FlourishAnyway believes there is a playlist for just about any situation and is on a mission to unite and entertain the world through song.
Songs About Gender Playlist
Rock music has always been home to artists like David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, and Mick Jagger who didn't mind occasionally wearing ladies' garb on stage—feather boas, dresses, makeup. Whether they indulged in cross dressing for identity reasons or to get attention as a part of their act, we'll never know for sure. These entertainers were ahead of their time.
Several decades later, society no longer requires a person to rigidly fit within a gender category of either male or female. Gender identity is becoming more accepted as a spectrum.
Grammy Award-winning artist Sam Smith came out as non-binary in September 2019, using "they/them" as preferred pronouns. Demi Lovato, who successfully segued childhood stardom on the Disney Channel into an adult pop singing career, came out as non-binary in May 2021. Miley Cyrus says she is gender fluid. And former One Directioner Harry Styles graced the December 2020 cover of Vogue in a lacy dress and Gucci tuxedo jacket, prompting conservatives to nearly lose their minds.
However you identify in this world, make a playlist of pop, rock, and country songs about gender identity and expression. We have a long list to start you off.
1. "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga
"Don't be a drag, just be a queen" proclaims Lady Gaga enthusiastically in this empowering take-me-as-I-am anthem from 2011 that promotes self-acceptance no matter how you were born. The electropop song encourages people of all backgrounds, particularly racial and ethnic minorities and the LGBT community, to hold their heads high and "rejoice in your truth." The song debuted at #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and topped the charts throughout the world, becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time.
2. "If I Were a Boy" by Beyoncé
The narrator in this 2008 R&B pop ballad is a woman whose lover has cheated on her and treated her poorly. As a result, she mentally trades places with him and imagines how their world would be different if men valued women like they should.
In the narrator's eyes, men don't have to worry about appearance and rumors as much as women do. In addition, guys put themselves first and make up the rules as they go along. Although the narrator imagines that she would work on being a better man in the situation, she shames her pathetic cheating lover for not doing so, referring to him as "just a boy"—and one who doesn't deserve her.
3. "Somebody Told Me" by The Killers
With his attention zeroed in on a particular girl, the guy in this 2004 alt-rock track is in a club trying über hard to score her name and number. Then when his love interest ignores him and chats up someone else in the bar instead, a friend enlightens him with some spicy gossip about her.
The following contagious lines in this global hit are an earworm:
Well, somebody told me you had a boyfriend
Who looked like a girlfriend
That I had in February of last year
It's not confidential, I've got potential.
4. "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" by Aerosmith
No, this 1997 hard rock song isn't about Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, who for years has dressed in feminine clothes and worn his mane long. Instead, the number was inspired by a real situation wherein Tyler and bandmates went into a night spot and spotted a "...gorgeous creature at the end of the bar with a teased-up platinum mullet and black nails and porcelain skin and jewelry and with a curvy waist."
When the stunning blonde turned around, however, Tyler and buddies saw that it was none other than Vince Neil, the lead vocalist of Mötley Crüe, whereupon they gasped, "The dude looks like a lady!" The song based upon this incident describes a man who goes into a strip club and falls in love with a dancer on stage. Backstage he subsequently discovers that the dancer is a man dressed as a woman, but he follows his heart.
5. "Lola" by The Kinks
In a world where “girls will be boys, and boys will be girls,” this classic gender-related hit rock song was avant garde in 1970 when it became a worldwide hit. Controversial at the time, the ditty describes a one-night stand in Soho between a young man an a possible trans person or cross dresser. "Lola" is based on the personal experience of the band's manager who had a romantic rendezvous with an individual who "walked like a woman but talked like a man."
In the song, the narrator goes to a club where he meets and dances with Lola, his deep-voiced, physically strong love interest, before dropping to his knees to perform a sexual act. (That risqué element didn't skip past you, did it?) Radio stations in Australia and elsewhere banned the song, referencing its subject matter:
Well I'm not the world's most masculine man
But I know what I am, and I'm glad I'm a man
And so is Lola.
Catchy as hell and ahead of its time, this song was named by Rolling Stone as one of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time."
6. "Pretty Hurts" by Beyoncé
This 2014 power pop ballad delivers an important message about happiness and honoring your authentic, internal self. So much societal pressure exists regarding achieving a particular type of feminine persona—young, thin, blonde, and flawless. The result is that if a woman doesn't fit that ideal, then her development of a positive self-identity is jeopardized.
