The best songs about identity dive into the deepest feelings and desires of the artists, expressing their anxieties and fears as well as their hopes and ambitions.
A sense of identity is something everyone can relate to, so it’s not surprising that this personal theme has been covered by musicians and singers from all genres.
Read on, and we’ll explore identity in music by catering to all tastes, from classic singers such as Marvin Gaye to icons of pop music Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift.
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The 21 Best Songs About Identity
Identity is something that drives our daily lives and behaviors, a fact that hasn’t escaped the singer-songwriters and bands featured on this playlist.
We’ve chosen music from a range of musical styles that showcase the many ways identity has been discussed throughout the history of music.
With our criteria established, here’s our playlist of the 21 best songs about identity:
21. “Ain’t That Peculiar” – Marvin Gaye
The Marvin Gaye song “Ain’t That Peculiar” is a classic tune from his Moods album that discusses the singer’s own identity in relation to a lover.
The song tells the story of Gaye’s conflicted sense of identity as his lover continues to hurt him in new and painful ways, triggering an identity crisis through incessant lies.
Released in 1966, “Ain’t That Peculiar” is a beautiful piece of music, and the song reminds us how our identity can change when people treat us badly.
20. “Mistaken Identity” – Kim Carnes
The Kim Carnes song “Mistaken Identity” is another powerful and moving song about identity, and listeners can easily see some of themselves in the lyrics.
“Did you think I’d be waiting for you, did you think I’d be holding my breath,” Carnes sings, “To hear the songs of your footsteps sayin’ it’s all over with her.”
The song, which she included on her sixth studio album of the same name, was released in 1981 and topped the Billboard Hot 100 Charts for several weeks.
19. “Choices And Rights” – Johnny Crescendo
Johnny Crescendo released the song “Choices and Rights” on the colorfully titled album Piss on Pity Complete in 2013, an explicit underground folk hit.
This protest song about the disability movement is a song that urges self-acceptance and gives a strong sense of dignity and individuality in the face of persecution.
It’s a solid example of music that urges the listeners to stand by their true identity no matter what and develop self-esteem in the face of life’s challenges.
18. “My Life” – Billy Joel
“My Life” is a worthy companion piece to the song “Honesty,” Billy Joel’s powerful song about lies, which deals with similar topics and themes.
Billy Joel used the song “My Life” as the theme song for the television series Bosom Buddies, which used a different vocalist to get around licensing issues.
“My Life” is an upbeat and catchy song that features a great beat, pulsing keyboard patterns, and Joel’s typically strong vocal performance holding everything together.
17. “Complicated” – Avril Lavigne
Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” cuts to the chase with this pop chart-topping hit boasting powerful and engaging lyrics and a wonderful music video.
The song takes on a range of themes rooted in identity and the complications that arise when the actions of peers challenge a person’s individuality.
Released on the 2002 Avril Lavigne album Let Go, “Complicated” is a great song to listen to when you feel as if the people in your life are gaslighting you.
16. “Let Me Be Myself” – 3 Doors Down
3 Doors Down understand how easily people can try to change who they are to please others and how, ultimately, this is a huge mistake.
“Let Me Be Myself” is an anthem for anyone who’s experienced this problem, with the lyrics, “It’s time to make my way into the world I knew.”
It was released in 2008 on the album of the same name, cementing the American rock band’s reputation for composing engaging material for their fans.
15. “Follow Your Arrow’ – Kacey Musgraves
“Follow Your Arrow” was released in 2013 on the Kacey Musgraves album Same Trailer Different Park, winning acclaim from music critics and fans.
Musgrave’s charm and charisma shine through in the video, in which she sings about how “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.”
If you’re after a laid-back piece of music from Musgrave, check out “Biscuit,” a great song about food that showcases a more lighthearted side of the singer-songwriter.
14. “All By Myself” – Eric Carmen
Eric Carmen began his professional music career as the lead singer of the Raspberries before breaking out as a solo singer-songwriter.
His song “All by Myself” is one of the lesser-known releases in his discography, but it’s a great example of his idiosyncratic singing style and songwriting abilities.
It reflects the personal desire to get away from everything to truly discover who you really are, with a touching message that inspired his many fans.
13. “Sit Still Look Pretty” – Daya
Identity is often mixed up with the expectations others have for a person, as “Sit Still Look Pretty” by Daya explores in detail.
“I’m never gonna be that girl who’s living in a Barbie world,” she sings, continuing with, “Could wake up, and make up, and play dumb, pretending that I need a boy.”
This pop song was released with a wonderful official music video that encapsulates Daya’s sentiments and refusal to become the girl those around her expect to see.
12. “People Are Strange” – The Doors
“People Are Strange” is a song that pairs exceptionally well with “The End,” the Doors’ popular song about anxiety that touches on the alienation that many felt after the end of the Summer of Love.
Released in 1967, it’s a stirring and surreal piece of music that captures the drug-fuelled hedonism of the times and the fractured sense of identity that followed.
The Doors were masters of psychedelic rock music, and “People Are Strange” is arguably the high point in their discography showcasing this style.
