The 20 Best Pop Songs in History By Women Artists

You know Lady Gaga made the list.
You know Lady Gaga made the list.

Snobs may try to marginalize pop music precisely because of its mainstream appeal, but the fact is that there are few purer joys than singing a well-crafted pop song with gleeful abandon at the top of your lungs. And the artists delivering these songs are some of the most talented vocalists, dancers and all around entertainers in history.  

While we have eternal love for Hanson, Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and the like, because so many of these pop songs have been delivered to us by women — who for all intents and purposes form the backbone of most eternal pop music — we here celebrate the top 20 pop songs in history by female artists. These undeniable hits have transcended Top 40 to become permanent fixtures in the cultural landscape. Also, they make us really happy. — Katie Bain

Wilson Phillips album coverEXPAND
Wilson Phillips album cover
Courtesy of Universal/SBK Records

20. Wilson Phillips, "Hold On"
Despite what some would call its unnerving sentimentality and borderline self-help lyricism, "Hold On" remains sun-soaked pop-rock for Gen-X nostalgia nerds raised on original format MTV; a guilty pleasure for anyone going through a breakup or quarter-life crisis during the Prozac Nation-era. While there's simply nothing cool about Wilson Phillips, their three-part harmonies and vocal resonance on "Hold On" are incredibly uplifting, and encapsulate '90s schmaltz as well as the gooey sax on "How Do You Talk to an Angel" or a freshly laundered flannel shirt to cry on. — Art Tavana

19. Kelly Clarkson, “Since U Been Gone”
Kelly Clarkson started out as this seemingly one-note reality show princess who became famous for her ability to, well, hit notes. But with the help of a rock-infused makeover, Clarkson transformed her image and her career with her second album Breakaway and its highlight, “Since U Been Gone.” From its storytelling recap of a rotten relationship to the build-up of its shout-along chorus, the angsty anthem is dedicated to the message that life can be so, so, so much better after you break up. We have Kelly to thank for the fact that breakups are a hell of a lot more fun with “Since U Been Gone” as the soundtrack. — Kelsey Whipple

18. The Spice Girls, “Wannabe"
Released on the group’s debut album, Spice, “Wannabe” was the single that made the Spice Girls overnight icons. But what makes this song one of the best of all time — aside from the bizarro lyrics “I wanna zigazig ahhhh” — is the fact that it addresses the importance of female friendships over romantic bonds. “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends,” the Girls advise in the chorus, defining the notion of “chicks before dicks” long before it became an overused aphorism. Thus, the British pop group became a symbol of female empowerment, and to this day, “Wannabe” remains one of the best and the catchiest girl power anthems of all time. — Mary Carreon

17. Cyndi Lauper, "Time After Time"
Written by Cyndi Lauper and Rob Hyman, “Time After Time” isn't about falling in love, nor is it about falling out of love. It exists somewhere in the complicated gray area of the romance spectrum, the place where the feelings are melancholy, yet hopeful. Every complicated emotion is amplified by the quiver in Lauper's voice in this beautifully tear-jerking vocal performance. "Time After Time" was Lauper's first chart topper and, in the 30 years that have elapsed, it remains wildly popular. Pop singers, indie rockers and karaoke regulars have all taken stabs at this song, yet, no one can quite capture the song's gentle magic like Lauper did. – Liz Ohanesian

The 20 Best Pop Songs in History By Women Artists
YouTube screenshot

16. Christina Aguilera, “Fighter”
Fighter” arrived amidst the “not a girl, not yet a woman” era of pop, at a time when the ladies ruling it were updating their sweet, virginal images for personas that were sexy but still safe. Christina didn’t care about safe. She reemerged on her sophomore album Stripped decidedly a woman, owning the sexuality, self-esteem issues and questionable fashion choices that go along with becoming one. “Fighter,” with its big guitars and bigger, hook-laden chorus, abandoned the notions of being a “good girl” or a “bad girl,” but instead championed being good to oneself because of — and in spite of — the bad stuff that happens. Christina’s sea change wasn’t a first (she has Madonna and Janet to thank for that), but it was vital at a time when female pop stars were at their most manufactured and artistically anodyne. – Andrea Domanick

The Ronettes
The Ronettes
Photo by GAC-General Artists Corporation via Wikimedia Commons

15. The Ronettes, "Be My Baby"
With Veronica Bennett, later known as Ronnie Spector, on lead vocals, 1963’s "Be My Baby" captures an angst-filled moment of desire so powerful that it set the standard for songs about longing. Ronnie sings, "For every kiss you give me/I'll give you three," with a sweet sadness so intense that it almost hurts to hear it — yet more than 40 years later, it’s nearly impossible to change the radio station when this song comes on. It's the tune that sucked you into Dirty Dancing, with a hook that was reprised more than two decades later on Eddie Money's "Take Me Home Tonight" — proving that while "Be My Baby" is a desperate song, it can make just about anything tolerable. – Liz Ohanesian

14. Destiny’s Child, “Say My Name”
At the end of the 1990s, Houston was the hotbed for a lot of things (pro sports, mostly), but pop music wasn’t one of them. Enter the salacious Destiny’s Child, vixens who had been carefully honing their craft since they were pre-teens. With hitmaker Rodney Jerkins’ production, the introduction of Beyoncé’s powerhouse vocals, and lyrics of an angry woman calling out her boyfriend for cheating on her, “Say My Name” became a hit, won the group two Grammys and set the stage for many similarly indignant Destiny’s Child hits to come. — Daniel Kohn

The 20 Best Pop Songs in History By Women Artists
YouTube screenshot

13. Rihanna, “Umbrella”
Though she’d be steadily building a following with her earlier releases, it was the sauntering “Umbrella” that propelled Rihanna to international pop icon status. Embracing a new sound that included uptempo dance-pop beats, Rihanna enlisted The-Dream, Tricky Stewart, Kuk Harrell, and one Jay-Z to help her craft the song, with which she kicked down the door to the mainstream — in stiletto heels, naturally. Featuring a verse by Mr. Carter, the song is known for its infectious beat, incredibly catchy hook (“'ella, ‘ella, ‘ella…”) and, ultimately, for topping the charts in 13 countries and selling 6.6 million copies worldwide. — Daniel Kohn

12. Donna Summer, “I Feel Love”
Way back in 1977, Summer and her producer, Giorgio Moroder, sent dance music hurtling headlong into the future with "I Feel Love," the first track to marry the sweeping melody lines and brisk tempos of disco with the metronomic synthesizers and drum machines of Kraftwerk. Foreshadowing and influencing techno, trance and today’s epic festival EDM, Moroder’s gleaming, robotic synths and Summer’s swooning, abstract vocals still sound like the future — and can still ignite any dance floor. — Andy Hermann

11. Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance"
Lady Gaga is a mad genius, and her 2009 magnum opus "Bad Romance" is the pop music equivalent of a violent orgasm. The song, which has been covered by everyone from Frank Ocean to the cast of Glee, pulses with dark desire and leather-studded sex. It's also an operatic tour de force on which Gaga gets progressively more demented amid a fiery ode to a past lover. ("I don't wanna be friends," she's literally shouting by song's end.) "Bad Romance" upped the ante on the artful brand of crazy Gaga first presented on The Fame and cemented the former Stefani Germanotta as a boundary-pushing cultural disruptor who mattered. – Art Tavana

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