“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain”, Bob Marley is famous for saying. Pain is insecurity; pain is losing your confidence. When I feel pain and I need a confidence boost, I go to these songs so that the world makes sense again.
1. U Know What’s Up by Donell Jones ft Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
“Better holla if ya hear me, cause Left Eye gon’ shine”
What better than a 90s classic to start the list? This was a hit in 1999, and remains overplayed on my playlist, particularly because of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. The video is unsurprisingly sexist, portraying a stripper, and a room full of men. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, however, acts as a very empowering figure in the video, and in her rhymes. Left Eye exudes feminine prowess, strutting down a hallway with perfect confidence, and an outfit that is just on point. In a world that actively dissuades confident, sexy women, watching Left Eye encourages me to be confident, no matter what.
2. I Am Not My Hair by India.Arie ft. Akon
“I am not my hair, I am not this skin
I am not your expectations, no, no
I am not my hair, I am not this skin
I am a soul that lives within”
The whole world is obsessed with the black woman’s hair. Women of every other ethnicity can do whatever they want with their hair without justification, while the black woman must consistently justify her hairstyle decisions. India.Arie exposes this double-standard in I Am Not My Hair. She tells the world that she will wear her hair whichever she likes, no matter their opinion. She demands to be respected for being a person, and not because of, or despite the way she wears her hair. Her lyrics helped rid me of the shame of my own choices regarding my hair: choices that were personal to me, yet inevitably open to judgment to the rest of the world.
3. Pose by Yemi Alade ft. Mugeez (R2Bees)
“If you sabi demo, make you pose”
Yemi Alade’s Pose is a celebration of unwavering self-confidence. The video is bright, with a bouquet of colours radiating from the women themselves. Their eyelids, their lips, their eyelashes, their clothes, their shoes, their accessories: this is a wonderful explosion and representation of female beauty in under 4 minutes. Nigerian music is growing ever more popular, attracting collaborations with American, West Indian and British artists, and although the lyrics to this song is in Pidgin English, it simply promotes the idea that a woman should be incredibly confident about her appearance. In all her videos, Yemi Alade teaches me that it is perfectly fine to flaunt being beautiful.
4. Nasty by Janet Jackson
“No, my first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet
Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty”
Janet Jackson is undoubtedly a feminist icon. Her 1986 album, Control, was a defining album in solidifying this image. Thirty years later, women’s rights have come a long way, but has further to go. Nasty is a song that preaches female power. Janet Jackson owns the stage in that video. She is a woman holding her own with the men, telling them what she likes and dislikes. They can either take it or leave it. Her attitude of self-empowerment in this video is palpable, and I am reminded to be fierce and strong too, especially when I deal with ‘Nasty Boys’.
5. Miss Independent by Ne-Yo
“Cause she walk like a boss
Talk like a boss
Manicured nails just sent the pedicure off
She’s fly effortlessly”
2006 was ‘The Year of the Gentleman’ according to Ne-Yo, as reflected in Miss Independent. A huge success, Miss Independent congratulates the boss bitch female persona. At a time when powerful female voices were first coming to prominence in television and film after a long hiatus, Miss Independent tapped into this mentality and congratulated said woman. The video is slightly counter-intuitive, as it suggests that only physically perfect boss bitches should be congratulated. However, the lyrics certainly give me the permission to unleash the boss bitch inside me.
6. Rock The Mic by Mikey J & The UK Female Allstars
“So, rhyming has never been a chore
Try a ting and you find how a lion makes a roar”
The U.K Grime music movement is booming! Back in 2012, this song was released and features Baby Blue, Lady Leshurr, Amplify Dot, Lioness, Mz Bratt, RoxXxan and Mickey J. The beat is on fire, and the video focuses on these bad artists spitting raw. It’s great to see female artists holding their own and making names for themselves in the grime movement. I believe the weakness of U.S hip-hop and rap was that it often left its female rap artists behind. Although grime has kept its roots in American Hip-Hop tradition, it seems to be breaking from the mould by embracing its female artists as well as it does its male artists, and without the added female sexualisation. If these allstars can be bad, why can’t I?
7. Power Back by Mary J. Blige
“So if you’re looking for the ratchetness
Don’t look my way”
Power Back was inspired by the film Think Like a Man Too, which is a sequel to Think Like a Man, based on the Steve Harvey book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. While I believe there is currently too much pressure on women to be the clichéd ‘strong-independent-woman-who-don’t-need-no-man’, Power Back belongs on this list, because it is a song about being said strong-independent woman in order to retain your dignity and pride in a relationship.
8. Good Enough by Empire Cast (ft. Jussie Smollett)
“See it doesn’t matter what you think, I’m still a man
Look at me
Open up your eyes, can’t you see that I’m good enough”
While this song is particular, dealing with the strained relationship between a homophobic father and his homosexual son, its title screams “confidence”. It is a song about loving oneself despite others’ opinions. We don’t live in a world that ever tells us we are good enough, just as we are, which is why this song remains my favourite Empire song.
9. Video by India.Arie
“But I learned to love myself unconditionally
Because I am a queen”
India.Arie deserves two spots on this list, because of her focus on complete self-acceptance. She expresses that we define our own ideals on beauty, instead of following society’s warped homogenised ideals. Video is a song about self-acceptance. India.Arie calls herself a queen. She sings:
“When I look in the mirror and the only one there is me
Every freckle on my face is where it’s supposed to be
And I know my creator didn’t make no mistakes on me
My feet, my thighs, my lips, my eyes, I’m loving what I see”
Every word in her song is placed perfectly to convey this message, that a woman is absolutely not defined by artificiality, but rather, her beauty is herself, and that is good enough. This is a healing song to listen to when the world judges us not good enough based on our looks.
10. Bad Day by Daniel Powter
“Cause you had a bad day”
Because sometimes you just have a bad day, and you need to know that that’s OK.