Empathy is a very powerful tool to possess, as it allows us to connect with one another, almost as if we can walk a mile in their shoes. Empathy also blesses us with the ability to be less judgmental, and far more curious.
And while the music industry catches a lot of flack for being nothing but popcorn entertainment, there is a wide variety of songs about empathy in all genres. So in this article, I’m going to provide you with my favorite songs on this topic. And who knows—maybe a song on this list will one day become one of your favorite songs too.
Living for the City by Stevie Wonder
Living for the City tells the story of an African American man navigating through New York City during the 1970s. As a black man himself, Stevie feels compelled to share the hardships of being black in America. For centuries, African Americans have had to work twice as hard just to get half as far as other Americans.
Stevie even sings:
His father works some days for fourteen hours
And you can bet, he barely makes a dollar
His mother goes to scrub the floors for many
And you’d best believe, she hardly gets a penny
Living just enough, just enough for the city
Although it’s not confirmed that this song is about his upbringing, I believe there could be some correlation. He feels for the black man, and from this track, it sounds like it’s coming from a place of personal experience.
We don’t know much about Stevie’s past, but he was growing up in the Civil Rights Movement. That period, along with seeing his parents work hard to provide for him and his siblings, could be something he used to help create this wonderful track.
Overall, Stevie Wonder’s, Living for the City is a notable track that deals with empathizing with the struggles of being black in America.
Breathe by UMI
Tierra Umi Wilson, aka UMI, is a rising R&B artist from Seattle, Washington. UMI believes it’s important to share your experiences as she told Vice back in 2020:
“So as UMI, I want to continue to make music that provides a space of understanding and healing for people — and I can do that just by being myself, not being ashamed to be me, and I can share that energy with people so they can feel uplifted through my music.”
Breathe comes from UMI’s 2019 EP, Love Language. In this track, UMI sings about the self-sabotaging tendencies she sees in her partner. Her partner has become distant and started doing drugs just to stay sane. She sings in the chorus:
And baby, I know, yeah
When it hurts to breathe, I hope you breathe it in
The writing on this track makes the song relatable to anyone. Whatever you are going through, UMI wants you to breathe it in. Acknowledge your demons and tackle them one by one. This song has helped me in some of my darkest moments. It reassures me to keep going. I highly recommend checking out some of her music, especially for any neo-soul/R&B fans!
Doo Wop (That Thing) by Lauryn Hill
If you know about Ms. Lauryn Hill, then you’ve definitely heard of this record-breaking gem. In Doo Wop (That Thing), we get some pivotal advice in a “big-sister” manner. The first verse of the song is directed toward the ladies.
She preaches to a young woman awaiting a call back from a guy she hooked up with the night prior. Lauryn tells her to respect herself and to pay attention to red flags in the men she’s dealing with.
The second verse talks to the men. Lauryn goes on to talk about the common issues with men in relationships. As you see, Ms. Laury Hill does not bite her tongue on this track. She holds both men and women accountable for their actions. In the end, she continues to warn them to watch out for “that thing”; whether that be sex, money, status, etc.
Ms. Hill used compassion, empathy, and tough love through her metaphors, which is a prominent element throughout this track that I enjoy. This song has always been a life lesson to me. I remember being 7-years old in the back of my mom’s Buick hearing Lauryn tell me to watch out for the “bad boys”.
Doo-Wop is the first song, since Debbie Gibson, to reach #1 on Billboard and be all written, recorded, and produced by a woman (Hill herself) . On top of this song making history, this track continues to be a roadmap for young boys and girls decades later.
8 by Billie Eilish
Before we even get a chance to dissect the lyrics, Billie lets us know who the song is referencing. In the iTunes and Apple Music description, Billie states:
“When people hear that song, they’re like, ‘Oh, poor baby Billie, she’s so hurt.’ But really I was just a ******** for a minute and the only way I could deal with it was to stop and put myself in that person’s place.”
Billie Eilish has always intrigued me. I feel like she rocket-shipped to stardom. I remember being in high school and having Billie’s “don’t smile at me” on repeat! Now, at only 20 years old, Billie holds multiple Grammys, AMA’s, and even a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.
This track finds Billie in her victim’s shoes, exercising empathy to its greatest extent. From the lyrics and vocal mixing to the insane production, this song is truly a great body of art. I just love Billie’s approach to music.
I have a deep love for alternative sub-genres and Billie’s sound places perfectly in the alternative pop category. It feels more personable than mainstream pop while still keeping those key elements. Overall, this track is worth a listen.
I’ll Stand By You by The Pretenders
This song is about trust. It’s about being by someone’s side during hardship, and this song did just that for me. I remember the first time I heard this track. It was my senior year of high school. I was on the way to graduation rehearsal.
Senior year was a rough time for me. I was dealing with grief, juggling grades, and making final post-high school decisions. I was inside a Lyft, on my way to school after oversleeping countless times. This song began to play in the car and I instantly wanted to break down in tears. It was one of those moments where I felt that the song was directed toward me.
