35 Best Songs About Overcoming Obstacles, Challenges, and Hard Times
When life gets you down, it’s easy to feel as though nothing will make you feel better. But music can lift us and get us back on our feet. Take a look at some of the best songs about overcoming obstacles below, and you’re sure to find one that helps you regain solid footing after tough times.
“Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” by Kelly Clarkson
Song Year: 2011
This modern empowerment anthem isn’t just for women. The message of overcoming a difficult situation can work for a breakup or any scenario where personal growth can happen.
The idea here is that we’re fortified after going through a trial, which Clarkson sings about with fittingly powerful vocals.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel
Song Year: 1970
Released on an album by the same name, this ballad became the signature tune for the duo of Simon & Garfunkel. It won multiple awards in a year or so after its release and has been covered by dozens of other artists, including Aretha Franklin.
The lyrics tell of someone willing to be a place of support for a friend or lover going through a period of darkness. The music mixes folk, jazz, and gospel influences for a unique piano-driven sound.
“Let It Be” by The Beatles
Song Year: 1970
1970 was a great year for gospel-tinged piano ballads. The Beatles give this song more of a rock aesthetic than “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with the addition of guitar and drums.
Backing harmonies support the lead singer, who sings of finding peace amidst heartache and times of trouble. “Let It Be” is one of the most famous songs of its era and one of the best songs about overcoming obstacles, with many other artists giving it their unique spin.
“The Climb” by Miley Cyrus
Song Year: 2009
We return to the modern era with this power ballad from Hannah Montana: The Movie. Inspirational and with an appropriate dynamic built throughout the song, it talks about facing struggles with courage.
“The Climb” refers to the journey that teaches and strengthens us. Rather than focusing on the other side of the mountain, we should lean in even when times are hard.
“Smile” by Charlie Chaplin
Song Year: 1936
The bittersweet lyrics of this song are coupled with gorgeous heavy orchestration for a lush and poignant musical experience. Chaplin first brought this song to the world in his silent film Modern Times, where he portrayed the struggles of his iconic character Little Tramp.
Though many other singers of the big band era performed this tune, the most recognizable version is Nat King Cole’s.
“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
Song Year: 1978
The disco era was never stronger than in this whirlwind of a song, a favorite of partiers and karaoke singers for decades. Strings, harp, and rhythm guitar add to the colorful texture as the classic ‘70s beat rolls on.
The message of staying alive and strong through a challenge refers specifically to a breakup but could apply to any difficult situation where a person needs to gather their resolve. With love to give and hope for the future, anything is possible.
“Defying Gravity” by Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth
Song Year: 2003
It’s hard not to sing along with this one! For Broadway fans, there’s no better song about overcoming adversity than this famous power ballad. The lyrics create a metaphor of lifting off the ground to escape people and situations that pull us down.
In the show, Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, sings this song mostly alone. Glinda, the Wicked Witch of the East, joins her later in the song for a duet, as well as the people of Oz.
“You Gotta Be” by Des’ree
Song Year: 1994
British R&B and soul singer Des’ree released this song in 1994 and found success around the globe for its positive message and catchy rhythmic track. It was a top-40 hit in multiple countries, though it reached its peak in the U.S. and Australia.
With words about holding your head up and solving life’s problems, it encourages listeners to be bold, wise, and strong as they face tribulations common to humankind.
“Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift
Song Year: 2014
The lead single from Swift’s first pop album came in with a bang, offering exuberant vocals over an upbeat dance-pop track. She speaks of “haters” and other critical influences who try to bring her down.
Positive and peppy, this catchy tune is easy to sing along with. It inspires us to look up and not let outside negativity keep us down for long.
“I’m Still Standing” by Elton John
Song Year: 1983
In an ode to being strong enough to overcome difficulties, this classic features a classic 80s sound complete with electro-synth effects and a guitar lead. The bouncy, driving pop rhythm reflects the singer’s intent to stay on his feet and take whatever life gives him.
The anthem to personal fortitude climbed the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, becoming a hit in the U.K., the U.S., Canada, and Switzerland.
“Survivor” by Destiny’s Child
Song Year: 2001
This pop track addresses finding strength after a breakup. However, the words can be applied to any situation where a person needs encouragement not to give up.
The song was hugely successful for its time, winning a Grammy for Best R&B Performance as well as an MTV Music Video Award. The action-filled music video depicts the three band members floating in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean and being evacuated from the jungle via helicopter.
