What makes a song motivational?
Since the 1950s, studies have shown that music has a powerful neurological effect on our brains – there is even an area of scientific study called neuromusicology, which relates to how our nervous system reacts to musical stimulus.
Music acts as a motivator in many fascinating ways.
- Our brains fall into fatigue when we are engaged in repetitive, routine tasks for extended periods (read: when we are at work). Listening to uplifting melodies helps the mind to escape and acts as a distraction from the mundaneness of these duties, fuelling the brain to work harder and even improving your mental endurance.
- It’s a well-known fact that music increases our commitment to exercise – just think about how many people wear headphones in the gym! The appropriate motivational music promotes stimulation by bouncing off the auditory neurons inside the body, encouraging us to get up and move. Music also acts as an aid for human coordination thanks to its rhythmic pattern.
- On the other side of the spectrum, music motivates us to unwind and relax. Beautiful background music can act as a distraction from stressful issues that often occupy our minds, bringing us greater peace and more meaningful rest which helps the body to refuel and recharge. This is why so many people like to de-stress by listening to motivational music in the evening.
WHO look at 20 of the best motivational songs ever recorded from every genre.
20. 'I’m Still Standing’ - Elton John (1983)
Album: Too Low for Zero
Genre: Rock / Pop
Motivational style: Perfect for workout, sports, running or productive studying - the lyrics of I’m Still Standing are all about triumphing in the face of adversity. The music video was directed by Russell Mulcahy and filmed in Cannes, France.
19. ‘Survivor’ - Destiny’s Child (2001)
Album: Released as a single.
Genre: Contemporary R&B
Motivational style: Survivor is a hip hop classic which deals with resilience, female empowerment overcoming the greatest obstacles. The song won Best R&B performance by a duo or group at the 2002 Grammy Awards. This epic motivational banger is sure to inspire confidence and is the ideal addition to your exercise playlist.
18. 'Titanium’ - David Guetta ft. Sia (2011)
Album: Nothing but the Beat
Genre: House, Urban Dance and Electronic Pop
Motivational style: Titanium was produced by French superstar DJ David Guetta with vocals from Australian powerhouse Sia, originally released as a single for digital download. The lyrics to this inspiring song are all about discovering inner strength, making it the perfect motivational soundtrack for everything from work and study to challenging workouts.
17. True Colours’ - Cyndi Lauper (1986)
Album: True Colours
Motivational style: This simple, semi-acoustic 1980s classic has become the anthem for self-acceptance and embracing individuality. True Colours has become somewhat of an ode to the LGBTQ community over the past three decades, and spent two weeks in the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. This beautiful music is a great motivator for anyone lacking in confidence or feeling lost, isolated or misunderstood.
16. 'Heroes’ - David Bowie (1977)
Album: The Berlin Trilogy (No. II)
Genre: Experimental rock
Motivational style: This stunning hit from the Starman became one of his best known signature songs, and Bowie even performed Heroes ten years after its release in front of the Reichstag in Berlin in an emotional concert promoting unity between East and West Germany. Heroes tells the story of the Cold War, and calls for a coming together of all people. This upbeat yet tear jerking classic is full of hope and promise, ideal for students, for running and for anyone feeling disillusioned with the world around them.
15. 'Unwritten’ - Natasha Bedingfield (2004)
Album: The N Soundtrack
Motivational style: This uplifting, upbeat smash hit encourages us to take on whatever life throws our way and to learn from our mistakes, seeing them as lessons instead of failures. Unwritten inspires self-confidence, belief and spontaneity, and calls for us to take chances.
14. 'Paper Planes’ - M.I.A. (2007)
Genre: Electronic Dance
Motivational style: Paper Planes is a groundbreaking track encouraging young people to break the mould and branch out on their own to become a ‘bona fide hustler’. It tells the audience to stop caring about what other people think and chase down their ambitions no matter what anyone says. The catchy, inspiring song is a great tune to listen to while working, studying or working out.
14. 'So What?’ - Pink (2008)
Genre: Punk, Pop
Motivational style: This anthem is for anyone newly single or taking time out from a relationship - in fact, Pink penned this uplifting track as a dig at her then-estranged husband Carey Hart (they have since reconciled). It’s the go-to tune for anyone who has had a bad day or a fight with their significant other. Because so what?
