TIME’s 2018 Most Influential People Share the Songs That Inspire Them—From Dylan to Drake

TIME’s 2018 Most Influential People Share the Songs That Inspire Them—From Dylan to Drake

They’re the people you’d love to invite to dinner, the friends in your head, the thought leaders you follow, the sages who expand your worldview—and of course, their Spotify playlists are worth checking out.

From global leader­­­s and CEOs to musicians, movie stars and athletes, these pioneers, artists, leaders, titans and icons comprise this year’s 2018 TIME 100, TIME’s annual list of 100 of the most influential people in the world. Of course, we wanted to know what they’re listening to as they change and evolve culture.

When TIME asked many of the influencers on the TIME 100 list—including “Wonder Woman” Gal Gadot, journalist Ronan Farrow and Parkland student and activist Emma González—to share a song that inspires them, the result was a mix just as eclectic as their talents. Below are songs from 35 influencers and excerpts about why they’re inspirational. Whether it’s Broadway or B.I.G., you’ll want to listen to them all.


1. “Sometimes It Snows in April,” Prince

“It reminds me that specificity engenders empathy, that hearing the detailed, sad lament of a specific person can make the listener, regardless of who they are, feel pain and love and longing.”

— Jesmyn Ward, author

2. “Children and Art,” from Sunday in the Park with George

“It punches me in the gut for a multitude of reasons but ultimately because it is about legacy (a concept I am now frequently occupied with), and what we leave behind when we’re gone.”

— Sonia Friedman, theater producer

3. “Lose Yourself,” Eminem

“The simple message of taking advantage or your opportunity, seizing the moment and not letting it slip away, resonated with me and helped drive me to accomplish all of my wildest dreams and then some."

— J.J. Watt, NFL player

4. “Be a Lion,” Diana Ross & Ted Ross, from the soundtrack to The Wiz

“This work is hard. I sometimes sing this song at the top of my lungs as a way of reminding myself that I am committing to being a lion.”

— Tarana Burke, activist and Me Too founder

5. “Words Fail,” from Dear Evan Hansen

“Reminds me that to step out into the sun... you have to stop hiding."

— Hugh Jackman, actor

6. “Blackbird,” The Beatles

“I can hear it a thousand times. It doesn’t matter where I am, what I’m doing, or how I feel. It will always make me feel good.”

— Gal Gadot, actor

7. “The Secret O’ Life,” James Taylor

“It really does contain the secret of life which, quite simply, is ‘enjoying the passage of time.’”

— Jimmy Kimmel, comedian

8. “Wheels of a Dream,” from Ragtime

“Coalhouse Walker Jr. is an extraordinary character: a black man at the turn of the century who dares to believe that the American Dream was meant for him as much as it was intended for any other American.”

— Sterling K. Brown, actor

9. “Juicy,” Notorious B.I.G.

“It's a song about overcoming adversity in the hood and living a life you never dreamed.”

— Trevor Noah, comedian and author

10. “Stand Up for Something,” Andra Day and Common

“I’m inspired by the lyrics of this song because they encourage me to stand up for what I believe in, speak truth to power, be my authentic self and to love, even when hateful people put so much energy into demonizing me.”

— Cristina Jiménez, activist

11. “A Sky Full of Stars,” Coldplay

“It is the perfect song at the end of a good week’s practice or for a victory car ride home with the team. It makes me happy and feel alive.”

— Roger Federer, tennis player

12. “Badlands,” Bruce Springsteen

“It offers a great, urgent reminder to not settle — plus, it's very satisfying to sing loudly.”

— Cindy Holland, VP of Original Content at Netflix

13. “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen

“The chorus lyrics inspire me because, at their essence, I think they’re about recognizing our own failures and shortcomings—embracing them rather than hiding from them.”

— Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

14. “God's Plan,” Drake

“The song itself is great but the video gave it a whole new life and meaning, and I think it reminds people that there are a lot of ways you can make a difference in other people's lives.”

— Kevin Durant, NBA player

15. “Fast Car,” Tracy Chapman

“It is like a time machine, always taking me back to listening to it with my dad. The lyrics speak to so much, but more than anything they speak to the cyclical quality of the human condition.”

— Ryan Coogler, director and writer

16. “Time,” The Burned

“I was listening to it in a spin class, as I was in my own private Idaho, wondering if I had waited too long for everything— love, children…and the chorus came on: ‘I hope there is time for everything.’ Please listen to it. I bet you cry.”

— Hoda Kotb, Today co-host

17. “Take It to the Limit,” The Eagles

“I just think it is one of the greatest rock anthems ever. It takes me back to summer vacation with my family in the 1970s driving to the beach in the back of my dad’s truck through Sonora, Mexico.”

