Finding yourself can be a difficult journey, and although most self-discovery stories centre around young adulthood, many of us are still finding ourselves well into our adult years. The process of finding yourself looks different for everyone, but art and specifically music can be a great tool to help us discover who we are and what we value.
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With that in mind, we’ve put together a playlist of tracks about that process of getting to know yourself better, and all the highs and lows that can surround it. Here are 20 of our favourite songs about finding yourself.
Cara sings about a want to run off and explore the world, and a sense that her true self is waiting for her somewhere out there. Whilst the track was written by composer Lin-Manuel Miranda for the musical film Moana, Cara’s cover emphasises that the themes of restless youth, finding yourself and a rapidly changing identity are universal.
“How Far I’ll Go” was the second draft of Moana’s “I’ll Want” song, a device used in many musicals and most Disney musicals to convey something that pulls the character in a different direction.
After composing a song called “More”, Miranda felt that Moana’s self-discovery journey wasn’t portrayed as complex enough and started again from scratch.
Grande talks us through her past relationships in this huge hit from 2018. Acknowledging that each of her exes played an important role in her life and her journey to finding herself, she explains what she gained from each relationship, and thanks them before looking to the future.
She also lets the listener know that right now she’s focused on a new person. “Her name is Ari, and I’m so good with that,” she sings.
“thank u, next” spend seven weeks at the top of the charts in the US and was certified five-times platinum. Its music video, considered a key pop culture moment that year, saw Grande re-enacting scenes from classic romcoms Bring It On, Legally Blonde, Mean Girls and 13 Going On 30.
Platt’s partner tells him that they need to go and find themselves outside of the relationship in this ballad from the musical theatre alum. However, Platt insists that finding yourself doesn’t have to be a solo activity. “Who said it’s true that the growing only happens on your own?” he asks. He encourages his partner to stay beside him and let the two of them grow together.
Exploring your gender can be a key step in finding yourself for many people. Madison sings about embracing both her masculine and feminine sides, reconciling her beauty pageant past with her love for a suit and tie. She no longer feels like “a guest” in her body, but has accepted every part of herself and is ready to face the world confidently. “Pin-Up Daddy” describes the feeling we all want to have at the end of our self-discovery journey.
Worries about finding yourself and where you belong are common in your early teen years, and Taylor Swift was no exception. “I don’t know what I want, so don’t ask me,” sings a teenaged Swift.
Just thirteen years old when the song was penned, she writes about the difficulty of finding her footing in life as a young adolescent, and grapples with the enormity of moving to Nashville to launch a music career. It seems like an impossible task to the young girl singing – although we know now that it worked out pretty well.
Lavigne laments the complicated process of finding yourself alone when all you want to do is run into someone’s arms. In “I’m With You”, she longs for someone to come along, take her hand and help her through it. “It’s a damn cold night, trying to figure out this life,” she sings.
Later in the song, she asks the listener, “Why is everything so confusing?” Self-discovery can be a tricky thing, especially when you’d rather not be doing it single. Lavigne’s honest portrayal of this feeling earned her two Grammy nominations.
Nesbitt talks us through her adolescence as if she’s showing us around her hometown in this track from Peroxide. She explains how every experience brought her closer to finding herself, and how far removed she feels from who she used to be.
However, she also acknowledges that the process of finding yourself is never over. “You’re always two worlds away from who you’ll be one day,” she sings. It’s an uplifting reminder that you may never settle into a final version of yourself, and that’s okay.
Dodie is still waiting to start loving herself in this tender track. Looking around for someone to validate her, she struggles with being successful so young and her own feelings of not being good enough. Finding yourself is always difficult, but she reminds us that growing up in the public eye has its own challenges.
“If I’m Being Honest” comes from the EP Human, recorded as the second single. It earned Dodie an Independent Music Award nomination for Best Song – Folk/Singer-Songwriter.
In “I Don’t Know My Name”, a then twelve-year-old VanderWaal sings about struggling to work out who she is and where she fits in.
Talking through different phases and friendships, she reveals that she went from being “bland and popular” to changing herself entirely, and she now feels much more comfortable in who she is. “I now know my name,” she sings triumphantly in the song’s final chorus.
VanderWaal debuted the song on America’s Got Talent, strumming along on a ukulele to accompany herself in her first audition. She went on to win the show, securing herself a Las Vegas residency and a million dollar prize fund, out of which she bought a pug.
