From unrequited love to landing your dream job: 16 songs to guide you through life

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Alice Vincent
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Alice Vincent, music writer for The Telegraph, selects 16 songs by female artists to soundtrack every moment of your life - from the highs to the lows, and everything in between. 

We're all adults - or at least pretending to be - which means we've most likely encountered heartbreak and happiness of different forms.

The unexpected happens and it can either make or break your day, week, or month. Sometimes you'll be knocked for six and the quiet just becomes too overwhelming. This is when music comes in: there's a reason why it's used to such profound effect on film soundtracks.

So why not create a soundtrack for your life? From landing your dream job to breaking-up with your best friend, these songs will help get you through - or at least make you feel less alone.

1. When you land that awesome new job

Song: Hole, Celebrity Skin

Remember the scene when Bridget Jones tells Daniel Cleaver to shove his job up his arse? This song would soundtrack that moment perfectly. Courtney Love’s rip-roaring hit may have been inspired by society’s expectations of women and standards of beauty, but it works well for any kind of life makeover - as perfectly demonstrated in Clueless, too. Forget the leaving cards and the colleagues you pretend to like and celebrate leaving that hell-hole you call the office. 

2. When your relationship’s going a bit wonky

Song: Solange, Losing You

Going on a girls’ night out is an age-old remedy for lost love, but dancing around in your bedroom comes a second best. Solange, aka Beyoncé’s little sister, does so in a killer trouser suit on her enormous 2013 comeback single Losing You, which shimmers with Dev Hynes’ production while delivering tears-on-the-dancefloor truths. I guarantee that, whatever happens, it’ll make you feel better. 

3. When you fall out with your best mate - and you want to make it right

Sarah McLachlan, When She Loved Me

Tissues at the ready. One of the reasons why Toy Story’s soundtrack was better than most created by Disney is because they got proper songwriters to create it. Just as Randy Newman wrote You’ve Got a Friend in Me, so McLachlan put out When She Loved Me. This feather light ballad lands with the softness of falling leaves but pierces deep for anyone who longs for a friendship that used to be better. 

4. If you fall in love with someone else’s man

Robyn, Call Your Girlfriend

Sometimes matters of the heart need a wonky, insistent electro beat. Especially if you’re being the other woman. Robyn is firm but fair in this instructive Scandi-pop ballad: let her down easy. Sometimes love isn’t right, but Robyn manages to contort this betrayal into something for the greater good. 

5. If your man falls in love with someone else

Adele, Cold Shoulder

If you’re in a romantic pickle, a good old Adele binge will do wonders. But return to this 19-era nugget of jittery pain if your partner’s done the dirty: in the space of three minutes the Tottenham-born poet transforms her feelings from full-blown rejection to quiet vengeance. There is healing here, and it comes from belting out the pain. 

6. When you’re feeling anxious, depressed or a little wobbly

TLC, Unpretty

TLC’s sophomore album, Crazysexycool, is a superb soundtrack for most things, but for a heartfelt pick-me-up turn to their third effort, Fanmail. Unpretty topped the US charts for three weeks in 1999, so you’re guaranteed to have heard it before - but, more than 25 years on, it’s message remains pertinent: beauty lives within, screw those who make you feel smaller or lesser than you are. Sometimes we all need that reminder. 

7. When you have an enormous crush on someone

Janet Jackson, He Doesn’t Even Know That I’m Alive

Having a whopping great big crush on someone is enough to make us all resort to schoolgirl feelings. So it’s in this vein that we turn to Janet. Specifically mid-Eighties, Control, shoulder-pads-and-big-ponytail Janet, who really fancies someone she’s managed to get a photo of and put next to her bed (creepy, but we’ll let it pass). Next time you can’t muster the courage to look Attractive Calum From Accounts in the eye, remember you’re not alone. 

8. When you feel like the biggest loser in the world

Kacey Musgraves, Follow Your Arrow

If you’ve not encountered Musgraves, she’s like Taylor Swift with fewer snake emojis. Follow Your Arrow may sound schmaltzy, but a closer reflection on the lyrics will highlight the Texan’s empowering message: forget expectations, ignore your critics, do what makes you feel good. By the end of it, you’ll realise that there is too much out there to be worrying about that (not-stupid) thing you said in a meeting earlier. 

9. When you know you’re looking absolutely on-point

Sleigh Bells, Rill Rill

Braces? What about them? Alexis Krauss’s just-saccharine-enough vocals trill over this gently badass ode to adolescent defiance, accepting yourself and developing the best girl gang. You’d be forgiven for not understanding the lyrics, and that’s ok, because the gleefully building crescendo of this indie hit provides the perfect catwalk-strutting soundtrack - wherever you chose to walk it.

10. When you’ve been dumped

Fleetwood Mac, Silver Springs

This lingering Stevie Nicks ballad was meant to be included on that Greatest Break-Up Album of All Time, Rumours. But it never made the cut, and instead was released as a B-side to vengeful relationship breakdown song Go Your Own Way. But it’s worth digging out: Nicks sings about her on-off lover and bandmate Lindsey Buckingham, soaking up all the fears of him moving on and, in a fierce, stirring chorus, how he’ll always remember her - of course he will, she’s Stevie Nicks.  

12. When you’re really riled up about ingrained sexism

Christina Aguilera, Can’t Hold Us Down

In the great history of feminist musicians, Aguilera probably doesn’t rank enormously high. But that doesn’t stop her from delivering infectious validation for your patriarchy-related rage with this bullshit-calling banger. Lil Kim offers a verse that you should probably learn the words to (if you didn’t know them already) to mutter under your breath the next time a builder tells you to smile. 

13. When somebody you love dies

Billie Holliday, I’ll be Seeing You

There is something enormously cathartic in the wistful soul of Billie Holliday’s voice. A woman who endured racism, addiction, incarceration and abusive relationships, Holliday turns raw feeling into beauty with a voice that redefined jazz in the Thirties and Forties. Who better, then, to channel the feelings of grief? I’ll be Seeing You picks up on the dull, everyday poignancy of someone you love not being around any more, and makes it something to maybe be even a little grateful for.  

14. When you’re completely and utterly in love with somebody

Joni Mitchell, A Case of You

According to Spotify, this is the most popular song by the ‘Scientist of Love’ - but that is with good reason. Mitchell sketches tiny portraits of a relationship with a voice that effortlessly graces the octaves as it does the feelings of full-immersion love. It’s not without tinges of sadness, but that doesn’t lessen its impact. James Blake has covered this, too, if you want to try a new version. 

15. ...And they don’t love you back

Bonnie Raitt, I Can’t Make You Love Me

Country legend Raitt describes a situation that’s tediously familiar: winding up under the covers of a bed you probably shouldn’t be in. Even if you’ve managed to avoid this, her sentiment will ring true if you’ve been giving your all to someone who, frankly, doesn’t deserve it. Albeit early Nineties, this, laden with slow, sad acceptance, remains one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

16: When, regardless of what happens, you realise you’re going to be just fine

Erykah Badu, On & On

Badu’s debut (and Grammy-winning) single is inspired by Nation of Gods and Earths theology, but if you don’t ascribe to that there’s a simple takeaway: whatever happens, the world will turn and life goes on. It helps that this Nineties hip-hop classic has the kind of feel-good, slubby beat that could have been made to improve a long day.