Starting a new year can be bittersweet knowing we are one year older, but it is also a reminder that we have more responsibilities in life. It is the harsh indication to be the better version of ourselves. As human beings, we need that constant reminder for a little push in life through various technics. One of the most accessible and powerful ways is through music. It can bring us down and lift us up as well. Here are 19 tunes from the past few decades that will hopefully help to motivate you to push harder, do greater things and know that everything is going to be okay in 2019.
Des’ree – You Gotta Be (1994)
“Listen as your day unfolds / Challenge what the future holds / Try and keep your head up to the sky”
From the start until the end of “You Gotta Be” from the You Ain’t Movin album, British singer Des’ree sings about having the inner strength and affirmations that things will be okay as long as we stay cool. This infectious sunny single will immediately make you feel optimistic about life no matter what the next hurdle may be.
Oasis – Don’t Look Back in Anger (1995)
“And so Sally can wait, she knows it's too late as we're walking on by / Her soul slides away, but don't look back in anger I heard you say”
The hook to this popular Britpop song by Oasis has made this song become one of the anthems of hope from the iconic (What's the Story) Morning Glory? album. It started off as a song about a woman who watches her life pass by with no regrets, but instead by celebrating it. Live each day as comes and don’t dwell on it.
Lauryn Hill – Everything Is Everything (1998)
“Everything is everything / What is meant to be, will be / After winter, must come spring / Change, it comes eventually”
This is the last single from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill that the artist wrote as a message about injustice and how difficult it is for youths in the smaller towns of America. Lauryn Hill raps about “Develop a negative into a positive picture” in order to make life better as long as we have the dedication to make a change for ourselves.
Aaliyah – Try Again (2000)
“If at first you don't succeed / Dust yourself off and try again”
Taken off the Romeo Must Die soundtrack, the late Aaliyah delivers an infectious single produced by super producer Timbaland with an empowering message. This song is a great reminder to always pull yourself back up each time you get knocked down.
Britney Spears “Stronger” (2000)
“Stronger than yesterday / Now it's nothing but my way / My loneliness ain’t killing me no more / I'm stronger”
If you recently had your heart broken, this Britney Spears single will surely lift you up. Let that be a lesson and do not let the fact that being lonely is a crutch, but a motivation to be, well, stronger than ever.
Mary J. Blige – No More Drama (2001)
“It feels so good / When you let go / Of all the drama in your life”
When it comes to heartfelt messages, trust Mary J. Blige to deliver through her music especially this gut-wrenching “No More Drama” from the album of the same name. Whether it is friendship or love, we get hurt easy and we have the choice to walk away from all the pain that we do not deserve.
Christina Aguilera – The Voice Within (2002)
“When there's no one else, look inside yourself / Like your oldest friend, just trust the voice within”
Besides “Beautiful” from Christina Aguilera amazing Stripped album, “The Voice Within” is another inspirational ballad accompanied by one of her most powerful vocal performances. This rousing single allows us to always trust ourselves even when it feels like we are all alone and nobody would understand.
Foo Fighters – Times Like These (2002)
“It's times like these you learn to live again / It's times like these you give and give again / It's times like these you learn to love again”
This was written by Foo Fighter’s lead singer Dave Grohl during their hiatus when he wasn’t feeling the energy going into recording the album One by One. Just like many events in our lives when we feel the lowest, but it is those times that we realise what we need to do to get back up.
Beyoncé – Me, Myself & 1 (2003)
“Me, myself, and I, that's all I got in the end / That's what I found out / And it ain’t no need to cry, I took a vow that from now on / I'm gon' my own best friend”
Taken off her debut album Dangerously In Love, Beyoncé gave us a girl power anthem that it is important to trust yourself no matter what bumps you may face in life. There’s no use in crying because you still got yourself to love and take care of.