“It Is Well With My Soul” By Horatio Spafford
Song Year: 1876
If there’s any genre that understands tribulation and creates beautiful art out of its struggle, it’s religious and worship music.
This standard Christian hymn was written after the composer’s son died and he encountered financial ruin due to a fire. The lyrics use scenes from nature as metaphors for sorrow and peace.
“Fight Song” by Rachel Platten
Song Year: 2015
This song is a testament to growing stronger through life’s challenges. Peaking as a hit single in various countries, it reached its peak at #6 on the U.S. Billboard Top 100. Inspirational and uplifting, it continues to get significant radio airplay for its positive message and hard-driving beat.
“O-o-h Child” by The Five Stairsteps
Song Year: 1970
This 70s tune has all the flavor you could want from that era: a groovy beat, brass and string sections, and killer vocals. Featured on the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack in 2014, the song offers a message of hope to someone who is struggling. There is reassurance in the form of a pet name and encouragement that things will get brighter someday.
“Rise” by Katy Perry
Song Year: 2016
This intense orchestration and vocal range of this song reflect its solemn message. Victory and transformation are the themes, using images like vultures circling to capture the danger and threat of tragedy looming.
Co-written by Perry, Savan Kotecha, and the song’s producers, it won a Grammy for Best Non-Classical Producer of the Year.
“Someone Like You” by Adele
Song Year: 2011
Perhaps the most beloved breakup song of the 2000s, “Someone Like You” is synonymous with heartbreak. Its sparse arrangement of vocals and a rippling piano line draw emotion from even the most casual listener.
Rather than wallow in her sadness, the singer chooses to move on and find someone else to devote herself to. In the grief is a glimmer of hope.
“I'm Movin' On” by Rascal Flatts
Song Year: 2001
Another song about a breakup finds this singer doing some work on himself due to a loss. Emotional and introspective, the mandolin and string quartet lend a sweet touch to this simple ballad, which won multiple honors at the Academy of Music Awards.
“You Learn” by Alanis Morissette
Song Year: 1995
Everyone can relate to getting their heart broken, taking on more than they can handle, and other life experiences in these lyrics.
The single from Jagged Little Pill was part of the quintessential 90s grunge sound and helped Morissette win several awards. Its combo of drama and calm acceptance is a mood that most of us know well, and this soundtrack is the perfect way to illustrate that feeling.
“Hold On” by Kansas
Song Year: 1979
Even during turmoil, there is always a silver lining. Kansas reminds us of this in their 13th single, which tells of hope and the promise of tomorrow. The band’s signature iconic fiddle lead and three-part harmonies outline a guitar solo and a 6/8 ballad feel.
Religious overtones are clear, as writer Kerry Livgren had just converted to Christianity before he penned this tune.
“Stronger” by Britney Spears
Song Year: 2000
This anthem to personal growth and the ability to withstand abuse was an early 2000s earworm – and for a good reason. The bubblegum pop rhythm includes a heavy bassline to provide depth as Spears sings of recovery after someone in her past had a harmful hold on her life.
Unsurprisingly, this killer tune was one of the most popular songs of her Oops…I Did It Again album and won an MTV award.
“Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M.
Song Year: 1992
Long lonely nights is the theme here, as R.E.M. offers an ode to solitude. Rather than letting go, the lyrics encourage listeners to lean on their friends in hard times, reminding them that no one is alone in their pain.
“Who You Are” by Jessie J
Song Year: 2011
This soft-rock gem is a slow burn. Beginning with just strummed guitar chords and soft vocals, it grows into a full-fledged power ballad, allowing Jessie J to show off her impressive pipes. According to the singer, she was inspired to write this song after a 3-month sojourn by herself.
The lyrics address owning your feelings, the difficulties that come with following your heart, and the pain that can result from them. But the result is staying true to yourself – an ultimate prize that’s worth a few setbacks.
“Fighter” by Christina Aguilera
Song Year: 2002
During Xtina’s Stripped phase, she put out a lot of shocking content, controversial for how sexually charged it appeared. But along with the boldness of her style came a whole lot of confidence and empowerment.
This track, popular for its lyrics as well as its feisty blend of hard rock and R&B, reached the top 10 of charts in the UK, Canada, and the Netherlands.
