fake Friends," "Everyday People"...

If you will accept Spanish, Telmary's "Que Equivocao" (youtube video)is great. If you will accept French/Arabic, Souad Massi's "Ilham" (youtube video) is great.

Also, Yvonne Chaka Chaka never fails to uplift me with "Stimela". (youtube video).
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:37 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Concrete Blonde and Pretty & Twisted, both featuring the fantastic Johnette Napolitano
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:49 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am totally shocked that I don't see tUnE-yArDs listed yet.

Bizness is a good song to start with.
posted by hellogoodbye at 4:57 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I guess the upliftingness of some of these is arguable. But I think they are, if not lyrically definitely musically.

Natalie Merchant/10,000 Maniacs
Wendy & Lisa
Imogen Heap/Frou Frou
Missy Higgins
School of Seven Bells
Patty Griffin
Neko Case (mentioned above but needed more emphasis!)
Laura Marling (I could go on and on)
Meg Hutchinson - can't find good vids but you can hear samples - "Coming up" and "The Crossing" particularly
Clare Bowditch (though how tickling is meant to be uplifting or happy-making I am not sure)
Kate Miller-Heidke
I am running out of time to link songs so will just list a few more artists - Deborah Conway, Amanda "loathed by Metafilter" Palmer, the list goes on. Even "mega-stars" like Madonna, Sinead O'Connor write heaps that isn't about love - not always my cup of tea but can't be discounted!
posted by Athanassiel at 9:06 PM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


And I can't resist adding this stuff, because it's some of my favorite music with badass female vocals (it's not all women though), and it's energetic as hell, which is uplifting in a way:
Atari Teenage Riot
Cobra Killer
Love DHR. Heavily distorted d'n'b electro-punk is like aural crack to me.

Aaaand I guess my definition of uplifting might be a little different than most, because I find nothing so bracing as a splash of cold sexy electronic music:
Miss Kittin

Some but not all of the next three are about love:
posted by the big lizard at 1:25 AM on December 12, 2013

Kate Bush: Rocket's Tail is about embracing the hell out of being alive, was inspired by her cat, features backing vocals from Trio Bulgarka and guitar from David Gilmour, and makes me shiver and weep uncontrollably (in the best way) every. single. time.

Strong stuff.
posted by flabdablet at 4:57 AM on December 12, 2013

Trio Bulgarka and Kate interviewed. Well worth a look.
posted by flabdablet at 5:01 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

K. Flay raps about how smart and generally badass she is.
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 2:12 PM on December 12, 2013

Nellie McKay.
posted by bunderful at 5:09 AM on December 13, 2013

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