What Makes a Good Motivational Song?

We all do it.

Whenever we are in dire need of a pick me up, we turn to music. But not just any type of music. We turn to those songs that have that certain something. But what exactly is that “something”?

Based on my expert* opinion, all good motivational songs hit on some combination of these criteria:

  • Do the first few seconds of the song bump hard?
  • Does the song talk about overcoming an obstacle?
  • Is the song associated with an epic TV or movie moment?
  • Does the song talk about being “the shit”? You know, the baddest mofo on the planet?
  • Do you have a personal connection to the song?

*I’m really good at making Spotify playlists, guys. 

Epic Intro

The quicker you can get something you desire, the better. I can’t think of a situation where this isn’t the case, so if you’re going to produce my motivational jam of choice, you need to cut to the chase.

A song that treats that first few seconds like it’s going to be featured in an action flick trailer or in an HBO 24/7 montage is what I’m talking about here.


  • The White Stripes – Icky Thump
  • Run The Jewels – Talk to Me
  • M.O.P. – Ante Up

Overcoming the Odds

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume whenever you need motivation you’re trying to overcome something. Whether it’s something as common as procrastination or any number of things more serious than that, you need a little boost to get over the hump.

That’s why songs that very literally talk about overcoming the odds are such great motivators. You can relate and in turn get inspired.


  • The Roots – The Fire
  • Foo Fighters – The Pretender
  • Eminem – Cinderella Man

Dope by Association

This is an easy one. If a song is associated with an inspirational movie or TV scene, it’s going to make a great motivational song. Don’t overthink it.


  • Survivor – Eye of the Tiger
  • Joe Esposito – You’re the Best Around
  • Aerosmith – Dream On

I’m the Man

If you like a song, you’re going to sing along to it. If there’s a song that motivates you AND it talks about being the best at something, man, you’re going to be feeling some type of way when you spout the lyrics to yourself.

Think of it as some sort of self pep talk.


  • Kanye West – Power (Basically any Kanye West song. Dude thinks highly of himself)
  • The Weeknd – Starboy
  • Kid Cudi – Up Up & Away

The Feels

You can totally disregard everything I just wrote if you have a personal connection with a song. Who cares if you’re totally misinterpreting the lyrics or if a “sad” song gets you motivated, you need to do you.

Nobody knows what gets you going but you, so draw on whatever emotion to get you through your next challenge.

My Personal Examples:

  • Common – Be (It reminds me to be nobody else but myself)
  • Danzig – Mother (I don’t know what the song is about, but when I hear it I want to run through a wall)
  • Lupe Fiasco – Superstar (It’s like Lupe is challenging me directly)

Now go on and do your thing with this info. I’ll even give you a starting point – here’s the list of motivational jams I’ve been compiling for almost a year now. Knock yourself out.

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