Music

Pump Up the Jams

Music that’ll make you move.

beam me up scottyBeam Me Up Scotty
Nicki Minaj
2009, Trapaholics

Beam Me Up Scotty is the last mixtape Nicki Minaj released before she signed to a major label. It’s got early hits like “Best I Ever Had” and “I Get Crazy” as well as some of her most biting, incisive rapping—the kind of music that makes you explode with power by proxy. Tracks like “Go Hard” and “Mind on My Money” showcase Nicki’s ability to turn a pop hook into a motivational anthem. I still listen to them on the treadmill—who needs a personal trainer when Nicki Minaj is your life coach, you know? Beam Me Up Scotty also includes “Itty Bitty Piggy,” one of the best songs Nicki’s ever made. It established her as a venomous, unparalleled rapper while showing she wouldn’t hide her femininity in order to get over (as exemplified in the lyrics “Flow so sick I need a healer—[where the] fuck is my M.A.C. concealer?”). —Julianne

SiaWe Are Born
Sia
2010, Monkey Puzzle

This album reminds me that when shit’s out of whack, I should do something about it. Its assertive dance tracks and sing-a-longs have a way of coaxing me into jamming and reflecting on my life at the same time. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by emotions, “Cloud” urges you to claim them and express them to their fullest. If someone is killing your good vibes, “Big Girl, Little Girl” tells you to call them out. Listening to We Are Born is like having someone who knows me well encourage me to be honest with myself about what I want from life. Just singing my heart out to every lyric of this album is a badass release in itself. —Chanel

haxel princessHaxel Princess
Cherry Glazerr
2014, Burger Records

I have never, while speeding down a highway in a convertible, stood up—arms stretched out, wind hitting my face—to get a better look at a perfectly blue, cloud-free sky, but I imagine that feeling would be like the one I have when I listen to Haxel Princess, and it is pure, unadulterated bliss. The songs are pretty but not passive, soothing but not quiet. They have a sense of innocence and discovery—due partly to a poppy garage sound that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of Happy Days. Haxel Princess is the soundtrack for summer adventures like falling in love, eating barbecue at the beach, and doing doughnuts in a car in an abandoned parking lot with your friends. —Laia

Flashdance.soundtrackFlashdance: Original Soundtrack From the Motion Picture
Various artists
1983, Casablanca

If there are two things I hold near and dear to my li’l heart, they are the ’80s and camp. Luckily, the two often go hand in hand, and this is especially true when it comes to the 1983 movie Flashdance. The film is about an 18-year-old welder, Alex, who moonlights as an exotic dancer while working toward her dream of becoming a professional ballerina, and it has a deliciously cheesy soundtrack to fit its far-fetched plot. You may have heard the stupidly catchy track “Maniac” by Michael Sembello, which accompanies the scene in which Alex practices for her Big Audition at a Big Dance studi. Giorgio Moroder, the famous Italian synth-disco master, co-wrote the film’s opening song, “What a Feeling,” which is a pep talk of a tune that would be appropriate in a Broadway musical (there actually is a Flashdance musical that features this very song). There are many other memorable songs, including ones by Donna Summer and Kim Carnes. The entire soundtrack has all the hyperbolic drama of the film and is a big, wonderful dose of corniness. —Hazel

LadytronWitching Hour
Ladytron
2005, Island Records

Jams like “Sugar” and “Weekend,” from Ladytron’s slick electro-synth record Witching Hour, are the ultimate in Cool Goth Girl party material. (If you don’t know what I mean by Cool Goth Girl, google photos of Ladytron’s members, Mira Aroyo and Helen Marnie.) When I discovered their music at the age of 18, when I was a frequent habitué of goth dance clubs, I felt like I’d stumbled upon some of sort of secret–but I didn’t want to keep it to myself. I wanted everyone to listen and dance toWitching Hour, to really GET it and feel it in their souls. I used to imagine myself dancing to the sexy, dominating “Destroy Everything You Touch” under the club’s dizzying lights. Each week, I wrote it on the DJ’s request clipboard, hopeful that if I just kept requesting the same song over and over, it would eventually be played and the crowd’s collective mind would be BLOWN. It never happened. Instead, I listened to it alone in my room and pretended that everyone else was absorbing its awesomeness along with me. I still put it on when I want to get pumped up for a night out. —Meagan

graduationGraduation
Kanye West
2007, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam

I had a major awakening of the senses the first time I listened to Graduation. The tracks’ titles alone—“Stronger,” “Good Life,” and “The Glory,” to name a few—are enough to give me courage. But Kanye’s lyrics pinpoint feelings I’ve had, such as self-doubt and fear of things like intimacy, and turns them into catalysts for doing whatever the fuck I have to do to succeed. In “Champion,” Kanye spits, “They used to feel invisible—now they know they invincible,” which resonated with me because in high school I thought that I was just another basic, forgettable face. Kanye’s words helped me realize that I need to be my own advocate, to really step it up and be known. And the chant-like phrase “La, la, la, la, wait till I get my money right” (from “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”) reminds me that if I just do me and go for what I want, then who can really get in my way? I listen to Graduation any time a major change or decision comes up, to help me move into the next phase of life with more adrenaline and confidence than ever before. —Chanel

slothrustOf Course You Do
Slothrust
2014, Ba Da Bing Records

Slothrust’s Of Course You Do is what they might have called “alternative” back in the day, but it’s just good rock music, PERIOD, and this is already my record of the year. There are little bits of grunge melodies here and there, and scuzzy guitars that make me think of dimly lit basements, perhaps with beer bottles scattered around. Bouncing bass lines alternately hide behind a wall of guitar distortion and punctuate singer Leah Wellbaum’s vocals, which are what immediately made me fall in love with this band. Her voice is kinda deep, and she sing-talks. She sounds like the coolest girl in school. Her lyrics are personal and funny and make me feel like I’m not the only person in the world having weird emotions. In “Cubicle,” when Leah sings, “I try my best to hide that I care,” I’m like, YES. And when she follows it with “But you got me wrong, yeah you got me wrong, you got me wrong,” I’m like, NO. WAIT: YES! The last song on the record, “Beowulf,” which is about the epic Old English poem that you no doubt studied (or will study) in school, is the best, funniest one because of lyrics like “Beowulf was one sick puppy.” (You should DEF play it for your English teacher because she/he will love it, and you’ll probs get some bonus points or something.) But there are no bad songs here, nothing to skip over. You’ll want to sing this whole record at the top of your lungs. You need it in your life. —Laia

miss-little-havanaMiss Little Havana
Gloria Estefan
2011, Crescent Moon/Verve Forecast

I still can’t listen to “Wepa,” the first single from this album, without jumping up and down like someone just offered me candy. “Wepa” is Puerto Rican slang for, essentially, “Hell yeah!”—aka the kind of thing you yell when you’re really having fun at a party or on the dance floor. The rest of the album, which was mostly produced by Pharrell, is just as exuberant. It takes the longtime Queen of Latin Pop back to her awesome dance roots, except this time with Pharrellian interpretations of freestyle, merengue, Latin house, and salsa sounds. The whole album is bound to make you happy, but I guarantee you’ll find yourself cycling back to “Wepa” again and again. —Julianne

CherThe Very Best of Cher
Cher
2003, Warner Bros.

Since I was in grade school, Cher has been almost like a member of my family and my inner circle. Her characters in movies like Moonstruck and Mermaids were wise figures who lifted everyone up, and her music has always made us dance. It’s difficult to recommend just one album of hers, but The Very Best of Cher is a perfect collection to start with. It goes from her folky days with Sonny (“I Got You Babe”) and then takes you through her solo forays into disco, rock, pop, and Eurodance (who can resist “Believe“?!). She is a master of transformation—but it’s always on her terms, and she is always perfectly herself. She’s an example of what it means to be a strong, standout, independent woman who does her own thing, no matter what everyone else happens to be doing in any particular decade. Every time I listen to a song like “Strong Enough,” I feel like Cher is lifting up my chin and saying, “SOAR, LITTLE WOMAN…THIS IS YOUR TIME.” —Brittany

KalaKala
M.I.A.
2007, XL/Interscope

Matangi
M.I.A.
2013, N.E.E.T./Interscope

The first time I heard Kala, I was ecstatic. Finally there was someone who looked like me and spoke my language who was also screaming at the top of her lungs about not needing to be accepted by anyone else in order to love herself. Songs like “Paper Planes” have become personal anthems for a lot of people (including minority girls like me) because they’re all about taking action and repping who you are and where you’re from. In “World Town,” she sings, “Every wall you build, I’ll knock it down to the floor.” It’s motivating and empowering and makes me glad to be who I am. Her fourth album, Matangi, is powerful, witty, and ferocious—just like the Hindu goddess of the same name. It references antiquity while staying modern: Some tracks sample age-old Hindu chants and prayers, but Maya keeps it current, like when she seamlessly includes the Apple Photo Booth camera-shutter sound in the song “Come Walk With Me.” She also asserts her cultural relevance by responding to Drake’s YOLO with the song “Y.A.L.A.,” which stands for “you always live again”—referencing the idea of reincarnation, which is a pillar of Hinduism and other South Asian religions. M.I.A. is proud of her Sri Lankan roots, and she’s confident that she’ll find success no matter what. Matangi is filled with celebratory jams like “Only 1 U,” “Warriors,” and “Bad Girls” that hype you up and make you feel ready to face any problem head on. —Shriya

