I had my epiphany on the rowing machine a week after my neighbor, an intellectual scamp with Heath Ledger curls, told me he just wasn’t that into me. I re-calibrated my alarm and started making daily treks to the gym for some pre-office cardio. Looking good, as everyone knows, is the best revenge.
I was halfway through my rowing session when Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” came on shuffle. The double-barreled chorus fused so perfectly, not only with my state of mind but also with my rhythm. “What doesn’t kill you makes you STRONG-ER” belted Kelly, and I felt the essential truth of it in my arms as I thrust back on the machine.
From then on I was obsessed with compiling the perfect workout soundtrack. I downloaded an app to measure the beats-per-minute of my entire music catalog, and scoured a million carefully assembled playlists on the internet for hidden gems—songs by Kylie Minogue, Cheryl Cole, The Gossip, and others that never made it as singles but synced perfectly with my elliptical moves.
Kesha and Azealia Banks became my gym buddies, their canons of thumping beats good for keeping energy high. When I tried running, I let Calvin Harris set my pace—the British DJ’s songs all have the same verse-chorus-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus pattern that provides a perfect blueprint for intervals of jogging and sprinting.
Beyoncé’s “Countdown” always causes me to turn the elliptical into my personal dance floor (extra points if I do the little hand snaps from the video without falling). When I want to quit I turn on “Uprising,” by Muse, which always seems to talk me out of it, before listening to Drake and Nicki Minaj express their approval in “Make Me Proud.”
Finally, I discovered “Happiness,” a saccharine pop anthem by Alexis Jordan chosen as the theme for the Women’s World Cup in 2011. “Happiness” has all the hallmarks of a great workout song—a quick, repetitive downbeat, an energy that builds throughout, and lyrics that remind me why I’m in the gym in the first place —for reasons that have nothing to do with a silly boy. “Through strength I found love,” it declares. “In time I found myself / In happiness.”