Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images Beyonce fans can rejoice. The R&B superstar…
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10. Salt-n-Pepa, 'None of Your Business'
Before Azealia Banks smiled wide and announced to the world, "I guess that c--t gettin' eaten," Salt-n-Pepa offered us these words of wisdom: "Who are you to judge?" Old school hip-hop artists like this trio paved the way for forthright female rappers like Banks and Nicki Minaj by giving women permission to revel in their own pleasure and sexuality. In their 1993 hit 'None of Your Business,' Salt-n-Pepa make it pretty clear that women who enjoy sex have a right to be free from judgment -- and, even if you've never thought about the slut/player double standard before, the song's so ridiculously catchy that it absorbs you completely. When you hear the chorus, "If I wanna take a guy home with me tonight," just try to stop yourself from shouting back, "It's none of your business!" The moral of the story? When perfect pop meets politics, politics goes down easy.
9. Carole King, '(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman'
Every woman's had at least one relationship with someone who makes her feel awful about herself. That's why Carole King's '70s liberation ode to woman in her natural state still feels so relevant -- even in a time when Botox treatments and breast implants are on the rise among teenage girls, and when there is an actual definition for the word vajazzling. 'Natural Woman' is not only a recognition that life au natural feels good, it also suggests that when a woman finds love, that relationship should make her feel comfortable, natural and inspired. What an optimistic way to think about the oft-stressful and arduous processes of 21st century dating.
8. Aretha Franklin, 'Respect'
Although it was Otis Redding who wrote the song, 'Respect' is best performed by a woman -- in particular, the Queen of Soul. Aretha has just enough growl to make the song a constant act of confrontation and just enough sweetness to make her demands impossible for anyone to refuse. In this live performance from 1968, she belts out 'Respect' with such visceral energy that a tiny kid in the front row is powerless to stop himself from dancing.
7. Bratmobile, 'Cool Schmool'
Bratmobile take bratty to the level of art. In a tone that's cheerful and dripping with sarcasm, singer Allison Wolfe points out the hypocrisy of a guy who's so intent on being cool, he can't manage to be her friend. She sounds like a little girl taunting a bully on a playground; the effect is entirely feminine, yet brutal and honest at the same time. The sheer audacity of the arrangement -- four guitar notes played real fast for the verse, plus three distorted chords for the chorus -- only enhances the audacity of the lyrics: "We're so cool, yeah yeah. F--- you too!" For any high school girl who has walked into a crowded cafeteria, found absolutely no one to sit with, shrugged her shoulders and thought, "Cool schmool," there is no better feminist anthem.
6. The Raincoats, 'Lola'
In 'Lola,' gender trouble abounds -- in a good way. "Girls will be boys and boys will be girls," sing the Raincoats in this scrappy and lighthearted take on the Kinks' classic. The original song tells the story of a young man who hits on a woman named Lola in a club then discovers she's actually a man in drag. The suitor briefly changes his mind but eventually decides to go home with her anyway.
The Raincoats' version is even more complex. Lines like "I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man," now sung by a woman, complicate the original gender dynamics in the song to the extent that it becomes utterly impossible to tell who is in drag and who is not. The very concept of distinct roles for men and women begins to seem more and more ridiculous. Significantly, this radical destabilization the notion of the gender binary sounds like nothing but fun. The original song's a freewheeling number with a playful quality -- the first rhyme is "Lola" with "cherry cola" -- and the Raincoats carry the carefree torch with a bumpy bass line, dance-worthy drums, group harmonies and a cheerful disregard for social conventions. It sounds exactly as if the Raincoats are reinventing rock 'n' roll -- and gender as well -- on their own terms.
5. Bikini Kill, 'Rebel Girl'
No list of feminist anthems would be complete without a mention of the ultimate Riot Grrrl revolutionary head banger. This Bikini Kill track represents the perfect fusion of punk's key elements: From the distorted guitars chugging steadily away on two chords, to the primal aggression of Kathleen Hanna's vocal attack, to the gut-wrenching simplicity of the chorus, it's a song that's undeniable. Notice the military hits on the snare drum: This is a call to arms for any girl who has secretly desired to know what power feels like.
