Songs to Make You Feel Like a Badass

Badasses in the "Level Up" video

Welcome to Pop Culture Survival Kit: The Perfect Song for Every Occasion

Truth time, y’all: I can’t make it home from work if I don’t feel like a badass.

See, to get away from my office, I have to walk through Times Square, which is basically like walking through a loud and glitzy corridor to hell.

Here’s the philosophy behind Times Square: Screw one billboard! Let’s have 70 billboards! And let’s make them light up! And spin in a circle! And blow steam in your face! And while we’re at it, let’s have 150 carnival barkers standing around, shouting about free stand up comedy and scalped tickets to Mamma Mia! Won’t that rock?!? OH! And let’s hire shady people to dress is knock-off Elmo costumes and stand around waving! And let’s make them all wear tiny backpacks, which suggests that Elmo is randomly carrying track shoes around! And after that, let’s add cops on horseback and 6 billion people who always look lost, and let’s have everyone mill around in the same 10 square feet of space. Won’t that be fun?!?

Ahem. Right. Pardon me.

So… the only way I can survive this daily onslaught is by shoving in earbuds and listening to songs that make me feel like a badass. Songs that convince me I am more powerful than Creepy Elmo.

And we all have moments like this, right? Moments when we need a hot soundtrack to get us through a tough situation? It might be driving carpool or navigating the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon or getting ready for a big date. Whatever it is, it calls for the right music.

Here are some songs that always make me feel like a badass. What are yours?

(1) “Level Up” by Sway

For a song to make me feel like a true badass, it’s got to have thunder. None of these spare drum loops or cute little harmonies. The sound needs to pound. Like, I want to believe every step I take is shaking the damn ground, because that’s how hard I’m rocking with this soundtrack.

This is why Drake, for instance, is never going to make me feel like a badass. I really like his music, but the sound is too thin and the lyrics are too cerebral to get me through Times Square.

Unfortunately for my commute, Drake is leading the sound of American hip-hop, and there just aren’t that many thundering anthems to enjoy right now. But in Britain? The beats are banging. Just listen to “Level Up,” by U.K. rapper Sway. I want to punch the air while it’s playing, and that is what badasses do. THEY PUNCH THE SKY.

(2) “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)” by Florence + The Machine

Florence wails about her rabbit heart

The crazy epic grandeur of this song—like so many songs by Florence + the Machine—makes me feel like I might be able to fly. Like, I might get lifted on the waves of sound and Florence’s soaring vocals.

The end of the song, especially, explodes with wild energy that always makes me think of running through the woods, down a hill, with my arms spread out.

That’s a weirdly specific image, I know, but it’s an image that makes me feel awesome.

[Watch the video on YouTube]



(3) “The Power” by Snap!

“The Power” is an all-time classic badass song.

For a while in the 90s, it was used in every movie trailer and sporting event in Christendom, so it got really overplayed. Now, though, enough time has passed that we can re-appreciate the awesomeness of screaming “I’ve got the power” while a jagged synthesizer makes, like, lightning bolt sounds in the background.

Fun-fact: Apparently, a Korean Tae-Bo class was working out to this song so intensely last year that they made the building they were in start shaking. As a result, everyone was evacuated. I’d say things were gettin’ kind of hectic! Hey-ohhh!


(4) “Buffalo Stance” by Neneh Cherry

Neneh Cherry is obviously a badass.

Awwwwww snap! This song is the JIMMY-JIBBY JAM. That’s right. I resort to baby talk when I express how much I love it.

It is the best of the 80s, all rolled into one hot track. You get fly female rapping, an unforgettable chorus, and thumping bass line that’s perfect for strutting your stuff, no matter where you are. Don’t. You get fresh with me.

I’ve always been sad that Neneh Cherry had such a relatively short career. She was obviously talented and incredibly interesting, which is always a bonus.

Here are some Neneh Cherry fun facts: (1) Along with Indigo Girls, Soul II Soul, and Tone Loc, she lost the Best New Artist Grammy to Milli Vanilli. Woops! (2) Her brother, Eagle-Eye Cherry, had a hit in the 90s called “Save Tonight.”

[Watch the video on the YouTube]

Mark Blankenship has written about pop music for The New York Times and NPR. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship. He always, always hangs in a buffalo stance.