Cara sings about how fast time goes by in this track from her debut album, Know-It-All. She describes how as a young teenager all she wanted was to be seventeen, but now she feels as if everything is moving far too quickly. She was too young back then to understand that finding yourself isn’t an automatic thing that happens in your late teens, but something that she would continue to work on into adulthood.
“When you’re a little kid you think that there’s this magic in being an adult,” Cara said of the song’s meaning. “But as you get older, I feel like the magic goes away a little bit.”
Miller sings a uplifting coming of age ballad about gaining new perspectives as you age. With the ‘brand new eyes’ that experience is lending her, she isn’t just looking at the world around her differently – she’s also finding out who she really is. “I can finally see me,” she sings. The song speaks to the euphoric feeling of finding yourself, especially after a long period of uncertainty. The track was penned by Miller for the 2017 film Wonder.
In this sweet track, Rumer describes a young girl on the way to school. Unsure of herself, she listens to Aretha Franklin to boost her confidence and sense of identity. It’s a sweet ode to how music can help in the process of finding yourself.
“She’s the Queen of Soul!” said Rumer on why Aretha inspired her to write the track. “If you’re going to write about somebody who embodies the spirit of music itself you go to the top of the list – and there she is!”
Charlie Fink sings about being a young kid getting into music in “Give It All Back”. He tells the story of his first band, which he put together with friends from school. They would practice in his bedroom and once performed in a school assembly, although it didn’t go well. Although the process of finding himself may have felt difficult and awkward at the time, Fink would give anything to go back to that point in his life.
Carey champions a spirit of independence in her listeners, encouraging them to be their own saviours. She tells them that they can get through rough patches without anyone else’s help, so long as they are willing to trust themselves and the process of growing into who you are.
“Through The Rain” acknowledges that finding yourself can be daunting, but assures listeners that the end destination will be worth it all.
Written and released in a rocky period in Carey’s personal life, the song is considered an insight into her emotions at the time. The music video for the track, however, references a personal story from Carey’s mother in which she is estranged from her family.
You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else, as the saying goes. Dion tells her a lover that before she can be fully there for them, she has to work on finding herself and working on her own struggles and insecurities.
The track was written with singer-songwriter Lauv among other collaborators. It comes from Dion’s twelfth English studio album, Courage, which dropped in 2019.
Halsey sings about how isolating fame can be and its often detrimental effect on personal growth in “Still Learning”. With no one around her that can relate to the life she’s living, Halsey feels as if no one really knows her, and also as if she doesn’t really know herself. Finding yourself can be even more difficult when you feel cut off from people similar to you.
Cee reflects on his unstable childhood and how it has affected the kind of adult he’s grown up to be in this rap track from 2020. Now fans see him on the block he grew up on and “go nuts”, but Cee feels that he’s still developing and he doesn’t quite know how to be whoever he’s meant to be yet. “Loading” followed Cee’s breakout single, “Day In The Life”, and proved he was more than a one-hit wonder.
Finding yourself can be difficult in the overstimulating age we live in. Clean Bandit & MARINA discuss this in “Disconnect”, with MARINA singing about how she needs to take a break from her phone and her busy social schedule and get back in touch with herself. She resolves to practice some self-care and find out who she is away from all the distractions.
This haunting track from Daughter discusses how adolescence, which should be a time of self-discovery, can often have a darker side. Singer Elena Tonra talks about how the drive to find yourself as a teenager can lead to mental health problems, addictions and heartbreak. Finding yourself can be exciting, but it can also be a daunting, messy task, as Daughter illustrate with “Youth”. The track comes from the band’s debut album If You Leave.
Young love can assist in the process of finding ourselves – but as we change and grow, we can quickly outgrow relationships from our youth. This is the case in “Nina”, an ode from Sheeran to an ex-girlfriend. As Sheeran grows into himself as a musician, the two grow apart, with Sheeran eventually suggesting that Nina would be better off without him.
The track is generally understood to be about fellow musician Nina Nesbitt. Sheeran eventually did settle into a relationship and is now married with two children.
Finding yourself can be beautiful, painful, and plenty of other things in-between. It can happen rapidly with a lightbulb moment, or it can be a slow process. As these songs demonstrate, any number of things can help you to find yourself and grow into the person that you’re meant to be – music can definitely be one of them.