Stars DanceStars Dance
Selena Gomez
2013, Hollywood Records

This album didn’t get a ton of attention when it came out in 2013 because it was the same year Miley Cyrus became Nu Miley. That’s unfortunate, because Stars Dance is so good. Sure, Selena channels all sorts of other pop stars, like Ellie Goulding in “Stars Dance,” Rihanna in “Come & Get It,” and Gwen Stefani in “Birthday,” but those songs are so charming that I can’t really be mad—especially not at “Birthday,” because the video dropped on Selena’s actual 21st birthday and the lyrics feature the hilarious/awesome refrain “JAZZ IT UP!” On a personal level, I have issues with Selena’s occasional cultural appropriation (e.g., her decision to wear a bindi during performances of “Come & Get It”), but her music gets me pumped nevertheless. It could be because it’s the perfect blend of great vocals, pop hooks, and slight cheesiness (see: the dramatic dubstep in the UBER-SERIOUS video for the terrific song “Slow Down”). —Julianne

the donnasThe Donnas Turn 21
The Donnas
2001, Lookout!

The Donnas play good-time pop-punk that sounds kinda like the Ramones with the swagger of ’70s classic rock. The songs on Turn 21 are purely mood-lifting and confidence-boosting. They’re all about cutting loose and unapologetically getting your kicks. They call out the guys who have crushes on the band (e.g., “You’ve Got a Crush on Me”) and then straight-up ask, “Do You Want to Hit It?” They invite boys over to make out in “Midnite Snack” (because really, nothing gets you in the mood like junk food). They collect boys’ underwear in “40 Boys in 40 Nights”—my favorite song on the album. They even make out, smoke a bowl, and drink beer with the cop that pulls them over in “Police Blitz”! If you’re looking for action this summer, make the Donnas your sidekicks. —Stephanie

Hearts RevolutionRide or Die
HEARTSREVOLUTION
2014, Owsla

Ride or Die is a call to arms, full of dance-y, fun electro punk with lyrics about doing your part to fix the world. In “Brillianteen,” Leyla Safai sings, “We’d better leave this place better than we found it, or our kids will feel the fate—there’s no doubt about it.” The album critiques societal problems like misogyny and our overall obsession with fame, but HEARTSREVOLUTION aren’t complaining. Instead, they want people to band together and take action. On the title track, Leyla sings, “The heart that beats as one is stronger than the two, come on!” Ride or Die is the perfect motivational album, whether you want to help change the world or run one more lap around the track. —Shriya

fall out boyInfinity on High
Fall Out Boy
2007, Island

If Fall Out Boy is the belligerent beat of my heart, Infinity on High is the rhythm it keeps. Every time I am faced with difficulty, I take out my phone and listen to “I’ve Got All This Ringing in My Ears and None on My Fingers.” While I’ve been a fan of FOB ever since their baby steps in 2003 (it’s hard to believe I’ve been listening to one band for more than half my life, but there it is), this particular album is my favorite, because it’s a bit bitter but still sharp and lethally optimistic about the end, the future, and how those things intersect. It takes those often annoyingly pious discussions about “being real” and “selling out” and dances with them until everyone involved is dizzy. “A penny for your thoughts, but a dollar for your insides, or a fortune for your disaster. I’m just a painter, and I’m drawing a blank”: These lyrics from “Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?” are ones to mutter under your breath when you are tired of proving yourself to everyone, including yourself. But my favorite song, the one that I scream late at night when I’m pushing through a million projects I shouldn’t have said yes to, is “Fame < Infamy." Its rage is sharp and fun and makes you jump and wiggle your fingers. Infinity on High doesn’t keep me grounded, it turns my motivation into a sword, a rocket, an arrow, and I can’t stop doing what I need to do until the album stops. And then? I press play and start over again. —Arabelle

smiteSmite
The Dirty Nil
2014, self-released

The Dirty Nil is one of those bands that I came across by complete accident, at a local show. (They are from Hamilton, Ontario, and I’m nearby in Toronto, but pretty much everyone in Canada knows one another—sort of). I went in thinking, This isn’t really going to be my type of music, but my friends are here and I have nothing better to do, so sure, why not, but I ended up having a party of a time. I couldn’t help it—the band’s sound was just too dang infectious. When I got home, I downloaded their entire discography, which was really easy to do, because they only have about a dozen songs on their Bandcamp page. Their earliest songs are pure, good-natured rock & roll, but then every release gets slightly faster and more frantic, culminating with their most recent EP, Smite. The whole thing is five songs and 11 minutes long, with vocals that can be melodic or howling, set against frenetic, uptempo guitars. I think “Wrestle Yü to Hüsker Dü” (good song, great name) should be on the soundtrack to every teen movie released in the next year, which is a compliment of the highest order. —Anna F.

