Musicians including Mitski, Shamir, Shirley Manson and Goldfrapp pick their favourite empowerment anthems for anyone going solo and strong this V-Day
“Why should I feel lonely?… I am no more lonely than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud… than a single mullein or dandelion in a pasture… than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star.” Those are the words of Henry David Thoreau, romanticising the feeling of being on his own in his seminal work Walden. But even if we can feel lonely anywhere, the better question to ask this Valentine’s Day is, “Why should I feel lonely?” Those going solo on Valentine’s Day need not long for a companion or the glut and goo of messy relationships, but instead feel completely and utterly happy about it.
There are enough songs about broken hearts, so if you need the inspiration to get out of a well of sobbing, we spoke to a handful of artists to find out the song that thrills them, that empowers them, that smirks at the elixir which promises satisfaction – the songs that show them the excitement of life on your own.
Billie Eilish picks Marian Hill – “Got It”
Billie Eilish: I’ve liked this song for years. It’s always made me feel like a god in a, ‘Screw you, I’m better!’ sort of way.
Key Lyric: “You want to know, but it can’t be taught / You want to steal, ‘cause it can’t be bought.”
Garbage’s Shirley Manson picks Gloria Gaynor – “I Will Survive”
Shirley Manson: There is no greater a ‘Fuck you!’ There is no more powerful a statement. Autonomy rewards us our freedom and our redemption.
Key Lyric: “Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye? / Did you think I’d crumble? / Did you think I’d lay down and die?”
Garbage’s Butch Vig picks The Ramones – “I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You”
Butch Vig: It’s a perfect kiss-off pop song. Hell, clocking in at 29:04, you might as well listen to the whole album to ramp up your adrenaline before your solo night out on the town!
Key Lyric: “I don’t want to walk around with you / So why you want to walk around with me?”
Alison Goldfrapp picks Prince – “Controversy”
Alison Goldfrapp: This song never fails to get me dancing. I love the track’s hard, fun, and fast sound – just the ticket on a solo Valentine’s evening! My favourite lyric in the song is a message for life, not just Valentine’s Day too.
Key Lyric: “We’re all just the same / Do you wanna play? Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Jens Lekman picks Ten City – “That’s The Way Love Is”
Jens Lekman: There are many songs to comfort you in the darkest moments, just after you’ve been rejected, abandoned, betrayed, and hurt. Then there are songs that pick you up when you’re ready to live again. Ten City’s old classic ‘That’s The Way Love Is’ does just that, with the greatest c’est la vie chorus ever. That’s just the way love is, we’ve all been there: ‘Two people take a vow to be together…’ followed later by ‘Funny thing, then they change their mind.’ I love that line, ‘Funny thing…’ It’s like a friend who’s tired of hearing you go on about your broken heart, who tells you to put on some nice clothes and drink a glass of wine because we're going out tonight to have some goddamn fun, okay!
Key Lyric: “They both go their separate ways and love is just a memory / But a young heart doesn’t stay sad long.”
Lizzo picks Migos – “Bad and Boujee” (feat. Lil Uzi Vert)
Lizzo: It’s the perfect Valentine’s Day strip club jam.
Key Lyric: “Call up the gang, and they come and get you (gang) / Cry me a river, give you a tissue (hey).”
Mitski picks Björk – “Isobel”
Mitski: The whole song and every word in it are obviously amazing, but as I imagine myself alone on Valentine’s Day, I can see myself yelling along as she sings, ‘To raise wonderful hell, like me! Like me!’
Key Lyric: “In a heart full of dust / Lives a creature called lust / It surprises and scares / Like me, like me.”
Moses Sumney picks Remy Ma – “Conceited (There's Something About Remy)”
Moses Sumney: Here, Remy Ma upends the commercialism of modern romance, practicing self-love through boasting about her own capital, both financial and physical. Aloneness is liveliness, as hers is a world of solipsistic conceit. Blink and you might miss the nuance, though; the defensive way in which she props herself up suggests a history of hurt. Miraculous. Phenomenal.
Key Lyric: “I look way too good to be tryin’ that.”
serpentwithfeet picks Brandy – “Without You”
Serpentwithfeet: All songs are pliable. Every listener gets to decide how a song functions. Breakup songs can be wedding songs, bright-eyed naïve romance songs can be dirges. With that said... most of my favorite heart/music moments involve Brandy. This tune, ‘Without You’, is a fantastic thriving-in-solitude love song, because it’s fun to imagine Brandy is singing this song to herself. What if this man she needs is actually the wondrous masculine force that lives within her? What if she is in conversation with the parts of herself she once denied. I think ‘Without You’ is an empowerment song. There is power in longing, and longing is a gift.
Key Lyric: “When I said I didn’t need you / Boy, you know I was just fronting.”
Shamir picks Phyllis Hyman – “Living Alone”
Shamir: I feel like this is the anthem for being ‘alone and alive.’ I grew up with my mom blasting Phyllis, not knowing she was from Philly until I moved there. It’s especially home-hitting because when you’re single, you learn to appreciate the trivial but good things in your life.
Key Lyric: “Now I love what’s in my life and I find it’s a mellow world / I’m not even the same, I’m a different girl.”
Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart picks Robyn – “Dancing On My Own”, The Smiths – “I Know It’s Over”, and Julius Eastman – “Crazy Nigger”
Jamie Stewart: Well, happy Valentine’s Day to you! Or rather, happy Valentine’s Day to you? (Please pardon all upcoming platitudes). Good songs about revering singleness often come at it the other way around, gripping the foolishness of love around the throat and wringing it to black. They declare one’s white-knuckled sorrow at yet even more time passing bereft of true affection in fearlessly direct terms. If you name it you have power over it. Two of my (and everyone’s) long-time favourite examples of this type of song are Robyn’s ‘Dancing on My Own’ and The Smiths’ ‘I Know It’s Over’. They both spurt their unclotted pain directly and fiercely all over the happy lovers’ pink and red sky, and yet survive the cuts. But, they are not embarrassingly alone songs in that they have become almost communal anthems to loss. They are too good to be denied this anyway.
Key Lyrics (Robyn): “I'm just gonna dance all night / I’m all messed up, I’m so outta line.”
Key Lyrics (The Smiths): “If you’re so very good looking / Why do you sleep alone tonight? / I know because tonight is just like any other night / That’s why you’re on your own tonight.”
Jamie Stewart: However, to be truly alone and to truly celebrate this aloneness as a challenge to happiness, the music that is striking me most deeply this fateful season is one whose title – as a middle class whitey – I cannot and definitely should not even say. Julius Eastman’s piece ‘Crazy N****r’, as far as I have been able to gather, is not about love lost in triumph but, more than anything else I’ve heard in years, it’s meant to be listened to and absorbed alone. It’s long, abrasive, dreamy, aggressive, transportive, ambitious, and brave. After its 55-and-a-half minutes are up, you have affirmed your loneliness by rapidly blinking your tear-filled eyes, and emerging back into the world still here.
If he’s new to you, Mr. Eastman was African-American, queer, and came of age in ‘Amerikkka’ in the crucially turbulent 60s, 70s, and 80s. He died destitute, homeless, more or less unknown, and by himself of heart failure at 49. Luckily, his work is being given a fervent second chance as of late. When you’re alone and dedicate an hour of yourself to his pain and his dedication, you celebrate his gift to you. Although he’s gone and left this world kicked and down, you honour the rottenness of being alone by receiving it. Your arms are open to all and you will not give up.