11. “Jillette Johnson” – Cameron
In the Cameron song “Jillette Johnson,” the singer took inspiration from her friends in the LGBT community when putting together the lyrics.
The song talks about identity and the feeling that the world is “full of aliens” who cover up their secrets with makeup and haircuts to escape detection from humans.
It’s a powerful piece of music that serves as an analogy for the identity crisis some people feel as they struggle to be true to themselves.
10. “Pretty” – Lauren Alaina
Lauren Alaina released “Pretty” in 2011, featuring the song on her album Road Less Traveled and enjoying a great deal of success following its release.
“You’ve got hopes, and you’ve got dreams, but you’ve been hiding them behind the scenes, oh yeah,” she sings, “But pretty cares and pretty loves, and I’m pretty sure you’re more than just skin deep.”
A popular country song by Lauran Alaina, “Pretty” features powerful vocals, and it’s composed with a deep sense of feeling for the subject matter.
9. “I’m Different” – Randy Newman
Randy Newman is widely known for his contributions to popular animated movies from Pixar, with his songs featured in the hit movie Toy Story.
He wrote and recorded “I’m Different” earlier in his career, and the song expresses his pride at being different from everyone else and refusing to compromise his personality.
Released in 1983 on the album Trouble in Paradise, “I’m Different” captures the trademark piano and vocal combination for which Newman is widely known.
8. “In My Life” – The Beatles
The Beatles have released some of the best songs of all time, and “In My Life” is a worthy addition to their lengthy award-winning discography.
Featured on the album Rubber Soul, which some believe to be their masterpiece, the song talks about identity in childhood with Lennon’s lyrics reminiscing about those years.
“In My Life,” which inspired many producers to use harpsichords in their arrangements, has been listed on multiple breakdowns of the greatest rock songs ever recorded.
7. “ME!” – Taylor Swift Ft. Brendon Urie
Taylor Swift’s song “ME!” speaks loudly and proudly in celebration of embracing who you are, no matter what anyone else has to say about you.
She collaborated with Brendon Urie on “ME!,” and the official music video won an award for Best Visual Effects at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Taylor Swift, who won 12 Grammy Awards, made waves in the news when she got caught up in a Twitter spat with First Lady Jill Biden.
6. “Who We Are” – Red
The Ukrainian metal band Red released one of the best songs of their career with “Red,” which was featured on the album Until We Have Faces in 2011.
It’s a defiant and proud song about identity that features the lyrics, “We won’t hide our faces from the light, eliminate the space between us.”
“Who We Are” is another powerful song that encourages listeners to stay true to themselves in the face of a society that increasingly demands conformity.
5. “Who You Are” – Pearl Jam
“Who We Are” by the metal band Red to “Who You Are” by the iconic American rock band Pearl Jam, which also features impressive guitar licks.
“Changes all you’re a part / Seen it all, not at all,” frontman Eddie Vedder sings in his unique rasping vocal style, “Can’t defend fucked up men, take me for a ride before we leave.”
A classic rock song from one of the biggest bands of their generation, “Who You Are,” can be found on the 1996 album No Code.
4. “Karma Chameleon” – Culture Club
“Karma Chameleon” is often ranked among the best songs about animals, but the Culture Club clearly intended this to be as much about identity as actual chameleons.
The lyrics talk about “Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams” and how every day is like survival when you’re a man without convictions.
It’s one of the biggest tracks released by Culture Club, as popular today as it was when it was released in 1983, with millions of views on YouTube.
3. “Just Like Fire” – P!nk
P!nk is well-known for her effective use of pop and rock motifs in her releases, and “Just Like Fire” encapsulates her unique style.
It was released on the soundtrack to the movie Alice Through the Looking Glass, a children’s film that deals with identity in a surprisingly mature manner.
P!nk donned a wonderfully garish pink suit and Southern curls for the official music video, which captured the production design of the movie to a tee.
2. “I Don’t Want To Be” – Gavin DeGraw
Gavin DeGraw delivered his trademark classic rock and indie style with the song “I Don’t Want to Be,” released on the album Chariot in 2003.
“I don’t want to be anything other than what I’ve been tryna be lately,” he sings in the song, continuing with, “All I have to do is think of me, and I have peace of mind.”
Gavin DeGraw uses the song as a way to express his desire to get away from the liars in his life who have triggered an identity crisis full of paranoia and loathing.
1. “Born This Way” – Lady Gaga
Long before she teamed up with actor Bradley Cooper for “Shallow,” one of the best karaoke songs, Lady Gaga made waves with the hit single “Born This Way.”
The lead single from her second studio album, “Born This Way,” is another popular song about identity that signifies the artist’s refusal to compromise who she is.
It’s one of the biggest hits from Lady Gaga’s early releases, and it set her on the path to superstardom and showcased her impressive songwriting abilities.
We hope you’ve found some inspiration for your music playlists in these great songs about identity from the hottest singers and bands in the music industry.
Whether you’re a fan of female vocalists working in mainstream pop or prefer something more gritty and rocking, there’s a song here you’re bound to enjoy.
Identity is a core theme of musicians, regardless of genre, so there’s no doubt more great music on the subject will emerge in the future.
What’s the best song about identity, in your opinion? Leave a comment below.
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