Destiny's_Child_–_Number_1's#1’s
Destiny’s Child
2005, Columbia

Destiny’s Child’s #1’s is a musical timeline that brings me fond memories while reminding me how far I’ve come. Always a supporter of other creative #GRITS (it stands for “girls raised in the South”), I filled my mixtapes with their hits to get me through some of my most fun and terrifyingly transitional years. Beyoncé and company provided upbeat harmonies, infectious energy, and sisterly empowerment to off-campus weekend joyrides with pals from boarding school, my first frat party (where I danced to “Jumpin’, Jumpin’”), and my first breakup, when I played “Survivor” on repeat for three months. Later, as I navigated body image issues and the big, bad world of work, their anthems “Bootylicious,” “Independent Women,” and “Bills, Bills, Bills” made it seem like they were growing up with me, and told me that I was not alone. —Jamia

Technotronic_Pump_Up_The_JamPump Up the Jam: The Album
Technotronic
1989, SBK/EMI Records

Eurodance and house hits from the late ’80s to the mid-’90s are timeless tunes to sweat to, whether you’re working out or trying to finish a paper at 3 AM (I’m more likely to be doing the latter). One of my favorite house albums from that time is Technotronic’s Pump Up the Jam. What makes the Belgian group’s brand of dance music so fun is that it’s completely literal. There’s their famous “Move This,” an almost hypnotic synth-pop track that demands you that “shake that body”—and then you do! Then there’s the title track, which treats the dance floor like the beckoning party that it is. Technotronic’s themes may be repetitive (“move” basically sums it up), but when you’re in the zone, you need recognizable reassurances, not complicated lyrical poetry. Does this record deserve more than novelty status? Totally. Now, come on and groove to this. —Hazel

i'm not deadI’m Not Dead
Pink
2006, LaFace/Zomba

Pink is famous for making music that gets parties started, and I’m Not Dead is no exception. I love “U + Ur Hand” for its message to gross dudes who harass women when they’re out having a good time: “I’m not here for your entertainment.” But a lot of this album is also introspective—Pink sings about finding strength within and fighting your way back to top form. I can’t count how many times I’ve used the song “I’m Not Dead” to pull myself out of a funk. I should probably get the line “I’m not scared, just changing” tattooed somewhere. —Stephanie ♦

10 Comments

  • synesthh June 5th, 2014 11:47 PM

    Didn’t know Cherry Glazerr came out with an album so I’m so glad I saw this! Also props for Kala being on here, that was the first album I heard that made me think.

    synesthh.tumblr.com

  • tessj95 June 6th, 2014 1:57 AM

    Cherry Glazerr, MIA, Kanye, this list is perfect. KALA in particular has helped me through some horrible moments in my life so i’m so glad it’s on here

  • itssabine June 6th, 2014 4:00 AM

    This list is perfect! We did so many choreographies on Sia songs in my dance class this year and it made me fall in love with her music.
    I sort of freaked when I saw Infinity On High was on here. That album was what made me obsessed with Fall Out Boy and I’ve listened to it for an unhealthy amount of times. I’m pretty sure I’ve developed some sort of spiritual connection with that album ;)

    http://cursive-type.blogspot.com

  • thebrownette June 6th, 2014 8:35 AM

    ARABELLE! Finally, someone who loves “I’ve Got All This Ringing…” Folie a Deux is my favorite album overall, but IOH is so killer.

  • tiredyawnsforfawns June 6th, 2014 5:18 PM

    had to suppress a scream of surprise/delight when i saw infinity on high on the list- i love fall out boy way too much for my own good
    arabelle, you described the overall attitude of the album perfectly!! the energy of fame < infamy never feels tired to me, even after that one time when i listened to it at least twice a day for a month straight

  • flocha June 7th, 2014 3:28 PM

    FALL OUT BOY OMG that album was the soundtrack to my early teenage years. Every time I listen to it I feel like an angsty twelve year old again.

  • obeykid June 7th, 2014 6:13 PM

    These are really good picks!

    From Selena’s album I would highlight ‘Love Will Remember’. Seriously, that album is so underrated…

    https://www.etsy.com/shop/obeykid

  • emeraldruby June 9th, 2014 12:51 AM

    YES! We Are Born is one of my faves :)

  • bandsarelife June 23rd, 2014 11:14 AM

    OMG MY BAES FALL OUT BOY! Infinity on High is the album that got me obsessed and it’s been through some tough times with me.

  • Jenoris July 13th, 2014 12:48 AM

    Ugh Arabelle I feel you SO HARD with the Fall Out Boy. Remember that point in time when everyone was all like “ugh Infinity on High is their worst album.” I remember sitting behind my laptop screen like “Are you okay buddy? You’re very mistaken and I am CONCERNED.”
    To this day I still can’t help but lose it every single time Thriller or Bang the Doldrums comes on.