Politics is seeping into our charts and it’s about damn time.
Politics has always had an influence on music. From chants down throughout protests, spoken word and even the (hypocritical) devotion to John Lennon has shown there’s always been a place for politics within lyricism. Brexit, Trump and the rise of the right have all made their mark on music in recent times. Here are just some of the biggest political hits that show musicians are standing up.
J Balvin, Willy William and Beyoncé – Mi Gente
Originally released last summer, Beyoncé was then added to the track and the new remix was created to help raise funds for Puerto Rico and Mexico in particular, which had both taken the brunt of recent natural disasters. In January, it was reported that half of Puerto Rico was still without power after Hurricane Maria. While Beyoncé has always made political songs, particularly focused upon the empowerment of black women, which have all had a profound impact, this was also a moment of great activism and fundraising. Mi Gente showed the power musicians can wield. If you want to support Puerto Rico then here is a useful guide.
Kesha – Praying
In the year of #MeToo, the release of Praying felt like a moment of vindication. Kesha finally got to release new music which had been delayed due to a long and painful legal battle with Dr Luke, regarding allegations of sexual assault. The song itself was incredibly powerful, as Kesha sang of her pride at herself and how she could finally breathe again. Kesha’s ordeal has been harrowing to watch, and still those accused of sexual abuse are facing little reckoning. Yet, this song was one of hope and healing in an age when survivors are still being treated as liars.
Captain Ska – Liar Liar
This was arguably the most politically-charged song of the last year, and the song nobody heard. Due to strict radio broadcasting rules in the UK, Liar Liar wasn’t heard on the radio but it still made a huge impact online as it slammed the Tories and, in particular, Theresa May for her not so strong and stable government.
Katy Perry, Skip Marley – Chained To The Rhythm
Perry tends to have her own problematic brands of feminism and resistance, but this was one of the first political songs of 2017. While Perry had an incredibly hit and miss year with both her politics and her music, this fairly simplistic political tune was a sign of the music to come. Artists were beginning to engage with their values more, for better, or for worse, in the case of some songs.
Harry Styles – Sign of the Times
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it the new David Bowie? No, but no doubt Styles will keep trying. Styles is regularly compared to some of the greatest artists in history who came to symbolise challenging the establishment, but while Sign of the Times was undoubtedly popular, it fell short of the high ambitions of being a cultural anthem because it just wasn’t political enough but perhaps it’ll be a song that ages well. There were hints throughout the song of its poignancy through political turmoil, and Styles himself stated the song was a reflection upon Brexit and Black Lives Matter, but the lyrics themselves never packed as strong a punch as they could have. It’s a very good song, but it could have been a great one.
Eminem – The Storm
It was a bold move, a lot of Eminem’s fanbase voted for Trump. Eminem hasn’t been entirely innocent either; his songs have often courted the right of the working class and his lyrics have flirted with queerphobia and misogyny but Trump was enough to make Eminem stand up, and his latest works have been decidedly political.
Manchester One Love Concert
Okay, this wasn’t a track but it was a stunning tribute to musical activism after the Manchester arena attack. Where is the Love? was an incredibly poignant performance. It was an incredibly political song when it was released over a decade ago and it stands as a testament to the need for songs that challenge society.
And the greatest poplitical failure was…
Since January 2017, the world has protested Trump, the rise of the right and tried to resist the horrific moves to strip back equal rights legislation. So what did Taylor Swift do? She released a song that served nothing but her own ego, about being called out by another celebrity. While the world was burning, Taylor Swift had a tantrum about not getting enough praise. Well done, Taylor. Well done.
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