words + photo + playlist: Zoë Madonna
The Chariot represents when you need to make a decisive assertion of your power. You are the boss in this situation and you will take no bullshit. End of story. It’s a forceful, determined beast-mode - it can get you over all kinds of hurdles and let you punch through walls. But we can’t be in Chariot headspace all the time. We’d burn out.
Strength looks at problems with softer eyes. It considers the complications, inviting us to make peace with our own vulnerability. In doing so, we can become more comfortable with our whole selves.
The artists I chose for my Strength playlists are all women who gift us with stories about vulnerability, uncertainty, messiness, and self-determination. Some of them are actually personal stories from the songwriter’s life, and some we don’t know. Regardless, the artists don’t owe us any explanations to their stories.
Even if you’re not in the Chariot driver’s seat, you’re still the boss of yourself, and you don’t have to take the bullshit. These songs don’t prettify their pain. They tell it like they feel it, and because it’s like that for them, it’s easier to lean into my own pain.
Strength is the quiet knowledge that a shitty situation isn’t forever. Strength is knowing that the situation is shitty because it’s shitty, and it’s not your fault. If the shitty situation is your fault, it’s the strength that’s necessary to hold yourself accountable and make change. It’s the strength that comes from knowing that you’re not alone and you never will be.
Nameless, Faceless - Courtney Barnett
Is anyone as in love with their own opinions as an anonymous troll commenting on the Internet? “Don’t you have anything better to do? I wish someone would hug you,” Courtney Barnett sings, then taking a YouTube troll’s insult and matter-of-factly holding it to the light where it can look as pathetic as it should. But then the chorus quotes Margaret Atwood, staring down another face of toxic masculinity. Barnett sounds resigned when she sings “I wanna walk through the park in the dark;” she knows she can’t do that without the fear rising up behind her. “I hold my keys between my fingers.”
It’s Not Up to You - Bjork
This song is my serenity prayer on mornings when I wake up feeling tired, nonfunctioning and broken, drifting through the world while it rustles and buzzes around me. “How do I master a perfect day?” My phone glows, offering me apps, hacks, methods to push through. Distractions.
“I can decide what I give, but it’s not up to me what I get given.” Even on days when I hit all my dailies on Habitica, I drink enough water, I journal, I clean my room, it’s possible I can still feel awful, and this song reminds me that it doesn’t make me any less strong.
The Bus Song - Jay Som
I can name enough good breakup songs to fill a mixtape, but memorable songs that capture the moments before the breakup are rare. Even more scarce are tracks that don’t throw the narrator/singer/songwriting into a deep pit of despair (hello, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”"). “I just want you to lead me, I just want you to need me,” Melinda Duterte sings on the chorus of “The Bus Song,” embracing her wants and her sadness, cradling the moment when she takes off her partner’s shoes. But she also confronts the fractures in their bond; her partner doesn’t want to take the bus because of the smell, she likes the bus because it makes her feel infinite. Such a small thing. Such a big thing.
Hiding - IAN SWEET
IAN SWEET, a.k.a. Jilian Medford, underwent a massive change sometime between the release of 2016’s “Shapeshifter” and this year’s “crush crusher.” It sounds like it’s been a pretty heavy few years; when Lauren interviewed her, she said, “I was feeling like my voice wasn’t being heard even though I had started the band. I was getting trampled on and starting to not trust myself as much.” When I talked to her for the Boston Globe, she went long on the expectations both her collaborators and fans had placed on her as a female musician; “We’re expected to provide, I think, for the band and our listeners, and if we’re not providing the right thing we get criticized and ridiculed.” It takes effort to not let the feelings of other people override ours. It takes strength.
Drew Barrymore - SZA
Nobody - Mitski
I can’t even put into words how much it means to hear this kind of messiness and vulnerability in songs - SZA’s repeated apologies for things she can’t do anything about, Mitski’s repeating “nobody” until it explodes into individual phonemes.
I think I may have changed which Mitski song was on this list about five times; that’s how many perfect songs she has for Strength. (“Your Best American Girl” was a close second.) In her essay for NPR’s “Turning the Tables” series,” Judy Berman wrote:
“The journey from precarity to stability and self-acceptance is an obsession of media aimed at young women in the 21st century, the stuff of novels with "millennial pink" covers and TV shows like Broad City and Girls. But Mitski's vision of this phase of life resonates as more perceptive and less self-indulgent than so many others because her music suggests that you don't have to be extraordinarily privileged, narcissistic, or aimless to feel debilitating growing pains.
Yours and Mine - Lucy Dacus
The lion that Lucy Dacus embraces in this song is her privilege. "The song is about admitting that you're afraid of pain and afraid of the consequences of protesting," she told Newsweek. "But making a decision to show up."
Like a wave, or like a tide of people flooding the streets, it gathers strength and volume before it breaks and crashes. “For those of you who told me I should stay indoors, take care of you and yours,” she sings sweetly, brushing off those who think the past years’ upwellings of rage against racism and police brutality are just business as usual. “But me and mine...We've got a long way to go before we get home.”
Because it’s not home until everyone can live there without fear that any day, the walls might collapse on them.