In a genre that thrives on cheesy love songs and raging emotions, it can be refreshing to find songs which are meant to motivate the listener, rather than help them cry. From Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing, to Stronger by Kelly Clarkson, everybody can find something to take with them from a motivational pop track.
Some of these songs are determinedly upbeat, almost to the point of being cringy: they seem to want to force the listener out of their funk and make them feel better with a feel-good melody. These are the simplest kind of motivational songs, which rely on repeating one or two phrases over again without any kind of lyrical complexity. It should be noted, however, that in this case, a simple track doesn’t equate a weak track: the best example of a song in this category is probably Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping, which is known to most for its enthusiastic repetition of the lines, “I get knocked down / but I get up again / No you’re never gonna bring me down”. The rest of the song might be forgettable, but it still does what it’s supposed to, because with its strong beats and simple, major chords, not to mention the cliched phrase of encouragement, you can’t help but feel just a little better after hearing this song. Another celebrated example of such a song is Here Comes The Sun, by the Beatles – a track which doesn’t have many varying lyrics, just a vague allusion to a “long winter” and the repetition of the phrase “Here comes the sun”, a sign of positive change, but uplifting all the same.
Other tracks steer clear of these tactics entirely and take a more mature approach to creating an inspirational single. They begin with a slower beat, use minor chords effectively, and most importantly, have lyrics which acknowledge that you’re in need of some motivation rather than mindlessly singing about fighting back. Christina Aguilera’s I Am Beautiful is one such song. The first stanza includes lines like, “It’s hard to breathe / Now and then I get insecure from all the pain / I’m so ashamed”, which then opens up to a powerful chorus about loving yourself the way you are.
The best kind of motivational songs in my opinion, are neither the ones which sound a little gloomy themselves, nor the ones which try to make you believe you feel better already. They are the ones which sound powerful, almost verging on aggressive, with a strong drumbeat and empathetic lyrics. This doesn’t happen as often as you’d think, especially in pop music, a genre which relies on being light and easy to listen to. However, there are a few successes. P!nk is probably one of the best pop artists I can think of in this category: her songs like Try include a perfect combination of acknowledging the pain in a situation and overcoming it regardless, with lyrics like “Where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get burnt / but just because it burns doesn’t mean you’re gonna die / you gotta get up and try”. The underlying aggression in these kinds of tracks often strike a chord with the listener, and make them want to obey the lyrics of such songs more than ever, thus serving the purpose of a motivational track.
As someone who looks at music as a lifeline, despite their varying styles, motivational pop songs are an encouraging sign in themselves: to me, they are a sign that music-lovers can turn to their playlists for help in any situation, even in a genre that is so often (and not entirely without reason) mocked for lacking substance.