Earlier this month, people around the globe celebrated International Women’s Day by marching for their rights and protesting against fundamental issues.
Inspired by the day’s theme to be bold, we took a musical history lesson in some of the best political songs made by some of the best female artists.
The result is a playlist that showcases what girl power is really about; whether that’s going against the grain, refusing to be defined by society or highlighting taboo topics.
What’s on the playlist?
Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit
The biggest selling recording from the original bad girl of jazz was also her most controversial. Holiday’s mournful vocal made Abel Meeropol’s protest poem against the lynching of black people sound like it had been written especially for her. But to add to the injustice of its bleak subject matter, the song was banned from radio airways to avoid offending white listeners in America’s South.
Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam
No stranger to a protest song or two, Simone wrote this jaunty show tune in response to the murder of black civil rights activist Medgar Evers. Although its blasphemous title was the official reason given for the song’s ban across southern states, many promotional singles sent to the record stations were returned broken in half.
Patti Smith: Land
Smith’s song about a boy who is beaten and raped before slitting his own throat isn’t a political tune as such. But it was typical of the woman behind it; fearless, powerful and poetic… there was really nobody like Patti Smith at the time. Cited as influencing NYC’s punk movement, she also proved that revolutionary rock didn’t only belong to men.
X Ray Spex: Oh Bondage! Up Yours!
X Ray Spex may have sounded like a DIY punk outfit with added sax, but without them there would have been no Bikini Kill, no Riot Grrrl and even no Pussy Riot. This track’s message about refusing to be bounded by society’s rope was punchy and effective… just like all good punk songs should be. Up yours indeed.
Le Tigre – Hot Topic
The girl group it was okay to admit liking. Le Tigre bridged a gap between indie band attitude and pop catchy awareness. Their girl power anthem was an ode to forward thinking women everywhere, hammering home the point by name checking the pioneers who inspired them along the way.
DJ Vadim (feat. Sarah Jones) – Your Revolution
From the handful of MC’s that aimed to address misogyny within rap music, the most direct, refreshing and humorous came from Sarah Jones. A musical nod to Gil Scot Herron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, she gave her own lyrical spin on some of the rhymes that have contributed to hip hop’s demeaning portrayal of women.
Bjork – Declare Independence
Bjork doesn’t do things by halves. If she’s happy, she’ll scream at the top of her lungs. If she’s heartbroken, she’ll open her chest to prove it. So when she felt compelled to write about national independence movements in places like Kosovo and Tibet, she didn’t just lend her support but provided a checklist on how to form a self-governed population.
M.I.A. – Paper Planes
It was never going to be an easy ride for the daughter of a Sri-Lankan activist affiliated with the LTTE. But throughout M.I.A.’s controversial career, she gave as good as she got. Flaws in government policies were often targets in her lyrical firing range, with her most commercial song attacking immigration prejudice.
Lauryn Hill – Consumerism
Released at the end of a prison sentence for tax evasion, Ms. Hill broke her solitude by frantically rapping through every kind of political and cultural ‘ism’ troubling her. With rumours of new material coming out soon (someone’s got to pay those bills) the grittier sound had enough significance to suggest she might not be a one-album-wonder after all.
Downtown Boys – Monstro
Yes, it’s a band mostly made up of guys. But there’s only one member you pay attention to on this political/party tune. Not all the lyrics are clear, but when bilingual front woman Victoria Ruiz shrieks ‘She’s brown! She’s smart!’ over and over, there’s no mistaking that she’s a force to be reckoned with.