— Savannah Guthrie, Today co-host

18. “Thunder Road,” Bruce Springsteen

“Whenever I'm down, I throw this on. It's Bruce asking Mary to hop in the car with him and drive. The song is full of longing, excitement, danger and hope. In short, inspiration.”

— Kumail Nanjiani, actor, writer and producer

19. “Things Have Changed,” Bob Dylan

“It’s about having reached the point in life when you’re a little jaded, a little fed up, and you decide to just do it your way. I love the defiance. Believe in yourself and where you’re going; don’t worry about the others."

— Ann McKee, neuropathologist

20. “Imagine,” John Lennon

“It’s such a beautiful song about making the world a better place. It's a shame that such a talented man was lost to gun violence.”

— Alex Wind, Parkland student and activist

21. “The Times They are a-Changin’,” Bob Dylan

“Hearing it at the march made me feel like we were at the beginning of an exciting new chapter in our country’s history.“

— Cameron Kasky, Parkland student and activist

22. “When I Look at the World,” U2

“It reminds me how many amazing people there are in the world.“

— David Hogg, Parkland student and activist

23. “Stick To Your Guns,” Watsky

“The connecting thread is a timeline of shootings in America (specifically a mass school shooting). The first part is spoken from the point of view of the shooter, the second is from those in the media, and the third is the robotic voice of a politician."

— Emma González, Parkland student and activist

24. “Yellow,” Coldplay

"It inspires me to keep fighting for the 17 people we lost. The lyrics — ‘look at the stars, look how they shine for you’ — remind me that they are watching over us constantly. They are the 17 brightest stars in the sky."

— Jaclyn Corin, Parkland student and activist

25. "Home," Diana Ross

“We are all searching for spaces where we are truly seen, heard, loved and affirmed for who we are—and this song is a powerful reminder that we can be those spaces for ourselves.”

— Janet Mock, author and activist

26. “God Only Knows,” The Beach Boys

“One of my favorite songs of all time. It is track eight on Pet Sounds, which is why I wanted to have my song ‘Rainbow’ be track eight on my album of the same name. I think Pet Sounds is one of the most brilliant albums ever made.”

— Kesha, singer and songwriter

27. “Stop This Train,” John Mayer

“It takes a very complex human emotion, the feeling that you're not in control, and puts it into such a simple context in a way that is really a mastery of songwriting.”

— Shawn Mendes, singer and songwriter

28. “What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye

“It was an intellectual song that questioned peace and violence and war, and I just thought that it was something that needed to be talked about. For a popular musician to put it into words, it caused people to have to think about what’s going on in the world.”

— Maxine Waters, U.S. Representative from California

29. “We Used to Wait,” Arcade Fire

“It’s about life pre- and post-Internet, about what it was like to wait for a letter or newspaper to arrive, to crave the information and contact. When we’re old the young’uns will interview us about what that old world used to be like.”

— Jodi Kantor, journalist

30. "Modern Girl," Sleater-Kinney

“With its stripped-down acoustics and lyrics that walk a fine line between anger and restraint, Sleater-Kinney's ‘Modern Girl’ is a song that I find myself returning to over and over and over again.”

— Megan Twohey, journalist

31. “Ode to Billie Joe,” Bobbie Gentry

“I think 'Ode to Billie Joe' by Bobbie Gentry is essentially a perfect piece of songwriting, for the way it transports you to a time and place and, with incredible economy, tells a complicated and personal story.”

— Ronan Farrow, journalist

32. “I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston

“Ever since Whitney's passing the song has taken on a whole new meaning. It reminds us that her voice was once the eighth wonder of the world and even though she's gone we still wish her joy and happiness, but most of all this... we wish her love.”

— Lena Waithe, writer, producer and actor

33. "Where Is The Love?" The Black Eyed Peas

“This song was released in 2003 — a year before I was even born! — but it was song that I grew up listening to. It wasn’t until I was older that I really understood the lyrics. It inspires me every day to use my voice to help make changes in the world."

— Millie Bobby Brown, actor

34. “A Case of You,” Joni Mitchell

“Listening to the song always transforms my mood. I find it lulling and heartbreaking at the same time, and the inventiveness of her lyrics and how they take you on a meandering journey while evoking the most visceral imagery is pure brilliance.”

— Kevin Kwan, author

35. “Here Comes the Sun,” The Beatles

“My parents used to play it for us as kids every morning during breakfast and the nostalgic love I have for it has made it only more special over the years. During my wedding last fall it was raining like crazy and I was beginning to come to terms with the fact that I was going to have a damp ceremony. Then, a couple of my bridesmaids played the song in the dressing room and right on cue, the sun came! I can only imagine how many times that song will come to my rescue again.”

— Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble founder and CEO

The full 2018 Time 100 list and related tributes appear in the April 30, 2018 issue of TIME (on newsstands Friday, April 20, and now at http://time.com/100).

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