1. Céline Dion, “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now”
For when you are looking for a good cry, alone in your car, in the rain, with some insanely melodramatic, early-90s instrumentals, when a long-lost ex is coming back in your life and you have to admit that you are still in love, there is no song but this one. Only Céline will take you through the agony and the ecstasy that is falling back in with someone you once considered gone forever, only she has the vocal range and the absurd costume changes to make sense of it all again. There is no human emotion you can experience that Céline isn’t able to soothe with her all-knowing, all-seeing music.
2. Meredith Brooks, “Bitch”
You are not going to be told what to do by anyone — least of all society — and a man is not going to put you in some pristine box of femininity and quiet acceptance that you have to abide by in order to earn his respect in tiny increments. You are a bitch, and you don’t care what negative connotations this word has. You pay your own rent now, you pick out your own outfits, and you are not going to be told that you are just “too much” for someone to handle.
3. Toni Braxton, “He Wasn’t Man Enough For Me”
Shortly after you kick the loser to the curb who was insisting that you change to suit his insecure needs, there is but one song to vindicate yourself for the choice. Sorry, but this vaguely human-shaped object who was in distinct lack of anything resembling a spine was not worth it to you — if another girl wants him, she can have him, but you and Toni Braxton are too busy wearing crop tops and doing your fantastic choreography to waste any more time on his sorry ass.
4. Edie Brickel & New Bohemians, “What I Am”
It’s time for you to just get all Lilith Fair, sit back with your oversized boyfriend jeans and a cup of tea, and think about life for a little bit. You’re becoming a real woman now, and with that comes a certain reflection on all that is going on around you. And you are a lot of things — you’re powerful, you’re strong, and you have a lot of thoughts about philosophy and religion. These things may not impress you very much, but you certainly know what they are, whether it’s “a walk on the slippery rocks,” or “a light in the fog.” You aren’t aware of too many things, but you certainly know how to chill out with some inoffensive 90s thinker-rock and maybe do some journaling about your feelings.
5. Beyoncé, “Single Ladies”
There is going to come a moment where you are in the club, surrounded by your girlfriends whose love fulfills you in a way many significant others never have, and you’re going to raise up your drink to the heavens and sing along with this song as you wiggle your left hand back-and-forth like some methed-out crossing guard. That moment will be amongst the best in your young life.
6. Cascada, “Every Time We Touch”
Do not even try to pretend like there is not a special place in your heart for this clusterfuck of an electropop song. That insane, pixie-esque voice. Those incredibly cheesy, semi-meaningless lyrics. The hook that has a tendency to get stuck in your head for around eight years at a time — everything that is good about this song is also what is good about the first rushes of infatuation with a new love interest. Sometimes you are with someone you just want to kiss until you pass out from lack of oxygen, and this song is the only one truly capable of expressing that sentiment.
7. Destiny’s Child, “Cater 2 You”
While this may be a controversial choice for some, who find its lyrics more than a little offensive, chances are you will one day be in such a profound state of love/admiration for your long-term partner that literally nothing makes you happier than the prospect of treating them like some 14th-century Emperor. You want to cook for them, you want to give them massages, you want to make sure you look your best at all times just for them. And Destiny’s Child is here to tell you that your grown-up love is something we all feel from time to time.
8. Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone”
…And for when things don’t work out quite as you intended, there is this Kelly Clarkson gem that will serve as the balm to any and all wounds a breakup could have inflicted. Aside from the fact that Kelly Clarkson is literally all of us wrapped into one flawless human being, this ode to mending your own broken heart is a perfect jam on its own. Who doesn’t hear this song and just want to jump around and yell at no one in particular about how you are so moving on and there is nothing they can do about it? (The last time this came on my iPod I’m pretty sure I yelled about my newfound freedom and how I am over what we had to several strangers on the subway.)
9. Christina Aguilera, “Dirrty”
No matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, this song is always an excuse to bring out your inner Xtina. There are going to come times when you’re at the club and just looking to grind indiscriminately against the nearest pelvis with reckless abandon, imagining that you are in the assless chaps/boyshorts combination that made this song/video such a success. There is no such thing as “skanky” when it comes to this song. This song transcends any label you could put on it and serves only to remind you that you are young and sexy and in total control of your body — why not shake it like you’re auditioning to be the 37th Pussycat Doll?
10. Whitney Houston, “I’m Every Woman”
And what playlist would be complete without this most important, almost-comically empowering tune, the reminder that everything good about our perfect sex lies within each and every one of us? After all, if Whitney says it, it has to be true. Whitney would not lie to us. With this song, we are free to embarrassingly imitate her voice as we try to keep up with her soaring vocals and insane range, singing into our hairbrushes in front of our mirrors. There is no shame in belting it out, karaoke-style, at the most inconvenient moments. You are every woman, you see, and thus it is no one’s job to tell you to quiet down.