“The Show Must Go On” by Queen
Song Year: 1991
In typical Queen fashion, the band puts on a high-drama performance in this music video, complete with gender-bending costumes and a spliced montage of clips from live shows. The band provides a slow rock beat to support Freddie Mercury’s soaring vocal range.
As one of the best songs about overcoming adversity, the message here is clear: in a life filled with uncertainty, disappointment, and failure, there is always a reason to keep moving forward.
“Don't Look Down” by Jennifer Hudson
Song Year: 2011
J-Hud’s motivational tune is a great addition to a morning or workout playlist. Her powerful voice carries a promise of ambition and growth as long as we keep our eyes pointed up and out to our aspirations.
“No Day But Today” by Idina Menzel
Song Year: 1996
This song from the acclaimed Broadway musical Rent encourages listeners to leave behind regret and live for the present. Menzel’s acoustic version is particularly touching, using backup singers and string lines to accentuate the melody.
“Carry On” by Fun
Song Year: 2012
Indie-pop fans are intimately familiar with the band Fun, who usually live up to their name with peppy tunes and upbeat lyrics. In this song, however, the slow build reflects the message dedicated to lost souls who need to re-discover their path.
Beginning with minimalist texture, it develops into full orchestration underscored by a march-like beat. It’s easy to let your heart swell and your brain switch into a positive mindset when listening to this uplifting tune.
“Dreams” by The Cranberries
Song Year: 1993
In the era of 90s grunge rock, this song is a breath of fresh air. The words are a dedication to a steadfast lover who changed the singer’s perspective on life after experiencing challenging times.
“My Way” by Frank Sinatra
Song Year: 1968
One of the most recognizable songs of the big band era, Sinatra’s signature classic has been covered by many other artists over the decades. An orchestra supports the slow lilt, allowing the solo vocalist to float above the texture and play with the lyrical delivery.
The song looks back on a life of doubts and trials, the singer confident that they were able to stay true to themselves and their goals throughout it all.
“Move Along” by The All-American Rejects
Song Year: 2005
Hard times can sometimes make us forget who we are and what our purpose is. This early 2000s indie-pop band reminds us to keep going even when we’re discouraged. Rather than a ballad format, the song uses an arena-rock aesthetic to inspire hope and motivation.
“Don't Lose Sight” by Lawrence
Song Year: 2021
Funky and upbeat, modern fusion group Lawrence wrote this tune after experiencing pushback from their record label and the music industry as a whole. The pop groove props up an uplifting message: even when you get pushed around, stand strong and don’t let it make you lose focus on what matters.
“I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack
Song Year: 2000
It’s no wonder this was nominated for a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Full of positivity and encouragement, the singer acknowledges that there are trials in life, but they can be overcome with courage and strength.
The music video features Womack performing the song interspersed with shots of her children, implying the words are a message to her children as they grow and experience challenges of their own.
“When You Believe” by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey
Song Year: 1998
The Prince of Egypt soundtrack gave us this gem in the late 90s and promptly won an Academy Award, among other honors. Originally performed by Sandra Bullock and Michelle Pfeiffer in the animated film, Houston and Carey brought it to the mainstream as an R&B-tinged power ballad.
As one of the best songs about overcoming obstacles, the lyrics discuss achieving miracles, sustaining hope, and keeping a mindset of opportunity.
“You’re Gonna Be Okay” by Brian and Jenn Johnson
Song Year: 2017
This husband-and-wife duo, signed by Bethel Records, does much of their inspirational songwriting for the Christian music industry. Telling listeners not to let go and to keep putting one foot in front of the other, the lyrics of this song galvanize us into action, even when the road ahead of us is hard to walk.
“Courage Is…” by The Strange Familiar
Song Year: 2008
Featured on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, this fresh piano-pop ballad gives examples of courage and love amidst challenges. Using metaphors of birds, colors, and other beauty in nature, the lyrics prop up the idea that fear inspires courage to keep living and moving forward.
Two years after it was written, rock guitarist Orianthi collaborated with Flyleaf singer Lacey for a harder-edged cover.
Top Songs About Overcoming Obstacles, Final Thoughts
Whether a soft, melodic ballad or a bombastic motivational anthem, there are several songs about overcoming hard times for everyone who’s feeling down. Part of living is encountering obstacles, but even in the darkest days, you’re sure to find some inspirational lyrics to get you refocused on what matters.
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