Political music has been a permanent form of protest since the ‘60s, from legends like Bob Dylan and John Lennon gracing the world with rousing anthems like ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘Imagine’, through to hip-hop classics like ‘Fuck Tha Police’ and ‘Fight the Power’ by NWA and Public Enemy respectively. Even more recent releases like Green Day’s Bush-inspired ‘American Idiot’ and The Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Where is the Love?’ have found success. Considering the current state of world politics, the influence of music must surely be more important than ever?
Music has always been an important form of expression, and a key way to give a voice to those who don’t have one, whether it’s through musicians speaking out in interviews and speeches or via their music. Recently, the film world has stepped up and been the voice of the people, through releases like I, Daniel Blake, and actors such as Meryl Streep and David Harbour standing up against hatred and discrimination. Thus the time for musicians to step up is now, with bands like Arcade Fire and Gorillaz releasing anti-Trump songs in ‘I Give You Power’ and ‘Hallelujah Money’. The first superpowers to voice their unhappiness included the instant classic ‘FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)’ by YG and Nipsey Hussle, a track that can even be heard on nights out. I’m assuming – hoping – that many more along the same lines are currently in production – Arcade Fire have a history of musical protest (for example by raising awareness for humanitarian issues in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010), so it’s not unlike them to make a noise in a silent room.
It isn’t just global superstars that are important, despite their platform – there are a few more obscure musicians that are using their talents to try to bring about change. VANT, Declan McKenna and Cabbage are a few artists making their voices heard, with the latter two being named on BBC’s Sound of 2017 longlist. VANT especially have recently been a fixture in radio playlists, with their debut album DUMB BLOOD released this February. Meanwhile, they were also making their voices heard protesting prior to the U.S. elections and during Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Every era is defined by music – do we want a decade marked by music with no meaning? I enjoy love songs as much as anyone, but sometimes a little more is needed. The strongest message comes from those who aren’t expected to give it – imagine the power and reach if One Direction went political. I, for one, am counting on Beyoncé to lead pop artists into the anti-fascist movement, as she’s a figurehead for the Black Lives Matter movement. The main defence that Trump and his regime has against criticism is to lie, and to brand anyone who speaks out against them as a liar. It’s clear now, more than ever, that mass protest works; the anxious responses and outright lies that have been coming out of the White House are more defensive than John Terry, and even Boris Johnson has condemned the hateful policies that unelected Prime Minister Theresa May has, through her silence, supported. Hope cannot be lost, and music has always been its beacon; the weight and popularity of protest songs in the past proves this. Take ‘Imagine’ for example – it’s consistently been voted as one of the greatest songs of all times in polls, and is recognisable to pretty much everyone.
I understand that my requests are unrealistic and hopeful, but that’s because most music is. The most powerful songs of all time are political – Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, for example, is untouchable. The mass refusals to play at Trump’s inauguration were a start, but that should just be the beginning. Imagine the power that could be channelled through organised musical protest – love trumps hate.