Music has evolved into something more than a form of entertainment. It has become a vehicle for critiques and social change. In the global fight to end Violence Against Women (VAW), music works in unique ways.
Through music, those whose lives have been touched by violence tell stories that resonate deep within the listener’s soul. One song can inspire someone to seek help, or can remind a survivor that healing is possible. Music can empower women to find strength to overcome obstacles, embrace their differences, and love themselves unconditionally.
As music continues to educate, enlighten, and help with the social change needed to stop VAW, The Pixel Project presents our 2014 selection of 16 songs about or related to VAW and women’s empowerment. Our selection spans an assortment of genres and a variety of artistes. These diverse songs reflect on abuse and VAW, send messages of hope, and empower women everywhere.
Without further ado, here is this year’s selection of 16 songs presented in alphabetical order. We hope they inspire and move you as much as they have inspired and moved us.
Written and compiled by Rebecca DeLuca; Additional song selections by Regina Yau and Crystal Smith.
Song Number 1: Broken Girl – Matthew West
Matthew West’s “Broken Girl” is a song about child abuse and the everlasting effect is has on a person. Letters and confessions about abuse by West’s fans inspired “Broken Girl.” “Anybody who sent me their story that dealt with the topic of abuse,” West said, “that’s their song.”
Estelle and Janelle Monáe came together to create the female empowerment anthem “Do My Thing.” The song encourages women to surpass expectations and defy stereotypes, and make no apologies while doing it: If you are expecting me to give you an apology / For being nothing that you used to, used to / Well go on right ahead and wait / Hold your breath and concentrate / Keep holding till your face turns blue.
Song Number 3: Fixing Her Hair – Ani DiFranco
In “Fixing Her Hair,” DiFranco tells a story of a woman changing herself for a romantic relationship: She bends her breath when she talks to him / I can see her features begin to blur / as she pours herself into the mold he made for her. DiFranco is hoping for a revolution, and reminds all listeners to stay true to themselves and demand their worth.
Song Number 4: Girl in a Country Song – Maddie & Tae
Teenage songwriting duo Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye used their debut single to challenge the popular “bro” themes in country music: Like a girl in a country song / How in the world did it go so wrong? / Like all we’re good for / Is looking good for you and your friends on the weekend / Nothing more. “We cannot live up to those expectations,” Maddie said about the stereotypes of women today’s chart-topping hits.
Song Number 5: Girl on Fire – Alicia Keys
“Girl on Fire” celebrates strong, passionate women. Keys sings about a girl who enthralls everyone around her with her strength: Everybody stares, as she goes by / ‘Cause they can see the flame that’s in her eyes / Watch her when she’s lighting up the night.
Song Number 6: Hero – Mariah Carey
Deemed by many as her signature song, Mariah Carey’s “Hero” reminds audiences of the strength that lies within them: So when you feel like hope is gone / Look inside you and be strong / And you’ll finally see the truth / That a hero lies in you. Carey receives letters from listeners who have realised they can be their own heroes after hearing to the song. “That’s an unexplainable feeling,” Carey said in an interview with Fred Bronson. “Like I’ve done something with my life. It meant something to someone.”
Jennifer Nettles’ “His Hands” begins as a story of love and passion, before turning into a story of abuse. “When you start to hear the second chorus, you realise: ‘This is a completely different his hands on me than I originally thought,’” Nettles said. Written as a duet between two abused women, they express the promises their abusers made, and encourage each other to get out: Yeah I should have known better when the last three times he swore / that he would never lay another finger on me but the truth’s on my face.
Song Number 8: I Love Myself Today – Bif Naked
In “I Love Myself Today,” Bif Naked sings about making the decision to leave an unhealthy relationship. Once alone, she falls in love with herself and realises she will survive: I love myself today / Not like yesterday / I’m cool, I’m calm / I’m gonna be okay!
Song Number 9: Keep Holding On – Avril Lavigne
Avril Lavigne’s song “Keep Holding On” is about supporting people going through troubling times. Lavigne sings about staying strong when situations look inescapable: I’ll be by your side, you know I’ll take your hand / When it gets cold / And it feels like the end / There’s no place to go / You know I won’t give in.
Song Number 10: On Fraternity – Default Genders
James Brooks of Default Genders wrote “On Fraternity” to call out rape-culture, and his male peers who support a system where other people are victims. “This is a song about why it is worth fighting fearlessly against a patriarchal world where women are second class citizens,” Brooks said.
Song Number 11: Play On – Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood believed “Play On” would be an anthem for people facing adversity or hard times. “Whenever stuff goes wrong, you’ve just got to get up in the morning and you’ve got to play on, finish your song, finish what you started, even when things don’t look good,” Underwood told AOL’s The Boot about the song’s lyrics: Cause you’re going to make mistakes / It’s always worth the sacrifice / Even when you’re wrong / Play on.
Song Number 12: Remember That – Jessica Simpson
Jessica Simpson’s “Remember That” acknowledges the pattern of abuse that many women experience: When your phone keeps ringing all night long / And that same old weakness gets so strong that you’re helpless / Remember that. Simpson tells her fans that they deserve better, and encourages them to leave abusive relationships.
Song Number 13: Rescue – Yuna
Malaysian-born singer songwriter Yuna wrote “Rescue” for a friend who overcame hard times and came out happier and stronger: She said a little prayer, she found herself / Yeah she’s got light in her face / She don’t need no rescuing / She’s okay. “I wrote about all the song women in my life,” Yuna said. “I just wanted to celebrate that strength.”
Song Number 14: Suggestion – Fugazi
The 80’s punk band wrote “Suggestion,” the anti-rape and anti-harassment anthem, from the perspective of a female. The song challenges the idea that a woman’s body exists solely for the male’s gaze: Why can’t I walk down a street free of suggestion? / Is my body my only trait in the eyes of men? Concerned the song would not resonate with women if sung by men, Fugazi had Amy Pickering sing the emotional song in concert.
Song Number 15: Try – Colbie Caillat
In this empowering song, Colbie Caillat urges women to be true to themselves instead of trying to “belong.” She also challenges women to answer the question: maybe they like you when you try so hard to fit in, but do you like you?
Song Number 16: Who Says – Selena Gomez
In “Who Says,” Gomez encourages her listeners to feel beautiful in their own skin. She sings about her own imperfections: I’m no beauty queen / I’m just beautiful me. “I hope that the song really inspires my fans to embrace who they are,” Gomez said.