We all love music because it can take us on a journey by tapping into our emotions. It gets our heads nodding, our feet tapping, and our hands clapping.
But music is always at its best when it can inspire the listener. When it can bring out the best in all of us, especially when we have dealt with extreme adversity. When we are at a crossroads, or perhaps even at our lowest point, a great song pushes up lift our spirits and push us forward.
So today, I’ve selected some of my absolute favorite songs about fighting back when it appears all hope is lost. When everything is uncertain, or when you’re counted out completely, these songs will inspire you to get up, stay motivated, and make a change for the better.
Songs About Fighting Back That Are Inspiring
Let’s begin with a great song by Janelle Monae called “Americans.”
“Americans” by Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae’s album Dirty Computer was one of my absolute favorites from 2018. And one of the best and most inspiring songs about fighting back against unwanted labels and marginalization in America was her final track, called “Americans.”
Here, the song starts triumphantly, with a chorus declaring:
Hold on, don’t face the war alone
Hate all around you, don’t have to face it on your own
This song then features Monae pushing back against various stereotypes and hypocrisy that’s seen in America—from how a woman’s place is in the kitchen to how people of color face quicker judgments and injustices based on appearance.
But the best part of the song is Janelle’s chorus. This is where we see Janelle declare that she’s not asking for fairness or equality—she’s demanding it. She was born in America too, and this is her country just as much as anyone else’s:
Don’t try to take my country
I will defend my land
I’m not crazy baby, nah, I’m American
It’s an excellent song about pushing your country and its society to be better and live up to its founding ideals. And it’s one of the best songs on Monae’s Dirty Computer.
“The Fighter” by Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood
Here’s a little different take on the topic—the idea of fighting back against your lover’s fear of the unknown, helping him or her to feel safe and protected.
That’s exactly what we have here in “The Fighter,” a fun country-pop song featuring Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood.
What I first like about this track is that it’s more than just a duet, it’s an interactive duet. In the vein of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” or “I Got a Man” by Positive K, Underwood and Urban go back and forth, exchanging energies of fear and strength.
Underwood is frightened that her relationship will fail, causing her nothing but pain and heartache, so she’s reluctant to move forward and truly commit. Urban, on the other hand, is fighting the good fight against her sea of skepticism, trying his best to reassure Underwood of his love and support for her—as well as his willingness to fight for her.
I’m here to remind you
You’re my only one, let me be the one
To heal all the pain, that he put you through
It’s a love like you never knew
Just let me show you
By the time we get to the chorus, Urban and Underwood exchange words of mixed emotions, and you really get the sense that Urban is dedicated to eradicating all of Underwood’s self doubt.
What if I fall? — (Underwood)
I won’t let you fall — (Urban)
What if I cry?
I’ll never make you cry
And if I get scared?
I’ll hold you tighter, when they try to get to you baby I’ll be the fighter
“What About” by Janet Jackson
In my eyes, Janet Jackson’s best album is The Velvet Rope, as it gave us raw and seemingly unfettered access into the mind of one of the world’s biggest pop stars.
And once we gained entry into that mind, we learned that Janet had dealt with loads of pain and trauma.
On the song “What About,” we hear Janet fighting back against a man that has caused her verbal and physical abuse. The song is her own personal anthem to get up off the mat, insert some steel into her backbone, and find the courage to confront a man that caused her great harm.
It’s a bit of an unusual song, in that the chorus is quite literally made up of a litany of awful physical and psychological abuses Janet endured. But that truth is what makes this song so poignant…and inspirational.
What about the times you lied to me?
What about the times you said no one would want me?
What about all the **** you’ve done to me?
What about that, what about that?
“What About” is a deeply intense song. If you need something to play that will provide you with a cathartic release of emotion, this is probably the song for you.
“Violent” by 2Pac
Hip-hop has always been great about highlighting police brutality in its music. It’s been our insight into what’s going on in the streets, and more specifically, how the men and women on the ground feel about what’s happening to their friends and loved ones.
But what I like about 2Pac’s “Violent” is that the entire song is a literal story. On this track, ‘Pac walks us through a police encounter that goes sideways when a cop pulls ‘Pac and his friend over, claiming they had a violated a city curfew. But it’s not long after that where 2Pac says not only was he and his friend pulled from the car, but his friend was shot by an officer.
But unlike many songs that mention police misconduct in their music, not too many talk about fighting back. On 2Pac’s track “Violent,” what’s interesting is that he chooses to meet violence with violence. He illustrates the idea that if society is going to assume he’s guilty due to his skin color or how he carries himself, he’s not going to go out of his way to assuage your fears and make you feel better.
