In preparation of the release of her fourth solo album, Journey to Freedom, Michelle Williams is hosting a contest via her official website in which fans must write journal entries about their own personal journey to freedom. The prize is an all expense paid trip to spend the day with Michelle, discussing each other’s journey to freedom. Over the next six weeks, Michelle will be posting the “word of the week” that should be the theme of each of the six different journal entries. The contest ends on September 9th with the release of the album.
This week, the word is freedom and I wrote my own personal entry detailing how the theme has been present in my own life experiences. However, for the purposes of EST. 1997, I will highlight and discuss some songs that I feel best represent the theme of freedom. This is a common theme throughout music, and there are many songs and even albums that are centered around it.
Freedom is a heavy word. It can have so many meanings; it is connected and intertwined with so many parts of life. It is something we all strive for – personal freedom, professional freedom, civil freedom, sexual freedom – there are many incarnations of the word. It is ancient, historic, current and intrinsic. It has shaped the world; created and resolved conflicts in history. World wars occurred as a direct result of humanity’s desire to protect, or limit, the freedom of others. However, it also can be very personal. Specifically, musicians tend to delve into the theme through a very personal lens. These next six songs do an excellent job of embodying the word “freedom.”
1. “Free” by P!nk was a b-side to the “Trouble” single, and didn’t make the final cut for the Try This album. However, in my opinion, it most definitely should have. The song is a raw, honest rock ballad that soars through emotions with powerful and emotive vocals dripping with soul and a yearning for freedom. The song is unorthodox in structure, with the only “hook” to be found being the line, “why’s it so hard to be free?” The introspective nature of this song’s lyrics, combined with P!nk’s impassioned vocals make for a truly emotional experience. It is close to 7 minutes long, but never feels drawn out. She leaves vocal imperfections as they are, adding a genuine character to the song. It is a highlight in P!nk’s catalogue, with some of her best vocals and lyrics.
“I’ve gotta get away, oh
From these conditions
Why can’t I just love myself enough?
Instead of looking outside
For what I should have inside…
…All these shackles that I’ve tied myself down with
They’re weighing me down
I wanna fly away, fly away from here, so far
Just give me wings
Oh, God, why’s it so hard, to be free?”
2. “Free Xone” by Janet Jackson appears on her 1997 opus, The Velvet Rope, which will be discussed in greater detail come its anniversary in October. On this particular song, Janet asserts that there is “one rule: no rules; one love, free zone,” essentially stating that all love is equal, and people should be free to love no matter what their sexual orientation is. The song denounces homophobia, while celebrating the freedom to love. Its lyrics are simple, but poignant, and it’s the overall vibe of the song lends itself to creating this sense of celebration and cathartic embodiment of freedom.
“He was on a airplane
Sittin’ next to this guy
Said he wasn’t too shy
And he seemed real nice
Until he found out he was gay
That’s so not mellow
Let’s get free…”
3. “Free” by Jill Scott is yet another song titled “Free,” and it is more like a poem than a song. Constructed of a series of similes that Jill utilizes to symbolize the feeling of free, the song is effective in creating imagery to evoke its theme. Jill compares freedom to a host of different things, mostly related to nature, in this short but concisely crafty and insightful song. It’s best if you just listen to it for yourself.
“Free like a willow tree
Free like a summer’s eve
Free like the waves are crashing
On the side on a solitary beach”
4. “Freedom” by Brandy is also a song that, like P!nk’s “Free,” was left off an album. It was recorded for her 2008 album, Human, but didn’t make the cut. However, it is a great track that tackles this theme of freedom quite well. While its lyrics are a bit vague and open to interpretation, it is a moving, full song with an epic sound. There’s many possibilities as to what Brandy might be talking about. It could be a personal, political or even love-related statement. She refers to an “us” that doesn’t seem like simply a “me and you” kind of thing. It almost feels like the song could be referencing civil rights and possibly even racism, at some points. Take a listen and decide for yourself.
“I see the cloaks on the judges
Flaws in the judgements
Beasts in the dungeon
That don’t scare me
And I’ll say it on a mountain
Say it all in public
Hold a press conference
To speak about my freedom, my freedom”
5. “I Am Free” by Mariah Carey is a gospel-tinged song from one of her defining albums, 1995’s Daydream. The song talks about how Mariah had once felt trapped, but it seems she is thanking God for helping to find a certain sense of freedom. On this same album lies the song “Looking In,” in which she more vulnerably discusses how she felt trapped, as well. Interestingly enough, the album to follow, 1997’s Butterfly (which, like The Velvet Rope, will be discussed on its anniversary in September) is considered to be Mariah’s first emancipation. “I Am Free” is kind of a statement of her intentions before actually going for it with Butterfly in 1997. She even references flight, a metaphor later continued on the song “Butterfly.” See and hear the breakthrough below:
“Free to live
Free to laugh
Free to soar
Free to shine
Free to give
Free to love
Free enough to fly”
6. “Free” by Destiny’s Child completes the list, of course… Michelle can’t be left out of an article she inspired! “Free” is a song that Michelle always referenced as being her favorite song from Destiny’s Child’s final release, 2004’s Destiny Fulfilled. On this track, the ladies revel in their freedom from a no good man. It is a therapeutic song, that soulfully celebrates a newfound freedom after dealing with an oppressive relationship. During the live performance, Beyoncé goes into a tangent, preaching “Ladies! Do you know what this song is about? This song is about truly feeling free. You know you’re free when you finally find enough strength to tell that trifling, good for nothing man, you don’t want him, you don’t want him no more!” It’s quite the hilarious little monologue, but it’s oh so empowering. In July, Michelle performed the song during her set at the Essence Music Festival. Check out both performances referenced below, as well as the lyrics to Michelle’s verse on the track.
“I gave you everything you wanted
I gave you everything you needed
But you just didn’t do right
So baby I’m leaving
It feels good to be free”
Check out a clip of “Free,” from Michelle’s Journey to Freedom album in stores September 9th.
Other notable mentions: