This was the year of women’s anger, as Vox’s Constance Grady put it. 2017 started with the women’s march, with women across the world gathering to protest sexual violence and demonstrate for equal rights; in the fall, women across the world used the hashtag #MeToo to self-identify as victims and survivors of sexual abuse; and the year closed out with an all-out reckoning in Hollywood, government, media, and other industries against men accused of sexual harassment and assault.
The emotions around this upheaval are fraught: rage, sadness, vindication — they run the gamut. Thankfully, women have been making music all year to tackle just about every feeling, positive and negative, that’s bubbled up from this tumultuous 2017. From pop-star power anthems to country ballads, women made enough powerful music to get us through this year — and on to the next.
If there’s one woman in music whose voice has stood out amid a resounding chorus of #MeToo this year, it’s Kesha. After being locked in a legal battle with her producer Dr. Luke since 2014, whom she says “sexually, physically, and verbally” abused her, Kesha turned her struggle into triumphant, cathartic music with her album Rainbow.
The first single off that album, the power ballad “Praying,” is about “coming to feel empathy for someone else even if they hurt you or scare you,” Kesha said in Lenny Letter. More pointedly, it’s also about moving on to create something new for yourself out of that pain, an especially resonant idea to revisit at the end of a painful year.
Rhiannon Giddens, formerly of the traditional folk band Carolina Chocolate Drops, releasedFreedom Highway this year, an album whose themes cover black lives from America’s beginnings to the present. The album’s chilling opening song, “At the Purchaser’s Option,” is a heady, string-based track about an enslaved woman impregnated by her rapist-owner.
In an interview with Terry Gross, Giddens explains how a historical ad for the sale of an enslaved person inspired the song: “I just started thinking about what this young woman — what her life was really like … not having any agency over any part of her life.” The track digs into that feeling with a plodding bassline that feels almost stuck in place.
“New Rules” should be on every friend group’s power playlist this year. Never before has someone so succinctly doled out relationship advice telling you to DTMFA, and especially not in a catchy pop song. Dua Lipa has a list of rules to follow to finally shake off someone who’s bad for you — which, let’s be honest, we all need to hear from time to time. The essential part of this song is how it’s built around support from friends: Without our networks, where would we be?
A bleak look at America from a clear country voice
From a sitting president who faces up to 15 allegations of sexual assault and claimed he wanted to “grab [women] by the pussy,” to bubbling sexual harassment allegations in Congress, disillusionment with government institutions became a mainstay for women in 2017. Nashville singer-songwriter Margo Price, in a delicate, humble song, captures that.
“All American Made” examines a decline in the idyllic America often depicted in country songs, painting a dark portrait of crumbling banks and sleepless presidents. It gets at a nagging feeling that everything that once seemed solid might be starting to slip away, crumbling from the top down.
Breakout star SZA examines all aspects of love
SZA’s 2017 album Ctrl is full of tracks that speak to women navigating the tricky paths of independence, love, and dating. “Love Galore” takes a maybe-relationship with someone she’s seeing and looks at it from every angle: Why is she hanging out with this guy? Is he treating her right? And is she treating herself right, too? What’s the point of it all, anyway?
It’s these questions that keep us up at night, and while SZA might not have all the answers, the questions she’s asking are spot on.
Lorde’s music is a balm in troubling times
Within Lorde’s jam of an album Melodrama are a few quiet, vulnerable spots. “Liability” is one of them: The song is about doubting yourself, and feeling a little too intense for the world you’re living in. The crush of information we’ve received this year about sexual misconduct is staggering — enough to knock anyone off their feet; sinking into a song like Lorde’s when you’re feeling defeated or unmoored is one way to cope.
Ibeyi’s “Deathless” reassures that life goes on, no matter what
Ibeyi, the duo of French-Cuban twin sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz, wrote “Deathless” after French police wrongfully arrested Lisa at age 16. The track, released on Ibeyi’s second album, Ash, is semi-autobiographical, speaking to the arrest experience, and also an “anthem for everybody,” says Lisa, about the enduring power of women in the face of “whatever happens.”
The accompanying music video is mesmerizing: As one sister lies on the ground, the other sister, digitally miniaturized, crawls out from under her dress in a matching outfit, over and over again, as they chant, “We are deathless.”
Jen Cloher finds strength in anger
The #MeToo movement happened globally, with women across the world sharing their stories of sexual assault or abuse with a hashtag. And international women musicians responded too. This track from Australian singer-songwriter Jen Cloher is full of deserved rage and angst, all about staying full of strength in a world built against you.
The chorus is too perfect not to transcribe in full: “This world, it wasn’t made for women / You know even before you’re bleeding / I’m sorry, can’t you hear me speaking? / How is it now, now that I’m screaming?”
Lizzo doesn’t have time for anyone’s BS
“Why men great ’til they gotta be great?” the opening line to this song asks. Great question. Lizzo, known for her empowering, women-focused songs, says no to being played in “Truth Hurts,” shutting down any man who might come at her with anything less than quality and care. There’s no reason to accept less than what you know you deserve, and Lizzo is here to remind you of that.