Music has always served as a battle cry and a balm during particularly tumultuous times, and in 2020—when injustices like the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on BIPOC, the slaying of George Floyd by police, the assault on immigrant, women’s, and LGBTQIA rights by the Trump Administration became apparent—music was there to help us grieve, process, and make change, yet again.
Here’s a list of a few of this year’s stand-out protest songs featuring womxn. It’s by no means exhaustive, so let it be your gateway toward more songs of peace, love, and change.
Stevie Wonder – “Can’t Put It In the Hands of Fate” (feat. Rapsody)
This poignant, funky single from legendary soul artist Stevie Wonder engages directly with issues of police brutality, black lives and voting for change, especially as he invites rappers like Rapsody to spit a few verses about her experience as black woman in America. “Apologize, you denied my people/Made our death legal, we all paralegal,” she raps. “Gotta defend ourselves when the laws ain’t equal/Cops aim lethal, death in cathedrals/Bang-bang boogie, you could die wearin’ a hoodie.”
Stephanie Anne Johnson – “American Blues”
In her blues song for America, Seattle-based songwriter Stephanie Anne Johnson addresses America like a lost lover, and as a BIPOC in this country. “I’ve been sad/I’ve been blue/I’ve been dying/All over you/ You’ve been washed in my blood/All these years,” she sings. With her soaring gospel voice, Johnson spills her truth and pain—and like all great protest songs, it inspires you to really make some change.
Shea Diamond – “I am America”
Visibility can be revolutionary in itself, and singer, songwriter, and transgender activist Shea Diamond knew that when she released her song “I am America,” in June. Co-written with Justin Tranter, the sizzling anthem centers Diamond’s own experiences as a black trans woman in America, and her views on the belonging and inclusion of the LGBTQIA community, while the uplifting video features short clips from members of the LGBTQIA community.
Sunny War – “The Orange Man”
Americana artist Sunny War pulls no punches with “Orange Man,” pointedly going after the current U.S. administration. In the lyrics of the song, the Los Angeles-based artist acknowledges the diversity in America and how President Trump’s hatred of difference makes him unfit to lead, singing, “If I were you/I’d run for my life, not for president/cos the residents/need a leader and that is not you.” To send the point home, several boastful and bigotry-laden soundbites from Trump, on issues like popularity with the Black vote and immigration, are layered throughout the melancholy but passionate tune.
Thana Alexa – “The Resistance” (feat. Staceyann Chin)
In March, Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist and loop artist Thana Alexa delivered her rousing protest song, “The Resistance.” She originally penned the song after attending the Women’s March in 2016, but by releasing it in 2020, the song gains broader meaning. “We must rise/Revolutionize our minds/To unify, detoxify,” she sings—and after the hardships we’ve collectively faced head-on in 2020, it’s a fitting imperative to carry into a new year, too.