Beyoncé blames the beauty industry for its role in making everyday women feel not enough. At the same time that the beauty business markets images of perfection, it also fosters insecurity and anxiety in one's personal faults. Instagram further adds to the toxic impact on teen girls, according to Facebook's own internal research. For each young woman who is accustomed to "pageant[ing] the pain away" Queen Bey notes in this meaningful song on gender expression that sometimes "It's the soul that needs a surgery."
7. "I Would Die 4 U" by Prince and the Revolution
Prince transcended gender in an era when people were only permitted to fit into categories of female/feminine and male/masculine. He defied convention.
Standing at a mere 5 feet 2 inches and 112 pounds, the legendary rocker was diminutive in stature but more than made up for it with his larger-than-life talent. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artist wore makeup and ostentatious clothes and owned over 3,000 pairs of custom heeled boots in which he performed squats, high kicks, and splits on stage with aplomb. (Can you imagine?) He built his mega brand on this androgynous look and ignored the resulting questions that followed him in the media about his gender fluidity and sexual orientation, choosing instead to simply be himself.
In this 1984 dance track, the Purple One was in his superstar heyday. The song's narrator rejects conventional gender labels before describing their utter devotion to a loved one in messianic terms:
I'm not your woman
I'm not your man
I am something
That you'll never understand.
8. "Body Was Made" by Ezra Furman
This 2015 indie rock song has such an infectious groove. Although Ezra Furman came out as a transgender woman in April 2021, the song reflects an earlier portion of her journey.
Here she celebrates her gender fluidity, warning socially conservative haters that there's nothing that can be done to change her truth. She can't be talked out of her identity with "facts." She can't quite explain her experience to others. It just is. ("You social police can just get out of my face.") Furman has described "Body Was Made" as a "protest song against the people and forces that would make me ashamed of my body, my gender, and my sexuality."
9. "Like a Boy" by Ciara
Turnabout is fair play in this global 2007 R&B hit as Ciara switches up the game and "acts just like a boy" in her romantic relationship. She imagines what male/female role reversal would involve and what reaction it would create in her lover. If she were the sneaky, unfaithful one who played her man like a toy, how would this make him feel? If she lied with ease, cultivated alibis, and messed with his head (like he does with hers), could he handle it?
10. "Lady Wood" by Tove Lo
The term "lady wood" is a slang term for female sexual arousal. (How very "locker room.") Singer Tove Lo also uses the phrase for someone with courage.
Rumors are flying 'round about the woman who is dancing by herself in a bar in this 2016 electropop tune. She looks like a freak, has burned some bridges, but the narrator doesn't care about her tainted reputation. They are two of a kind:
With mistakes and uh-unlearned lessons yeah, you give me wood
Give me lady wood
Dirty on the inside
Damaged goods with nothing but pride yeah, you give me wood
Give me lady wood.
11. "For Today I Am a Boy" by Antony and The Johnsons
Living in the body of a boy, the narrator in this 2005 alt-rock tune dreams of one day growing up to fulfill her dreams of becoming a beautiful woman. She looks forward to growing into a confident, powerful woman and living a happy life wherein her internal and external selves are more closely aligned.
12. "Cameron" by Jillette Johnson
Poor Cameron. He is a boy who prefers to dress in makeup and feminine attire. His father gets angry, other kids beat him up, and teachers pretend that they don't notice the bullying that is occurring right under their noses.
Cameron feels so disconnected from others, so alien that the narrator empathically reassures the trans child that they belong:
The world is full of aliens, but you are a human
You're not an alien
You are a real, live human
Aren't you, Cameron?
Many of us have known a Cameron. In fact, "Cameron" (2013) was inspired by a young transgender child that the singer knew.
13. "I Am Her" by Shea Diamond
In this rousing 2018 pop-soul number, singer-songwriter and transgender rights activist Shea Diamond belts out this anthem that every outcast can appreciate. She painfully acknowledges that many issues and problems plague her, thereby leading to insomnia. The song narrator laments that she is the "dark cloud in everybody's sunlight" and the "shadow in everybody's front door." (Be easier on yourself!)
Members of the LGBT community have traditionally faced rejection in many forms, including harassment, discrimination, bullying, and social ostracism. Sadly, even their families are guilty of nonacceptance. As a result, LGBT youth suffer significantly higher levels of suicidal ideation, attempts, and completed suicides, in addition to depression, homelessness, and drug use. Diamond's life provides an example of struggling with rejection.
Although the singer grew up knowing that she identified as female, she felt enormous pressure to "act masculine." She was inspired from a young age to become an artist like Tina Turner but was frequently reprimanded for singing too high while in the church choir. At age 14, Diamond escaped her restrictive home environment by running away, which ended her up in the fostercare system.
