For this week’s New Music Friday, we’re tackling the best music that targets a universal theme: ‘rising up’ and overcoming adversity. When you’re young and pursuing your dreams, you quickly discover that the road to getting there isn’t as rosy and easy as you’d have thought. No matter what challenges you’re facing on the path to your goals, here are twenty songs that you’ll want to listen to.
1. ‘Rising’ by Julia Lester
Performed by Ashlyn (Julia Lester) from HSMTMTS, ‘Rising’ is all about being young and ambitious, and overcoming and persevering through obstacles on the path to fulfilling your dreams and figuring out who you are. Ashlyn is a fun and funny character, but a song like this opens your eyes to her other dimensions. And while you’re at it, make sure to read our recent interview with Lester, talking about her upcoming role as Little Red in Into the Woods.
2. ‘Rise’ by the Glee cast
‘Rise’ from the Glee soundtrack is a similarly motivational song, as it has the same underlying themes, and is sung by an insanely vocally talented, eclectic cast, all belting out about learning from your setbacks and not taking the easy way out in following your dreams.
3. ‘Skyfall’ by Adele
‘Skyfall’ by Adele is a more surprisingly moving song about rising, but above past trauma. In the film, James Bond is facing and overcoming the trauma of losing his parents as a child and growing up an orphan, but it’s really just a great testament to that primal need to have someone by your side to walk through the trials of your life with you, and to help you get back up when life gets you down.
4. ‘Rise Up’ by Andra Day
Tune in to this award-winner’s lyrical smash, originally performed at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration. Originally capitalizing on America’s feeling of need to grow and progress after all its recent challenges- the COVID pandemic, the Trump presidency, etc.- the song is a universal meditation on finding the strength to move on and overcome any kind of obstacle, no matter what it is or who you are.
5. ‘Awaiting You’ by Billy Porter
If you liked Billy Porter’s acting in movies like Cinderella (2021), tune into this inspirational song about looking back on your past self when you achieve your goals after all of the trials you endured.
6. ‘That’s When I Knew’ by SaVannaH
This track from the self-titled singer is a touching song about, in the face of past bad relationships and attachment insecurities, getting yourself to a place where you don’t need someone else, but you just want to be with them.
7. ‘Feel the Pain’ by Alaska Reid
This single by the formidably talented Alaska Reid is a terrific meditation on how, instead of choosing to turn away from our pain and/or trauma, the solution to rising up from that is actually feeling the pain so we can figure out how to move forward.
8. ‘Let it Ring’ by Reiley
Another up-and-coming indie artist to watch out for, Reiley’s ‘Let it Ring’ is a fun, energetic post-breakup song, all about letting go of a toxic relationship, and having the confidence and strength to not let your ex continue to have a grip on you.
9. ‘Happier Than Ever’ by Billie Eilish
Going through a heartbreak? This could be a terrific catharsis. Written in the wake of a then-freshly broken-up relationship of her own, Eilish’s sad-yet-optimistic take on heartbreak is an aural journey of epic proportions.
10.‘Swan Song’ by Dua Lipa
An original song from the 2019 dystopian film Alita: Battle Angel (2019), this anthem by British pop sensation Dua Lipa is a rip-roaring tale about, when faced with tragedy and oppression, you can enter a ‘new life’ in which you are stronger and more confident than before, not defined by what befell you prior.
11. ‘Ashes’ by Celine Dion
Here’s a really good one. Created specifically for the hit sequel Deadpool 2 (2018), this is a majestic piece of music that literally asks, “Can beauty come out of ashes?” It suggests that you can, in fact, find meaning and beauty in the dark times of your life.
12. ‘How Far I’ll Go’ by Auli’i Cravalho
By far one of the most iconic and irresistible Disney songs of recent years, this is a beautiful song about not just following your own passion, but also going against the underestimation of those who expect you to follow a certain path, and to not have big dreams of your own.
13. ‘Love Myself’ by Hailee Steinfeld
As talented a singer as she is an actor, Hailee Steinfeld’s ‘Love Myself’ is an uplifting and empowering song about finding your inner confidence post-breakup, and proving to that other person (and yourself) that all you need is yourself.
14. ‘I’ll Stay’ by Isabela Merced
Originally written and performed for the comedy-drama Instant Family (2018), this is a tear-jerking and touching tune about having a stable parental figure in your life, someone who will stay with you, through both good times, and especially the bad times, so that you can weather the storm and get back up again.
15. ‘Bye Bye Bye’ (Cover) by Suzanna Son
A bright young indie musician and rising actor, Suzanna Son’s cover of NSYNC’s iconic pop song uses her bare-bones piano instrumentals, combined with slow and soulful vocals, to create a stirring lyrical narrative about making peace with breaking up with your ex.
16. ‘Breakin’ Free’ by Olivia Rodrigo
Take a listen to this strong-willed stand against the patriarchy, as the breakout Australian singer-songwriter creates a powerful testament to womens’ courage and strength in rising up against powerful men’s oppression.
17. ‘Better When I’m Dancing’ by Meghan Trainor
Written for The Peanuts Movie (2015), this banger by Meghan Trainor is just a great song about having the courage to be yourself, and discovering your true confidence in doing so, which is great if you relate to the shyness and insecurity of Charlie Brown as a character.
18. ‘Weekly’ by DENTON
This relatable gem by Nick and Austin Green is great to listen to when life’s struggles start overwhelming you. Because the tumultuous feelings that result from that stress and unpredictability are just a weekly part of life, and we just have to decide to get up and move forward every day.
19. ‘Breakin’ Free’ by Olivia Rodrigo, Joshua Bassett and Matt Cornett
Right from the HSMTMTS soundtrack, this is not only a great collaboration between series leads Ricky, Nini and E.J., but a more complex song about breaking free from society’s expectations, and just pursuing what makes you happy, and having that special someone who understands you by your side all through it.
20. ‘Don’t Forget’ by Sky Ferreira
This heartbreaking and heartrending song from alt-pop star Sky Ferreira starts out as a somewhat bitter rumination about all the things that’ve hurt you, but quickly evolves into a more appreciative look at that past, emphasizing that your biggest disappointments and failures can also give form to your strongest hope and optimism.