Music: The Personal & The Political

Flux Studio

Hi all – thanks for reading. I’ve decided to write something a bit differently with this post because it’s something that has been weighing on me a lot recently.

With all of the messed up, wild, terrifying crap that takes place in the world on a daily basis, it makes sense that many people like to look towards music or other forms of art as not only an outlook for self-expression, but for self-care. Dealing with a break-up, the loss of a friendship, the death of a family member, or anything else that is apart of the human experience – comes with various forms of coping mechanisms.

Studies show that listening to music can distract us from stress (a pretty known fact) but it can ALSO increase our pain threshold. Some experts suggest that the brain’s response to music can help ease pain and depression – and even increase creativity.

You get the picture. Listening to music helps people deal with emotions and traumatic experiences. Whether you decide to listen to the newest radio hit that doesn’t really have any sort of content to unpack (which is completely fine and shouldn’t be shamed or looked down upon AT ALL) – or you may choose to listen to Phoebe Bridgers (ladies and gents, she writes some of the SADDEST music I have ever heard). I think it goes without saying that the ability to understand, identify and comprehend emotions can be done more easily when you can relate to something or someone.

Creating music is also a way for artists to cope with the world around them – which introduces the idea of what it means to create music that may be too “political” for some listeners. There are plenty of musicians who have existed in a political space for decades – Bob Dylan built his career on the politics of Greenwich Village in New York at the start of his career. Folk musician Pete Seeger wrote about his experience as an activist in the Civil Rights Movements.

What has changed is a musician’s ability to be vocal with their political views on social media. Artists like Chance the Rapper has used his platform to help create awareness of the Chicago Public School system and has raised millions of dollars to for the schools.

Sia has encouraged her fans (she has 15 million across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) to adopt animals, use skin and makeup products that are cruelty-free and is a strong advocate for LBGTQA rights across the world. Drake just recently gave away over $950,000,000 to the people of Miami instead of making a glamorous music video for his recent single “God’s Plan.”

You can pull hundreds of other musicians who have actively spoken out about current events happening in the world – whether that may be against gun violence, encouraging those to register to vote – the list goes on and on.

Amidst the chaos that has continued to unravel on the world for the past two years or so, it can get overwhelming to truly understand what’s going on around us. We are constantly being bombarded with mixed messages. The “call-out” culture on social media sites is as intense as it has ever been. Our president is tweeting about survived students of a school shooting and claiming they didn’t do enough to stop it. Our environment is being taken advantage of. Women’s rights to basic healthcare are being threatened. You get the point.

As someone who constantly finds a song to relate to, a lyric that I want to write down and read forever, an artist who supports the same causes I do, I am constantly looking for something that can speak to a bigger message that I am able to formulate and share on my own. When I find that song that describes exactly how I’m feeling about rape culture or human rights, I want to cherish it forever, because I find the ability to create inspiring work out of such hard, discouraging life events is a really amazing thing to witness.

Going back to the title of this piece, I think the personal is always political. Music may not have an inherently political message – and as a society consuming music, we shouldn’t be asking musicians to create world peace or end global warming with their art. Some of my favorite musicians (cough cough, Taylor Swift) are apolitical in their music and their brand, and although it’s controversial, that’s probably the way it will always be for her. That’s a whole other topic of conversation I will gladly have with anyone who asks me about it.

However, there are a TON of musicians who create political music, who are outspoken with their political beliefs, one or the other, etc. And those are the artists I tend to find myself drawn to when I’m needing to hear a song or album that’s making a political statement.

I have pulled some of my favorite songs that make me feel these things to share. This idea I had for this post originally stemmed from “I’m a female and I’m mad” but the idea grew into what I have below. I understand that music is subjective and that’s what makes it so cool, but these are the songs that I think of when I need some politics in my tunes.

I also asked my Twitter and Instagram followers for their favorite songs that fall into these categories and got some great responses! Thanks to those who shared!

Resist With These Jams:

“The Currents” – Bastille

“How can you think you’re serious? / Do you even know what year it is? / I can’t believe the scary points you make /Still living in the currents you create / Still sinking in the pool of your mistakes / Won’t you stop firing up the crazies?”

“Locker Room Talk” – Cold War Kids

“Locker room talk / I can’t believe / You think you’re gonna get around it / Dirt in your mouth / Mic on the sleeve / We all heard how it sounded”

“Listen To Your Friends – Declan Mckenna

“Look online / Do ten minutes of research and in turn find / The problem is poor kids who want holidays in term time / The problem is poor kids who can’t afford the train fare / So we up the train fare and charge them for not paying the train fare / The problem is welfare / And the problem is free healthcare /Cause it’s unfair and if it’s gone it’s welfare”

“Not Ready To Make Nice” – Dixie Chicks

“It’s a sad, sad story / When a mother will teach her daughter / That she ought to hate a perfect stranger / And how in the world / Can the words that I said / Send somebody so over the edge / That they’d write me a letter / Saying that I better / Shut up and sing / Or my life will be over?”

“Fuck Your Money” – Elohim

“Why are we stuck on the surface / Let’s go back to the basics / There’s so much beyond what we see / What I know’s not a secret / One day you’ll wake up and realize / If you’re true to your heart you’ll be flying”

“You Are The Problem Here” – First Aid Kit

“Do you really expect anyone to feel sorry / That you ruined your own life? / You did it when you thought you had the right to / put your entitled hands up her thighs / And we don’t need to be diminished / To sisters or daughter or mothers / I am a human being, that is how you relate to me”

“War” – Grandson

“And until there’s no longer / First and second class citizens of any nation / It’s on and until the color of a man’s skin serves no more significance than the color of his eyes / We say war”

“Sign of the Times” – Harry Styles

“We don’t talk enough / We should open up / Before it’s all too much / Will we ever learn? / We’ve been here before / It’s just what we know”

“Praying” – Kesha

“You said that I was done / Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come / Cause I can make it on my own / And I don’t need you, I found a strength I’ve never known”

“Fountain Of Youth” – Local Natives

“I have waited so long, Mrs. President / Matriarchs and Teddy Boys, play in houses on the lake / How can we quit drugs if you’re gonna watch like that? / