What makes a great personal anthem — a strong message that reflects one’s own sensibility, or a universally uplifting spirit conveyed through words and/or music? According to Flavorwire editors, it’s both — and a myriad of other attributes.
These are the songs we use as confidence rousers on our big days, or the ones that remind us of who we are. People don’t just listen to music — sometimes they use it in their lives for strategic reasons. Here, we get into how and why we personally do that.
“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” — Stevie Wonder
I come from a long line of fretters, though I’ve come to cope with my built-in layer of anxiety partially through age — but mostly through pop music. I have (mostly private) playlists built around their ability to provide sonic armor for facing my fears (or simply the day at hand). Songs range from No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” to Tame Impala’s “Let It Happen” to Drake’s “Started From the Bottom” to Rilo Kiley’s “Pictures of Success” to Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” to Talking Heads’ “Stay Hungry” to Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” to an embarrassing array of Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj.
My go-to anthem at the moment is, admittedly, a song that appears in the TBS favorite Hitch, but please don’t hold John Legend’s milquetoast cover against Stevie Wonder. “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing,” off Wonder’s classic 1973 album Innervisions, is a deceptively intricate display of musicianship — those background vocals that deliciously clash just a titch, that intoxicating syncopation in the percussion — packaged into an all-time classic feel-good anthem. I slip it on and walk out the door, barely able to keep from shimmying my cares away en route to the train. — Jillian Mapes, Music Editor
“Faster” — Manic Street Preachers
“Faster” is no one’s idea of a happy song but still reflects a certain spirit to which I very much relate, especially in those moments when I feel like I need a dose of confidence or motivation. It’s a sort of snarl of defiance, the expression of a desire not to be squashed by whatever bullshit the world is dumping on you today. And pithy as it is, “I know I believe in nothing, but it is my nothing,” is the closest thing to a personal manifesto I’ve ever encountered. — Tom Hawking, Deputy Editor
“Welcome to the Terrordome” — Public Enemy
I’ve forgotten birthdays, phone numbers, the names of relatives, and my zip code, but based on all evidence to date, even when I’m drooling into my Jello at an “active seniors community,” I’ll still remember every word of Chuck D’s mesmerizing flow in this seminal 1990 PE record. And that’s because, like many an early-‘90s Midwestern white kid with no real place and no sense of identity, I spent a lot of time listening to Public Enemy, so much so that every word of Fear of a Black Planet was seared into my skull, and comes tripping back across my lips whenever I play it now, which is pretty often. It’s not that Chuck’s lyrics have a great deal of personal meaning; then and now, I can’t much relate to the struggles of deflating a Professor Griff-incited controversy. It’s the record’s energy — the feverish, siren-like whirligig of the Bomb Squad’s dense, multi-layered production, coupled with Chuck’s remarkable delivery, which somehow keeps topping itself. He works himself into a vocal flurry, and if you listen to it enough times, you can key in on where he slips in the quick breaths that allow him to steam through that seemingly impossible avalanche of internally rhymed provocations before landing on the quick pause that precedes, “Well, welcome to the Terrordome.” And when I need to get myself amped up, I can still hit play, shadowbox with Chuck, and come out the other side feeling like anything’s possible. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor
“Dangerous Girls” — Dangerous Girls
Title self-explanatory. — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor
“Wake Up” — Arcade Fire
By its lyrics alone, “Wake Up” isn’t exactly a pump-up song; it’s about the disillusionment that comes with growing up and losing the wide-eyed optimism of childhood. But I’m a sucker for Arcade Fire’s soaring, trademark swells, which combine with the song’s final lines to produce something surprisingly uplifting: “With my lightning bolts a-glowin’, I can see where I am goin’/ You better look out below!” Becoming an adult is a painful process, but it’s one that ultimately leaves us better prepared for whatever life throws our way. Or at least that’s what Win Butler tells me. — Alison Herman, Associate Editor
“Ready to Die” — Andrew W.K.
For some reason, I tend to listen to weirdly depressing songs as pump-up anthems — it’s par for the course with most punk rock: short, loud, and fast songs combined with pretty sad lyrics. So instead I decided to interpret “personal anthem” as what my entrance music would be if I were a professional wrestler. Which is, unsurprisingly, something that I’ve given a lot of thought to during the past two decades (even more so once I became obsessed with creating characters on WWE ’13), and often I remain stuck between two: Ghostface Killah’s amazing “The Champ” and Andrew W.K.’s “Ready to Die.” Both are songs that I fell in love with in college, and songs that would always get me to shoot out of bed and help me prepare for the outside world when I had a big, daunting day ahead. I still can’t decide, but let’s just go with “Ready to Die” based on YouTube’s My Little Pony mash-up videos. — Pilot Viruet, TV Editor
“Prove It All Night” — Bruce Springsteen
Besides relishing the fact that this Darkness on the Edge of Town track is rocking and rollicking and sexy and class-conscious song in the tradition of Bruce’s best, I find myself particularly obsessed with the final, slowed-down verse — in which the narrator exhorts his lady-friend to ignore all the naysayers, who know nothing of real life. It’s motivation with an edge:
Baby, tie your hair back in a long white bow,
Meet me in the fields out behind the dynamo,
You hear the voices telling you not to go,
They made their choices and they’ll never know,
What it means to steal, to cheat, to lie,
What it’s like to live and die.
Note to purveyors of time machines: I am down to meet 1978-era Bruce in the fields behind the dynamo any time. — Sarah Seltzer, Editor-at-Large
“2HB” — Roxy Music
I have different anthems for different occasions, but the thing I most often need music to do is set my mind at ease — to coach me through moments of anxiety and self-doubt. Perhaps perversely, nothing helps me embrace inner calm quite like visions of decadence. I guess there’s a remoteness inherent in them that helps me detach a bit. Roxy Music‘s self-titled first album is as glamorously dissipated as it gets, and “2HB” in particular is basically the song equivalent of a velvet-draped cinema playing Golden Age of Hollywood classics on a loop. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief
“Faces of Death Blues” — Natural Child
“Lord, let me live to be 110 / Give me the strength of 20 young men / I don’t want to die / Cos I know that’s the end / Don’t let me die.”
Remember Faces of Death? It was a VHS series that played recordings of real people expiring. In the last sentence, I wrote “expiring” because I was too scared to write “getting killed,” which is basically what happens over and over again in Faces of Death. And while you’ve caught me in a moment of honesty, I’ll even admit that I was too scared to ever watch Faces of Death, so the entire second sentence is based on nothing but hearsay. I won’t even Google it. I won’t go near it. I’m too much of a coward. As such, my anthem is nothing but a coward’s plea to the good Lord to spare me from death. And I’m not talking about impending death — I’m talking just whenever basic death, just any kind of dying at all. I won’t go near it. Plus the guitar solo at 2:15 makes me feel like I just took a shot of wheatgrass. — Jonathon Sturgeon, Literary Editor