John Legend – Ordinary People (2005)
“We're just ordinary people / We don't know which way to go / 'Cause we're ordinary people / Maybe we should take it slow”
“Ordinary People” is a beautiful love song from John Legend’s debut album Get Lifted that transcends itself into many different levels. It also serves a true to be lost in this fast-paced world we are living in today and it is okay to take it slow.
Gwen Stefani – What You Waiting For? (2006)
“Naturally I'm worried if I do it alone / Who really cares cos it's your life / You never know, it could be great / Take a chance cos you might grow”
This debut solo single by Gwen Stefani wants us to take a chance even if we have to do it alone. As human beings, sometimes we have this need for affirmation from someone else, but if we are living this one life we are given, we should just do it because you never know where it might take us.
Kanye West – Stronger (2007)
“N-now th-that that don't kill me / Can only make me stronger”
Sampling French house DJ/Producers Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, Kanye West delivers a single that was known as his emancipation to vent about the wrong things he had done over an infectious beat. It may be a new year and we may be get older, but it should allow us to be stronger versions of ourselves instead of dwelling on the bad.
Miley Cyrus – The Climb (2009)
“Always gonna be an uphill battle / Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose / Ain't about how fast I get there / Ain't about what's waiting on the other side / It's the climb”
It isn’t a list about hope if it doesn’t have Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb” as the lyrics speak for itself. This single is definitely a teenage liberation anthem that applies to everyone one of us as well. It is not about what we can find on the other side, but it’s the journey that leads us to it.
Katy Perry – Firework (2010)
“'Cause baby you're a firework / C’mon show 'em what you’re worth”
One of Katy Perry’s biggest hits is also one of the most uplifting singles. “Firework” wants you to feel good about yourself even if you feel like “a plastic bag drifting through the wind.” There’s always a part of us that is ready to shine if we allow it to happen because we are in charge of our every move in life.
Jessie J – Who You Are (2011)
“Sometimes it's hard, to follow your heart / Tears don't mean you're losing, everybody's bruising / Just be true to who you are”
This single by British singer Jessie J is one of the realest singles ever released to remind us that it’s okay to fall because everyone does. Do what you need to do and as long as you are true to yourself, nothing else matters knowing that you have at least tried.
Kelly Clarkson – Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) (2011)
“What doesn't kill you makes you stronger / Stand a little taller / Doesn't mean I'm lonely when I'm alone”
Accompanied by Kelly Clarkson’s convincing strong vocals, “Stronger” is a powerful song to listen to after experiencing a heartbreak. Breaking up from a relationship isn’t the end of the world.
Lady Gaga – Born This Way (2011)
“Don't hide yourself in regret / Just love yourself and you’re set / I'm on the right track, baby / I was born this way”
Whenever you are down, play “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga that will surely cheer you up and feel more confident about yourself. This upbeat pop song allows you to be who you are because we are all born different and beautiful in our own ways.
Ed Sheeran – Save Myself (2017)
“So before I save someone else, I’ve got to save myself / And before I blame someone else, I’ve got to save myself / And before I love someone else, I’ve got to love myself”
Taken off Ed Sheeran’s amazing Divide album, this album track is as honest as life can be. We tend to want to do things for another person that we forget to take care of ourselves. “Save Myself” is a great reminder that it is alright to be a little selfish in order to make sure we pay more attention to our mind, body and soul.
Janet Jackson x Daddy Yankee – Made for Now (2018)
“Look around / We're made for now / Not tomorrow”
Janet Jackson delivered a comeback single titled “Made for Now” with Puerto Rican artist Daddy Yankee and it is the best way for us to close this playlist. This iconic artist wants us to focus on the present because that is what is served to us and not forgetting to enjoy the moment as it is. It is so easy to start planning what we look forward to and lose track on what is happening around us at the moment. Live the life that we are experiencing right now.
Image: Janet Jackson via Billboard
Writer | Kevin Yeoh
Kevin was the former editor of two music and lifestyle platforms in Malaysia. He is an all-round music enthusiast from the '90's R&B to K-Pop.