4. Destiny's Child, 'Independent Women'
Beyonce is great at telling people what to do. "Don't you ever get to thinking you're irreplaceable!" she warns a boyfriend on the down and out. "All the single ladies, put your hands up!" she commands her audience of devotees. Sometimes she even changes her mind about the song midway through and demands that you catch up with her: "Hold up, bring the beat back. Stop! I ain't ready yet!" If you're looking for a pop culture role model who always seems to "run the world," then look no further than Beyonce.
In this tribute to financially independent ladies from Destiny's Child, she emphasizes that having her own money gives her a sense of control over her own life: "Try to control me boy you get dismisses. Always 50/50 in relationships." In a world where politeness often dictates that women not speak candidly about money, where many women undersell or undervalue their own skills and have trouble negotiating with employers for salaries and raises, it's valuable to hear a woman discuss her own financial success. Even putting the concept of money aside, the song shows us a remarkable image of a very successful woman who, rather than minimize her accomplishments, is choosing to show us her superhuman self-esteem.
3. Patti Smith, 'Piss Factory'
The B-side of Patti Smith's first single (the A-side was a cover of Jimi Hendrix's 'Hey Joe') tells the universal story of a young girl with dreams too big for her body. Smith based the song on the years she spent working in a factory before she moved to New York City. The whole track is a soaring ascension from a dead-end job in Nowheresville, New Jersey to the heights of poetic inspiration and self-discovery. "I got something to hide here called desire," she confides in us, letting us in on the secret that won't let her rest, and by the time she cries, "I'm gonna be somebody," you really believe her. The rest is history.
2. Nina Simone, 'Four Women'
In 'Four Women,' Nina Simone depicts four different stereotypes of black women, and claims in each verse to be a different character with entirely different physical and personality traits. In shifting her identity freely between verses, Simone makes it clear that the stereotypes she invokes do not describe her true identity -- and emphasizes that she is, in fact, free to choose exactly who she is.
Along with its subversive quality, the song also represents the struggle of a woman caught between conflicting definitions of who she should be: "Between two worlds do I belong," Simone sings, as if the true nature of femininity is unknowable. Simone ends the song by playing the character of Peaches, a woman who remembers the history of slavery, whose "manner is tough" and who is ready to rise up. The triumphant and altogether virtuosic piano solo that follows makes it clear that Simone comes closest to finding herself in the character of the revolutionary.
1. Team Dresch, 'She's Amazing'
The reason no one has heard of the greatest all-female punk band of the '90s is the same reason their songs hold such staying power: Team Dresch penned achingly transparent lyrics about growing up queer. They wrote from experience -- about what it takes to love another person in a world that's hostile to the very idea of you. These are songs for outsiders, songs that have weight because they exist in their own world, outside mainstream expectations of womanhood, and that's precisely why Team Dresch never found popularity in the mainstream.
Interestingly, that's also why, Team Dresch's best album, 1995's 'Personal Best,' never seems to age -- there is no other album like it. Musically speaking, this band has little in common with its riot grrrl contemporaries, and instead aligns itself with shredders like Dinosaur Jr. and classic emo bands like the Rites of Spring. 'She's Amazing' shows the distance between Team Dresch's sound and what we'd traditionally call "'90s girl rock": This slow-burning rock number boasts altered chords, soaring melodies, complex rhythms and a game-changing guitar riff that sets the whole thing on fire halfway through. The structure surprises you and forces you to question your assumptions, which may, in the end, be the point of the song.
"She's amazing. Her words save me," goes the chorus. This is an anthem in praise of a woman who tells the truth -- and in doing so, inspires her audience to do the same. It's not a love song; it's about respect, self-actualization, about the way in which women can help each other to act courageously. When Kaia Wilson sings, "They say she's outspoken," there's a lilt to her voice that makes the line sound like a come on, or even like a question. When she says, "Many people tried to destroy her," she makes the phrase sound delicious, like a dare. You'll spend the rest of the song trying to imagine the mysterious woman Kaia is singing about -- some say that "She" was based on Sinead O'Connor -- before you finally realize that Kaia is singing to you about the person she wants you to be.