After emancipation at age 17, Diamond was so desperate for gender affirmation surgery (costing $100,000 or more) that she resorted to armed robbery of a convenience store. She floated in and out of prison during the next 10 years and wrote this song during her incarceration.
14. "Androgynous" by The Replacements
The gender non-conforming couple in this rock ditty are years ahead of their time. Romantically involved, they are "closer than you know," not just because they love one another but also because they look similar. The two share the same unisex hairstyle and dress the way they want, regardless of whether it fits traditional feminine or masculine norms. Liberating, no? As if looking into a crystal ball, the 1984 song predicts that the future will see a blurring of lines between male and female.
15. "Man! I Feel Like a Woman" by Shania Twain
The catchy Grammy Award-winning tune became a worldwide favorite. The woman in the 1997 country-pop crossover song embraces her femininity fullstop as she encourages her girlfriends to do the same with a wild girls' night on the town.
Although I don't understand how coloring one's hair is "totally crazy," I guess it depends on the color. (Blue maybe?) These girls are donning men's shirts, short skirts, and going dancing as a group. They're the loud girls doing shots over there as they dance on the pool table.
Shania Twain has reported that the inspiration for this song was drag queens who worked at the same Ontario resort she did. She supported her younger siblings by working there after their parents died in an automobile accident.
16. "We Exist" by Arcade Fire
Ultimately, this is an anthem of self-empowerment and equality for the gay and transgender community. A gay son appeals to his straight father in this 2014 rock song. He doesn't understand why he is ignored and gawked at by strangers and why they pray that people like him don't exist. As the narrator seeks and is afforded his father's loving acceptance, he expresses confusion over why others reject him over this personal difference.
17. "King for a Day" by Green Day
The guy in this 1997 rock song recalls dressing in drag from a young age. He secretly tried on his mother's clothes while she was gone to the store. When his father discovered his habit, he threw the lad into therapy, but counseling couldn't stop the young man from wearing panty hose. The narrator accepts his identity even if others do not:
King for a day in the leather thong
King for a day, princess by dawn.
Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has been known to wear women's clothes on stage, often while wearing a crown.
18. "Just a Girl" by No Doubt
This tongue-in-cheek rock number from 1995 is about the societal expectations placed upon women based purely on their gender. As the lead vocalist of No Doubt, Gwen Stefani scored her first hit with "Just a Girl" which she co-wrote. It reflects a world in which most rockers are men.
The song narrator mockingly reproaches us not to mind her, as she is "just a girl" who is "pretty and petite" and needs to be controlled and protected by men from the big scary, world. She describes her feminine vulnerability, her helplessness, and inability to handle any rights (so certainly don't afford her any). This gal is neither a threat nor a leader. She's just a girl, pink ribbon and all.
19. "Brave" by Sara Bareilles
Although this 2013 power pop song is Sara Bareilles' response to her friend's emotional struggle with coming out as gay, the civil rights anthem could easily apply to others in the LGBT community (and beyond). It is a song of empowerment that recognizes the pain of remaining silent, the indignity of marginalization, and the power of words to courageously speak one's truth.
The singer told the LGBT interest magazine The Advocate that "there's so much honor and integrity and beauty in being able to be who you are" because it paves the way for others to do the same. The song's chorus makes it clear that the narrator is an ally with unconditional positive regard for her friend:
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.
20. "Royal Orleans" by Led Zeppelin
If you've ever been to New Orleans, then you know that they play fast and loose with the rules. There all types of bars, including those with drag queens so convincing that they'll have you doing double takes.
This classic rock track from 1976 tells the embellished story of one of Led Zeppelin's band members (probably John Paul Jones) frequenting such an establishment and picking up a drag queen named Whiskers for a one-night stand. When the bed at the elegant Royal Orleans Hotel catches fire from a marijuana cigarette while sleeping, the Led Zeppelin bandmate casts blame upon a rival musician.
Even More Songs About Gender Identity and Expression
22. Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)
23. Rebel Rebel
24. I'm a Boy
25. Kill V. Maim
26. Scars to Your Beautiful
27. Guys Do It All the Time
29. As Girls Go
30. The Crying Game
31. Out of the Wardrobe
32. Girls & Boys
33. Do It Like a Dude
34. Queen B*tch
35. A Girl Called Johnny
36. Walk on the Wild Side
37. What It Feels Like for a Girl
38. Pretty Girl
39. I Am Me
Keala Settle, Missy Elliott & Kesha
40. Jeremy Bender
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
41. Candy Says
The Velvet Underground
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