Every word was like a bandage healing my wounds. I completely let loose and allowed the tears to fall, and it felt wonderful. This track is a great example of the healing properties that music has on people. Through this song, I was able to become one with my emotions and be present with them. Sometimes we try to hold back the “negative” emotions like sadness or anger, but we shouldn’t dismiss these feelings.
As The Pretenders sing:
So if you’re mad, get mad
Don’t hold it all inside
Come on and talk to me now
Hey, what you got to hide?
I get angry too
Well, I’m a lot like you
The Pretenders remind us that we are all the same. It’s important to understand how to experience and express all of our emotions (in the right way of course). If you’re ever feeling alone or like no one is listening, this track will become that shoulder for you to lean on!
Fix You by Coldplay
Like The Pretenders, Coldplay’s chilling, Fix You shows us that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The song was written by Chris Martin for his previous wife to comfort her after her father passed. He sings in the main chorus:
Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you
The singer empathizes with his wife and does everything in his power to “heal” her. Although the grieving process isn’t an overtime fix, having someone in your circle that understands the pain you’re experiencing is very gratifying.
This song has received lots of recognition from major magazines like Rolling Stone and NME, giving praise for its powerful lyrics and stark piano sounds. This is a beautiful track that holds a meaningful message of hope and optimism.
m.A.A.d City by Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick paints a vivid picture with his second studio album, “Good Kid, M.A.A.d City.” This album is the perfect autobiography. In this special track, we get multiple stories from Kendrick’s early days in Compton.
The first verse opens with a Compton rapper telling us how he witnessed a dead body at the age of nine. He then goes on in verse two to rap about his dangerous “mad-city” environment, as the verse brings up things like theft, robbery, gun violence, and drug addiction.
As we reach the end of the track, Kendrick’s innocence becomes more and more tainted. He even asks in the final verse:
If I told you I killed a **** at sixteen, would you believe me?
Perceive me to be innocent Kendrick you seen in the street
With a basketball and some Now and Laters to eat?
I am a huge fan of Kendrick Lamar—he’s one of my favorite rappers. His metaphoric raps mixed with real-life stories makes his discography more than just music; it’s an entire art form. His album, “Good Kid, M.A.A.d City”, is so cohesive, that all you need to do is press play and enjoy the ride. Kendrick’s stories not only inspired the city of Compton, but they shined a light on the dangers of gang violence in America.
Umbrella by Rihanna
Rihanna ruled the 2010s with her pop-infused R&B tracks. Umbrella, one of her biggest singles to date, talks about the strength in relationships.
Said I’ll always be your friend
Took an oath, I’ma stick it out to the end
Now that it’s raining more than ever
Know that we’ll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
From the chorus, we see the several metaphors she used to signify her support. The rain is whatever problems they may face, and the umbrella is her continuous support and protection over them.
Rihanna is letting her lover know that she’ll always be there to share her love, support, and more. Relationships are a two-person task, and this track makes this fact very apparent. Whether this track relates to Rihanna’s relationship or not, she doesn’t want anyone to feel alone.
I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man by Prince
Breakups are never easy. This song deals with a woman at a bar, trying to move on from a past relationship. She wants to dance with Prince and even asks if he is “qualified” to be a good man to her. He sees that this woman is torn and heartbroken. He then sings:
I said, Baby, don’t waste your time
I know what’s on your mind
I may be qualified for a one-night stand
But I could never take the place of your man
Prince decides not to give many advantages to the women. Sometimes when people experience heartbreak, they want to find something or someone to help suppress the pain.
Prince, being aware of this, does the notable thing and turns her down. He seems to care about this woman’s emotional well-being. When someone is hurting, you can’t always do what they want. You have to do what’s best, and Prince did just that with this track. Trying to jump into a relationship without fully healing can only cause more damage.
I’ll Be Your Mirror by The Velvet Underground
You may think that nobody knows you better than you, but The Velvet Underground may disagree. As the opening verse says:
I’ll be your mirror
Reflect what you are, in case you don’t know
I’ll Be Your Mirror is about wanting someone you care about to see themselves the way you see them. Many of us, including myself, deal with self-doubt. Listening to this track was very refreshing. I was reminded of my worth, my beauty, and my strength. I
t’s never a bad thing to be sure of who you are, but it’s also not a bad thing for someone to mirror you. You may find out something new about yourself that you weren’t aware of. Even after 50 years since its release, the joyful chords with Nico’s gentle vocals make this song sound like a warm hug.
It feels good to know that someone can understand what you’re feeling. These songs cover an array of situations. Each artist opens up and gives us a piece of his or her lives in hopes of helping us get through our own obstacles.
Empaths can sometimes carry a big load juggling everyone’s emotions, including their own. These songs about empathy are here to be an emotional support system during your time of need!
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