Our Hunger for Political Music is Reaching a Crescendo by Charlotte West

As the dreaded uncertainty of Brexit draws ever closer, our society's involvement with politics also continues to increase. We're living in a time when the word 'crisis' is an everyday headline on the national newspapers, we have become numb to the breaking news stories, and social media has become an echo chamber for politics, even more so than our real world lives.

As the shock tactics become normalised, is it much of a surprise that this is beginning to overlap into the music industry? Music has always been a powerful platform for political messages, but that seems to be rising to a crescendo this year.

The first sign that politics was cementing itself once again into the mainstream charts was the success of Childish Gambino's 'This is America'. The catchy hip-hop anthem won Song of the Year at the 2019 Grammy awards and the music video has amassed over 510 million views. The acclaimed video critiques the current gun violence epidemic running throughout America; it features the shooting of assumedly innocent people juxtaposed by carefree dancing. This track has surely been a significant contribution to the way that gun violence in America has been brought into the forefront of political discourse and is being commented on globally due to the single's worldwide success.

However, hip-hop and rap, especially in America, does have a reputation for producing controversial lyrics and a commentary on our current society. This has left space open within the indie rock genre in the UK to begin to do the same, as noted by Sam Fender in an interview for the BRITs. This was initially the genre's reputation in the 80s and 90s, but after sidetracking into the popular romantic serenades and party anthems over the past decade, they are finally starting to reunite back with their origins.

In light of this we can begin to see the effects in the charts closer to home, with The 1975 winning Best British Album and Best British Group at the BRITs last month. The band even made a political statement out of that, with frontman Matty Healy quoting The Guardian journalist, Laura Snapes, on her observation of the sustained misogyny within the industry, when accepting their first award. This act of solidarity with female artists continues the theme of their third album, A Brief Enquiry into Online Relationships, which experiments with social commentary. The most striking example of this being 'The Man Who Married A Robot', a song spoken by the voice of Siri and questions our reliance on technology in the digital age.

Another potent track on the album is 'Love It If We Made It', where every word within the verses seems to make a statement. In particular the line, 'I moved on her like a b*tch' - a direct quote from the current president of America and, in an interview with Genius, Healy stated, "When the radio plays your songs they don't play swear words; I would have to be censored for literally quoting the leader of the free world." It is comments such as this that reminds us of the hypocrisy embedded into our society. The rise of social media has broken down the barrier between the leaders and celebrities of the world, and that has brought into focus the complications and complexities within the very fabrication of our society.

The final example of an artist pushing political boundaries in music is the BRITs 2019 Critics' Choice Award winner, Sam Fender - a young Geordie lad who almost solely sings about political and social issues. His EP, Dead Boys, ranges from initially discussing the high rates of suicide for men in the title track 'Dead Boys', to more broadly drawing attention to the toxicity of celebrity culture in 'Poundshop Kardashians', where he refers to (we assume) Donald Trump as being "an orange-faced baby at the wheel of the ship". The fact that Fender has flown to success after only receiving a record deal last summer showcases our hunger for political commentary in music. We are craving significance and control as the threat of Brexit and climate change makes existentialism all the more immediate in our everyday lives.

There is certainly a line to tread with political music. While they are necessary assets to our culture, as they bring certain issues into the spotlight and create discourse surrounding it, musicians also need to be careful they're not spreading misinformation. Similarly it's worth asking: is it right for artists to share their political stance when they have such a huge following of influential fans? Perhaps the vague and metaphorical references to these issues, as seen in The 1975 examples, allow listeners to be made aware of them without being swayed into a particular stance.

We live in a world where every aspect of culture is coated in political and social significance. Music should be a place to escape, a place to party, a place to breathe - but there is also a necessary place for politics to be discussed within the music sphere. It is one of the main avenues for making politics accessible for young people, who historically have isolated themselves from it. Music can make political and social critique 'cool', and thus we should be celebrating this move towards a revolutionary youth involvement.

This is a generation awakening to the horrors of our humanist world and, as is typical for the millennial, we are creating and consuming art in order to both process and spread awareness of the pain we experience in this heightened political age. Music provides us with another space in which we can search for answers and meaning; it provides purpose and comfort amongst the all-consuming fear of the unknown, and our desire for more of it just showcases that political music is not a personal preference, but a necessity.


Created with an image by Victoria Marshall - "The 1975"

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