I will start this off this article off by being honest. I am nervous beyond belief about this year’s election. By the time this article is published, a winner will probably already be known. Yet, as of right now, I find myself drowning in uncertainty. I am fully aware that I am not alone in this.
In times of stress, I listen to music, and this week is no exception. This time however, I’ve been paying more attention to the lyrics than usual. More than that, I’ve noticed the political issues that they bring up, and how relevant they can be decades later. Songs released by NWA, almost more than thirty years ago, were played by protestors this past summer because they are still so relevant. Politics in music is no rarity. Does it accomplish anything? Of course it does. People wouldn’t still be quoting artists that made music decades before they were born if it didn’t.
To start, turning a political message into some sort of fun rhyme has an incredibly powerful effect. When people shouted “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” in the sixties, it was not only a way of quickly getting a message across, but of uniting many voices into one. It was a way of turning individuals into a collective—a force to be reckoned with. A song, being made up of several rhymes, can do even more of this.
Music is an incredibly effective way of giving quick, concise arguments that reach a mass audience. If this audience were to listen to Edwin Starr’s song "War" by itself, they might write it off as some politically radical drivel that somehow made it onto the radio. However, if they were to hear multiple songs and many artists protest war, then they may start to think of it differently. They may not change their minds, but the idea may seem less radical or absurd. In general, Media and art set many societal standards and can normalize almost anything. It is not only up to musicians to stand up for their beliefs. However, it can take hours to watch a movie or days to watch a show. For me, it would probably take at least a year to get through a book. However, it would be a rarity for a Top 40 hit to exceed five minutes. Furthermore, music will usually just flat out say what it wants you to hear. There’s no need to dance around a subject. Referring to songs and artists from different generations, we can see just how much the music of those times has come to nearly define how generations view themselves. It’s impossible to think of sixties protesting without thinking of the music of that time. The rap music that artists like Public Enemy were making became intertwined with the racial politics of the time (even if the lyrics still hold up today). Rap in general has constantly been politicized, with many claiming that they inspire crime and violence, labeling it as a 'harmful' genre of music. This is probably why Trump plays classic rock in his rallies. It’s his way of saying “Do you remember how things used to be? Don’t you want to go back?”. Playing “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival for example, can take advantage of the negative views that many older white people have on rap/modern music . This is ironic considering what the classic rock songs he plays at his rallies usually talk about. Let's look specifically at “Fortunate Son” for a second. The song is about a man who is born into wealth, dodges the draft, and doesn’t pay his fair share of taxes. Do I have to get into the irony? Music in itself can be a political statement, simply by being released when it is. Even if there isn’t a political message in a song, it can easily be given one later on. So, why shouldn’t a musician try to write songs that reflect what they see in the world and what they want to see in the world? Music is something we all enjoy, it is one of these best mediums for these kinds of statements.