Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

From Taylor Swift to Tom Petty: 10 songs that lift the spirits

Music that encourages you to look at the brighter side of life

From left: pop stars Taylor Swift, DJ Khaled, Sade and Elton John gave us their brand of joyous pop music. AFP
From left: pop stars Taylor Swift, DJ Khaled, Sade and Elton John gave us their brand of joyous pop music. AFP

Over the years, popular music has found ways to document the challenges surrounding mental health.

While many of these songs are moving in their unflinching portrayal of depression, there is an equally sizeable body of work tackling the subject matter with a lighter touch.

While it's easy to dismiss these often peppy ditties as too lightweight, they can be effective in lifting the mood, even for a few minutes, in these fraught times.

Here are ten eclectic songs that remind us to look at the brighter side of life.

1. ‘Titanium’ by David Guetta, featuring Sia (2011)

An epic dance tune that not only introduced us to the vocal prowess of Aussie singer Sia Furler, but also went on to be viewed as the millennial version of Eye of the Tiger. Lyrically, the track is a paean for resilience in the face of criticism. In tailoring the message to a younger, digitally savvy audience, the song focuses on the destructive effect of words in this era of cyber bullying. How to overcome the hate? Pay it no mind and “you are bullet proof”.

2. ‘Shake it Off’ by Taylor Swift (2014)

Taylor Swift may have written the song in response to the "hate, hate, hate" that comes from being a pop star, but the brilliantly conversational lyrics and exuberant pop production allowed the song's message of self-empowerment to hit home, and in turn, the top of the charts.

3. ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child (2001)

Inspired by a pun regarding Destiny's Child's revolving door of members, the trio crafted a bullish and confident message to their detractors with this 2001 hit. It is a now a favourite of gym classes worldwide.

4. ‘I’m Still Standing’ by Elton John (1983)

We all asked ourselves the question at some point: is who we are or what we are doing relevant? Elton John certainly felt that way in 1980s, when his once pioneering songwriting began to be viewed as uncool by the emerging punk and new wave movement. Casting his career as a relationship on the rocks, he declares: "I'm still standing after all this time. Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind.”

5. ‘Beat it’ by Michael Jackson (1983)

For his classic album Thriller, Michael Jackson was looking for a rock song to provide balance to the pop tracks he'd already recorded. To suit the tough guitar riffs, his lyrics focused on the scrounge of gang violence afflicting the US at the time. The message here is that true strength is found by conquering your own demons and not by lashing out at the world.

6. ‘All I Do is Win’ by DJ Khaled (2010)

The Palestinian-American producer is the hip-hop version of motivational guru Tony Robbins. This anthem is as much a club staple as a manifesto on how to approach life, which is to take it by the scruff of the neck and seize the opportunity. It is no wonder that the song has been used by a host of football teams across the US as their victory cry.

7. ‘Cherish the Day’ by Sade (1993)

A major hallmark of the English group's output is singer Sade Adu's enigmatic vocals and word play. This is one of the rare occasions when she lets her guard down and embraces the joy of living in the moment. Over ambient keyboards and minimal production, she urges us to not be afraid and "cherish the day".

8. ‘Hold On’ by Wilson Phillips (1990)

An absolutely joyful song born from a dark place. Battling substance abuse and in the throes of a toxic relationship, singer Chynna Phillips wrote the lyrics as a way to remind herself that "things will go your way, hold on for one more day". Not only did the song top the charts, it became the year’s biggest selling single in the US.

9. ‘I Won’t Back Down’ by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

A track that rallied a wounded nation, this was written as a rocking ode to self confidence. The chorus’s declaration of "I will stand my ground and I won't back down" took on extra resonance in the US in the days following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

10. ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin

A song that transformed a saying by 20th century Indian mystic Meher Baba into a modern day catchphrase. Yes, it is a novelty song and comes with a cringeworthy music video, but you can't deny the heart-warming sentiment.

Updated: October 10, 2020 08:50 PM

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