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The increasingly political climate in music

In a time like this, it becomes even more important to have your own voice

Claude Brun, Staff Reporter
Originally published June 8, 2018


With Childish Gambino’s recent “This is America” video and song making a strong statement about the state of black America, the countless anti-Trump songs in the past couple years and recent media firestorm around Kanye West after his “dragon energy” and “slavery was a choice” comments, politics and music have become more intertwined than ever. The question now is: how much should we let that color our listening and enjoyment of our favorite musical artists?

A rich history
Of course, music and politics have been well acquainted for most of American history. Just look at the countless anti-war songs of the Rock ‘n Roll era like “Fortunate Son” and “Born in the USA,” which are still listened to and appreciated for their political message today. It goes back even further. “Yankee Doodle” was written by patriots to encourage American independence and people spread it around to help build support for the revolution. Artists have always been able to use their music to speak out against the powers that be and the state of the world—it’s a side effect of the massive voice we give them. The fact is, like regular people, some artists care about politics and wish to make their voices heard, doing so through interviews and their music, while some prefer to stay away from discourse and just stick to the music.

These politically outspoken artists have always been figureheads of countercultural movements. Music brings people together so that they can use their combined voices to make change. While altruistic purposes are always the apparent reason for these political statements, the real reason might sometimes be for publicity.
Kanye’s antics have often been chalked up to this, with countless media outlets and listeners claiming that he’s just doing it to gain publicity before the release of his new album. While this is of course true to some extent (it’s no coincidence that Kanye has awoken from a year-long Twitter slumber about a month before the release of his new album), this outlook discounts the weight of the statements he’s trying to make, resulting in misunderstanding as people don’t take the time to actually look into what he’s saying and join the hate-train because it’s what everybody else is doing. With this attitude there is no conversation, only a rush to judgment that results in further separation in our nation. You don’t need to be a member of the alt-right to speak out in support of Trump, but baseless allegations like this are bombarding Kanye.

Don’t join the hivemind
What’s important is to think for yourself. That is what’s essential if we hope to keep a healthy, productive conversation going in our country. If Kanye says something crazy, don’t just listen to the hate you see against him on Snapchat stories, but make up your mind on your own. Do you fundamentally disagree with the bulk of what he’s saying, not just the out-of-context snippet TMZ posted on their story? In order to be a productive member of this conversation you’re gonna have to do a bit of digging to find out all the facts from an unbiased source.

While the Kanye example works well in the context of our liberal bubble of Seattle, you need to remember that people in other parts of the country have completely different views on things. “This is America” is a song that speaks out against gun violence and suggests that gun control is necessary, but many people in conservative parts of the country disregard this message because it runs against the values that are common in their community. If we want messages like Gambino’s to really resonate, people not only in Seattle but also in places like Alabama must come from a position of as little bias as possible and read/watch/listen to make up opinions of their own. Don’t be a part of the hivemind, make your own opinions.

Of course, you can and should allow artists to influence you and your viewpoints, but remember that their voice is not the word of a god, just the opinion of one person who, when it comes down to it, is just like you. We live in a country where we believe that all people are created equal so by extension, all opinions should be equal as well… so why should you let somebody who’s famous make up your mind for you? Just because they’re better at rapping than you doesn’t mean they know any more about politics than you do. As Bob Dylan once said:

“I’ve got nothing to say about these things I write, I mean I just write ‘em. I don’t need to say anything about them or write them for any reason. There’s no great message.”

How to be an active listener
So to answer the question about letting politics color our listening I would say yes, we absolutely should. We should be active listeners, thinking about what the artist really means by these political statements in their music or outside. We should think about how their politics affect their music. We should think about whether we agree with their opinions, regardless of how much we like their music. Most importantly we should be individuals who formulate our own opinions and don’t get sucked into other peoples’ bias, no matter their cultural relevance.

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The increasingly political climate in music