You and your fiancé are ready for the big day: You've found the perfect pair of locally-sourced rings, your outfits are on point, and any sexist traditions have been snuffed. Now, what about the dance playlist? No need to sift through your Spotify in vain—your song choices can be both feminist and rockin'.
When my husband and I were crafting our perfect wedding playlist and perusing various "offbeat" wedding sites for ideas, we noticed that most song selections were pretty bland. (If I had a dime for every time I saw "That Dress Looks Nice on You" by Sufjan Stevens or "First Day of My Life" by Bright Eyes on a playlist...well, I'd be able to donate a substantial amount of money to Planned Parenthood.) Suffice it to say, we couldn't find much that met our feminist-cool criteria.
So, that’s what I’ve done here. You’re welcome.
Pre-Game Glam Time
“#1 Must-Have”: Sleater-Kinney
What’s a feminist wedding playlist without Sleater-Kinney? Singer-guitarist Corin Tucker’s call for a non-binary revolution (“Culture is what we make it / Yes, it is / Now is the time / To invent”) will get you amped up and ready to #resist, and oh yeah, ready to get married.
“Brown Skin Lady”: Black Star (Mos Def & Talib Kweli)
With lyrics like “Without makeup, you’re beautiful / Whatcha you need to paint the next face for / We’re not dealin’ with the European standard of beauty tonight,” “Brown Skin Lady” is the perfect antidote to the lingering white supremacist notions of beauty that pervade our culture.
“Feeling Myself”: Nicki Minaj (feat. Beyoncé)
The feminist power of “Feeling Myself” is almost too much (except not). In the song (and in real life), Nicki and Bey’s self-worth isn’t dictated by the men around them. The Guardian’s Tshepo Mokoena had the best take on this empowering tune: “When Bey and Nicki sing that they’re feeling themselves, they’re reminding the listener of their pop culture relevance and self-confidence. When you sing along, you’re letting the world know that now the song’s message is about you. It’s a glossy, unapologetically self-assured take on the announcement Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox belted out in 1985: we’re doing it for ourselves now, and the rest of you need to just deal with it.”
Be sure to blast this gem while you’re getting ready, and you’ll be feeling yourself all day.
First Dance Tunes That Don’t Suck
“I Never”: Rilo Kiley
Evocative and intense, “I Never” is a celebration of acceptance (and slight obsession) in love (“So baby be good to me / I got nothing to give you, you see / Except everything, everything, everything, everything / All the good and the bad”), as sweetly crooned by the one-and-only Jenny Lewis. Perfect first dance material.
“Holy Shit”: Father John Misty
It’s my one regret in life that I didn’t choose “Holy Shit” as my first dance song. Why? FJM famously penned this song on his wedding day, and it’s chock-full of no-nonsense lyrics that demystify the shit out of long-term love. The lyrics “Oh, and love is just an institution based on human frailty / What’s your paradise gotta do with Adam and Eve? / Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity / What I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me” make me want to bawl, every time. Cheers to embracing your own definition of relationships—one that has nothing to do with the rom-com version of love. (Um, or Adam and Eve.)
Struttin’ Down the Aisle
“Girls, Girls, Girls!”: Liz Phair
I know I’m not the only still jamming out to my crusty old Exile in Guyville CD. Liz Phair’s song-by-song response to Exile on Main Street is still just as poignant today as it was in the 90’s. Jezebel took this particular tune to task for the lyric “Because I take full advantage / Of every man I meet”—I, however, would argue that, duh, this isn’t the feminism we’re after, but this lyric totally exemplifies the beauty of Exile (read: a feminist response to the Stones). Plus, after eons of lyrics, stories, and cavemen drawings telling tales of men taking advantage of women, I think dudes will be okay.
“Prince Johnny”: St. Vincent
Gender-bending goddess and guitar virtuoso (and, okay, my forever crush) Annie Clark aka St. Vincent is a visionary for the queer age. In addition to being a sonically perfect ballad for cruising down the aisle, “Prince Johnny” is a haunting exploration of culturally-dictated gender roles. Of the song, Clark told Rolling Stone, “It’s unpacking some of what it means to be a ‘real girl’ and a ‘real boy’. We get handed down these ideas of gender and sexuality. You’re supposed to be this or that. What happens if you float around the cracks and don’t fit into these narrowly prescribed things?” Heck. Yes.
“Archie, Marry Me”: Alvvays
This sunny little tune by Canadian indie pop group Alvvays will have your guests bouncing in their seats with glee. Seriously, you can’t help but grin from ear to ear when you listen to “Archie, Marry Me.” Plus, with lyrics like “So, honey, take me by the hand and we can sign some papers / Forget the invitations, floral arrangements, and bread makers,” this song is an adorable ode to love without the pageantry of traditional weddings.
Kurt and the gang were famously outspoken feminists in a white male-dominated grunge rock music culture (see: their Incesticide liner notes, in which they wrote, “If any of you, in any way, hate homosexuals, people of a different color, or women, please do this one favor for us—leave us the f*** alone. Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.”) “Sappy” is a powerful takedown of toxic masculinity and is thus the perfect song for rockin’ down the patriarchy-laced aisle.
Bey. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Need I say more?
“Body Was Made”: Ezra Furman
Ezra Furman’s lyrics are always incredibly emotional, and “Body is Made” is no exception (“My body was made in this particular way / There’s really nothing any old patrician can say / You social police can just get out of my face / My body was made”). A celebration of gender and sexual fluidity to its core, “Body Was Made” is also a super catchy tune that’s perfect for pairing with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.
“Tears for Animals”: CocoRosie
Sister duo CocoRosie’s songs can sometimes err on the side of ambiguous, but with lyrics like “Stop the slaughter of our daughters” and the moving refrain, “Do you have love for humankind?” there’s no mistaking the meaning here.
“Cheerleader”: St. Vincent
Yep, St. Vincent’s on the list again—deal with it. “Cheerleader” is a delightful rejection of the pressure to fit certain “feminine” ideals and an outright battle cry against objectification. Also, the lyric “I’ve seen America / With no clothes on” sorta perfectly describes 2017, to put it mildly.
Get Your Bad-Ass Anti-Patriarchal Self on the Dance Floor
“Bad Girls”: M.I.A.
“Bad Girls” will have everyone on the dance floor in two seconds flat, thanks to the song’s hypnotic hooks and take-no-prisoners mantra (“Live fast / Die young / Bad girls do it well”). No feminist dance playlist is complete without M.I.A.
“Let ‘em Say”: Lizzo
Prepare to strut your stuff like you mean it when you blare “Let ‘em Say,” a self-love anthem by hip-hop artist Lizzo who, according to Vogue, is “starting a body-confidence revolution.” (I wholeheartedly agree!) The article also mentions Lizzo’s fear of important concepts becoming trivialized: “I hate when things that are good for people become trendy and people belittle their importance. That’s happened with terms like feminist, activist, and safe space. It’s scary how the oppressors or the mainstream can work that way.”
Be still my heart. (But not my body, ‘cause this song makes me want to move.)
“Q.U.E.E.N”: Janelle Monae (feat. Erykah Badu)
Obviously, it’s “Q.U.E.E.N” Janelle Monae’s world and we’re all just living in it. Except for Bey, of course.
Justine Harrington is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas by way of Oklahoma. Even though writing this brought back some serious wedding planning angst, she's thrilled to contribute to the feminist wedding consciousness.