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20 protest songs that changed the world

With our generation more politically astute than ever before, we take a look at all the songs that dared to speak up, protest and speak out against the injustices of the 21st century!

formation-beyonce1.Formation – Beyoncé
Formation speaks about self-identity and self love as she sings, “I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils,” and with an incredible video to match highlighting the socioeconomical environment that African’s American’s are currently facing, what a way to make a statement.

2. A Change Is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke
If you’re a fan of Motown, we’re sure you’ll know this song word for word. Written in 1964 by soul singer Cooke, the song fast became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, giving hope for people everywhere that soon enough a change was going to come.

3. Do They Know It’s Christmas? by Band Aid
Written as a response to the Ethiopian famine of 1983-85, the single raised a massive £8million around the world to help those desperately in need and suffering.

4. Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday
Made most famous by Billie Holiday, and originally a poem, this song protested against racism in 1930’s America, particularly against the lynching of black people in the Deep South.

5. Same Love by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, ft Mary Lambert
Addressing gay and lesbian rights, Same Love was an instant hit and really struck a chord with people around the world. And who can forget the epic 2014 Grammy Performance when Queen Latifah officiated the weddings of 33 same sex couples.

6. Fight The Power by Public Enemy
When Hollywood film director Spike Lee asks you to make a song specifically for one of his ground-breaking films, you do it! Rap group Public Enemy created a masterpiece, telling their listeners to stand up for their rights and literally to ‘fight the power’.

7. Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley
While touring Haiti, Marley was deeply affected by the poverty he saw there and wrote this beautiful song to help empower its people.

8. Imagine by John Lennonjohn-lennon
Imagine a world where people weren’t divided by colour, race or religion, and weren’t controlled by the need and desire for material possessions? This is exactly what ex-Beatle Lennon was protesting about, making it one of the most recognisable songs to date.

9. What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye
Speaking out against the violence committed by police on anti-Vietnam War protestors in 1960s and 70s America, Gaye’s smooth vocals were a perfect choice to get the message across.

10. Think by Aretha Franklin
Viewed as a powerful feminist anthem everywhere, Franklin repeatedly shouts ‘Freedom’ across this timeless classic; you can’t help but think how far women have come, but also just how far we have yet to go.

11. Where Is The Love by The Black Eyed Peas
One of the most loved songs of the 21st century, this colossal hit really protested against every single type of injustice around the world and humanity’s lack of compassion for others.

12. Man In The Mirror by Michael Jackson
Not so much a protest song, but more of a request for self reflection, Jackson dares to tell us “If you want to make the world a better place, you’ve got to look at yourself and then make that change.”

13. Dear Mr President by Pink
Pink wrote this as open letter to then President George Bush, questioning him on the Iraq War, his lack of empathy for the middle and lower classes and cited it as one of the most important songs she’s ever written.

14. Free Your Mind by En Vogue
Another power anthem on our list from one of the best girl groups ever, telling the world not to judge others on appearance and to let people live the life they so wish to live.

15. Fast Car by Tracy Chapman
Often seen as a sad and painful song, Fast Car tells the story of generational poverty, with the young girl at the centre heartbroken by her alcoholic father, the mother that leaves them, and her life now drawing similar parallels.

16. Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves by Eurythmics ft. Aretha Franklin
With a song title like that, no explanation is needed here. The anthem of all anthems, there’s not a girl in the world who won’t feel empowered by its message.

prince17. 1999 by Prince
An odd choice you might think? Although most will recognise this as a classic New Year’s Eve song, it’s actually a protest against nuclear proliferation and went on to become one of Prince’s most well known songs.

18. Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell
Speaking out against the man’s ability to ruin nature, the environmental conscious tone of the song really resonates today.

19. Campaign Speech by Eminem
This 8-minute track highlights and brings to task Donald Trump on his policies, his presidential campaign and his character – and how better to do this than Marshall Mathers!

20. Tiny Hands by Fiona Apple
We thought we’d end the list with a song that couldn’t be better for the time we live in today. “We don’t want your tiny hands anywhere near our underpants!” Apple sings in protest of Donald Trump’s now infamous “grab em’ by the pussy” quote.

Words by Wendy Oloya


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The UK's first Career & Lifestyle Magazine for women in the Creative and Media industries.

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