No, on “Violent,” ‘Pac is clearing stating that if you want to stereotype him as a threat, he’ll intentionally become the stereotype you fear. For ‘Pac, life has no longer become about “maintaining” or even “surviving.”
At this point, he’s been pushed past his breaking point.
What’s next I don’t know, and I don’t care
One thing’s for sure, tomorrow I won’t be here
‘Pac ends the third verse with the following haunting words:
You wanna sweat me, never get me to be silent
Giving ‘em a reason, to claim that I’m violent
“Violent” is a protest song against an unjust system. But more than that, it gives us insight into the drastic measures some people conjure in their mind when they’re pushed past their breaking point and feel there’s no other choice but to fight back by any means necessary.
“Survivor” by Destiny’s Child
When you’re seeking a song that’s about pushing back against the narrative that you need a relationship to be happy, there’s probably not a more memorable track than Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.”
In this song, Beyonce, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams sing about a man that believes a woman’s life crumbles into dust once he walks out the door. The song attempts to dispel the notion that a woman needs a man to feel complete, and that she needs to be forever forlorn once he exits her life.
But Beyonce, singing the lead (of course), just ain’t having any of that that:
You thought that I’d be weak without you, but I’m stronger
You thought that I’d be broke without you, but I’m richer
You thought that I’d be sad without you, I laugh harder
Thought I wouldn’t grow without you, now I’m wiser
But more than that, “Survivor” is a song that’s grown far bigger in its meaning and importance over the years. Whether you’re a survivor of an illness or you’re a survivor of domestic abuse, this song works as a motivational track, helping you push past adversity to see brighter days in the future.
“We Want Freedom” by Dead Prez
A lot of times, when we think about protest songs or songs about fighting back against some level of injustice, we think of high energy tracks, with bass blowing out the windows of your car.
What I really like about “We Want Freedom” by dead prez, though, is its mellow nature. It has all of the confidence and bravado of a Tupac track, but “We Want Freedom” is also an introspective track. It grasps the whole scope of the Black American struggle (past, present, and future), and tries to distill that emotion into a fairly sober four minute track.
This is a song that calmly asks the listener a simple, yet potent question: When the revolution comes, what are you going to do—and are you prepared?
Just think, if the grocery stores close they doors
And they saturate the streets with tanks and start martial law
Would you be ready for civil war?
In the end, “We Want Freedom” is just as much about today’s condition of American ghettos and the racial wealth gap as it is a a showcase of a man’s spirit and principles in the face of a system he can’t control.
When I’m bent up, I think a lot about the reason I’m here
I think about the things I fear and the coming years ahead of me
I’m ready for whatever they bring, though
I’d go against a tank with a shank for my dreams
“Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson has become so entrenched in the world of hosting television shows and live events that it’s almost easy to forget that, for a hot minute, she was one of the biggest stars in pop music.
And one of her bigger hits is no doubt the song “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” a massive uptempo track that’s very much in the vein of Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.”
This is a song aimed at assuring the listener that everything will be okay. That whatever you’re going through, you’ll be able to fight back against it and emerge better and stronger on the other side.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Stand a little taller
Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone
What doesn’t kill you makes a fighter
Footsteps even lighter
Doesn’t mean I’m over because you’re gone
Kelly Clarkson doesn’t make as much music these days, opting instead to work in television and drop the occasional Christmas record. But the inspirational track “Stronger” still holds up over a decade after its release.
“Fight the Power” by Public Enemy
If you’re seeking a motivational song about raging against the machine, so to speak, then it gets no better than Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” which was of course featured in the 1989 movie “Do the Right Thing.”
This is a track that’s all about pushing back against oppressive systems within the United States. But it’s also about pushing back against the notion of American perceptions and social status—a dissection of who become the heroes of our society, and who gets forgotten or marginalized.
Because while the chorus is the most memorable part of this song, verse three features Chuck D and Flavor Flav calling out the high perch America has placed figures like Elvis and John Wayne on—much to the detriment of many other talented artists that never their shine.
‘Cause I’m black and I’m proud
I’m ready, I’m hyped, plus I’m amped
Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps
Sample a look back, you look and find nothing
But rednecks for 400 years, if you check
Fighting the powers that be isn’t always about the perceived “big stuff.” Sometimes, it’s about the seemingly smaller, but just as important, narratives we tell ourselves. Narratives that get reinforced over time, and cast everyone else out onto the periphery.
And when that happens, sometimes you just need a good song to help reignite your fighting spirit.
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- Songs About the Past
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- Songs About Being Broke
- Rap Songs About Heartbreak
- Songs About Depression
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- Songs About Being 17
- Songs About Believing in Yourself
- Songs About Greed
- Songs About Failure