12. 'Numb/Encore’ - Jay-Z ft. Linkin’ Park (2004)
Album: Collision Course
Genre: Rap, Hip Hop, Pop
Motivational style: This rock and hip hop collaboration between giants of each genre explores inner turmoil and personal demons, with the Encore section discussing rising from nothing to achieve incredible success. This hypnotic beat of this motivational song is great for stimulation during sports and exercise to boost your endurance and stamina.
11. 'Can’t Hold Us’ - Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (2011)
Album: The Heist
Genre: Pop, Hip-hop, rap
Motivational style: This incredibly energising hip-hop and rap fusion track is ideal for your exercise playlist and is guaranteed to help you work up a sweat. The lyrics are inspiring and promote determination, while the melody is entertainingly infectious - a perfect motivational music combination!
10. 'All You Need is Love’ - The Beatles (1967)
Album: Released as a single.
Genre: Brit Pop
Motivational style: Simply put, The Fab Four had it right over five decades ago - love is really all we need at the end of the day. This uplifting motivational song reminds us of the power love can have on humanity.
9. 'Man in the Mirror’ - Michael Jackson (1988)
Motivational style: Man in the Mirror calls for inward reflection and takes the listener on a voyage of self discovery, telling us all that we can change our lives for the better in anyway should we want to. A perfect background track for relaxation, work or study.
8. ‘Firework’ - Katy Perry (2010)
Album: Teenage Dream
Genre: Pop, Rock
Motivational style: Katy Perry said of this empowering smash hit: ‘I believe that people have the spark to be a firework.’ The song calls out for self-belief and pushing yourself to achieve full potential, making it great to workout enthusiasts, students and professionals with a deadline fast approaching.
7. 'Born to Run’ - Bruce Springsteen (1975)
Album: Born to Run
Genre: Rock, Pop
Motivational style: The title track of Springsteen’s career-defining album was written as a love letter to a girl and centred on running away together to find a fresh start and a better life. The perfect background music for exercise or completing a tough student project.
6. 'Touch the Sky’ - Kanye West (2006)
Album: Late Registration
Genre: Hip-hop, Rap
Motivational style: The King of self-belief and self-motivation, it’s clear Kanye West truly believes anyone can ‘touch the sky’ if they only try. This rap belter is catchy, cheerful and upbeat, making it a great song for exercise to boost your stamina.
5. 'Don’t Stop Believin’ - Journey (1981)
Motivational style: Without doubt one of the greatest motivational songs of all time, this Journey release is all about persistence and realising your true potential.
4. 'Imagine’ - John Lennon (1971)
Genre: Instrumental, Soft Rock, Pop
Motivational style: This exceptionally beautiful song pairs meaningful lyrics with a captivating melody, asking listeners to imagine a peaceful earth where people are no longer divided by religion, hate or national borders. Imagine is an international anthem for justice and peace, inspiring us all to strive for good and reach for a better reality.
3. 'Live Forever’ - Oasis (1994)
Album: Definitely Maybe
Genre: Rock, Brit Pop, Alternative, Indie
Motivational style: This Oasis classic was written by the Gallaghers as an indirect response to an overwhelmingly negative Nirvana track titled ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’. Live Forever is beautifully uplifting and has become famous the world over for championing life, optimism and hope. The perfect mood changer for a bad day, this motivational song highlights the joy to be found simply by getting up in the morning and not knowing what the next 24 hours might bring.
2. 'Get up, stand up’ - Bob Marley and the Wailers (1973)
Motivational style: Marley wrote this protest song as motivational piece of music about the deep poverty experienced by the people Haiti. The track calls for downtrodden communities to stand up for their rights and basic human necessities, and has been used by many revolutionary and activist movements around the world since its release.
1. ‘Lose Yourself’ - Eminem (2002)
Album: 8 Mile
Motivational style: Inspiring, aggressively determined and powerful, this Eminem belter is the ultimate underdog anthem - for sports, exercise, studying, work or any challenging scenario where you feel less than capable.