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Is the protest song making a comeback?

Is the protest song making a comeback?

Charlie Cunningham recently said in an interview that „every action provokes a reaction“. The question was, how much influence the current political situation in the UK has on music.

Hardly any artist or musician can truly detach themselves from the things happening in this world right now. Tensions are high, the next eruption is often just a tweet or an election away. But the question is, how much do these events affect the creative process? And isn’t it an artists obligation to speak up and position themselves; to use the platform they were given?! Or should music stay out of politics altogether and be nothing but entertainment; the escape we so desperately need? As so often in life, there is no one right or wrong. Many artists are still unsure if and how they want to publicly position themselves.  However, most of them agree that this situation will affect the way they make music one way or another. Because if music is authentic and heartfelt, it can’t be detached from real life and its struggles. Which means that, even if only implicitly, facing current events is virtually inevitable. But then there are also musicians who feel that politics don’t have a place in their art or that they don’t have enough credibility when it comes to critical messages, which of course, is rightful in its own way as well.

There is a long tradition of protest songs in western culture. Wikipedia says: „ A protest song is a song directed against an authority and usually adresses social or political wrongs.“ Many artists such as Bob Dylan or Joan Baez have gone down in history with this type of music. Especially in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, political topics were an extremely popular element in music and in the decades after that, Hip Hop took emerged as a voice for social and political criticism. But seemingly, music lost its role as a political influencer more and more after this peak in the late 60’s through 80’s. It seemed as if there were simply less and less issues to get „angry“ about. But of course there have always been bands who are known to be critical and of which political involvement is almost to be expected

One of which is Arcade Fire, who have repeatedly incorporated controversial issues in their songs. With „I give you power“ they released a haunting song with a powerful warning just in time for the recent presidential inauguration. Almost chant-like, Win Butler and soul legend Mavis Staples sing:

„I give you the power over me, I can take it away. Power given by the people, power taken by the people.“

The „watch me“ part at the end almost sounds like a menacing challenge to all the leaders in the world. Don’t underestimate the power of the people. The band emphasised their message even more on social media with a simultaneous appeal that it has never been more important to take care of and watch over one another.

Father John Misty is another musician who is known to adress current events in his songs and interviews. His new song „Pure Comedy“ is not quite as humorous as the title suggests; it’s actually more of a tragedy about mankind, loaded with sarcasm.

A lot more unexpted was the release of Depeche Modes new single „Where is the revolution“ which has protest written all over it. As a band that is not traditionally known to take a clear political stance in their songs, this new expressiveness is proof that times are rough. The first single from their new album „Spirit“ is a clear call for protest: „Where’s the revolution? Who’s making our decisions, you or your religion, your government, your countries, you patriotic junkies- Where is the revolution?“

Brian Eno, one of the UKs most well known producers, even appreciated the current political environment in one of his recent statements. Not the actual events, but the reactions they cause. After years of being complacent, people finally seem to be waking up from their self consumed lethargy. The very core of democracy is up for reevaluation. What exactly is the meaning of society and what is our responsibility as individuals? It’s getting up, waking up and finding our voice as people. Eno describes this as a long overdue „call to action“. Unfortunately, it’s never important until it really hurts.

Or you can go the opposite way. Like the Flaming Lips. Their concerts are known to be like little kids birthday parties for grown ups. Confetti and oversized balloons are a regular feature in all of their shows and thats not even the best part. That is usually lead singer Wayne Coyne crowdsurfing on a giant pink plastic unicorn while sprinkling glitter on the masses. It doesn’t get much more colourful and carefree than that. But even this easiness is a statement in itself and a form of rebellion at that. Its objective is to make people forget everything and just be blissfully happy for a while. Isn’t that an extremely political act? It is, because it unites people, it spreads love rather than hate and it shows that at its very core, the world is a rainbow glittery wonderland, much like the bands concerts. And maybe it reminds us to see the good a little more often again.

So in the end, finding a political and social stance is just as individual for artists and musicians as it is for everybody else. And the way artists use their voice is largely influenced by their art itself. It will be exciting to see if our modern society will inspire a new form of protest song and what that could look like. But it is certain that a lot is yet to come and artists will continue to get us to think and feel and find our own voice or maybe just an an escape.

Join me on my Rock ’n Roll journey,

Kate Rock

Foto (wake Up): Sean P. Anderson


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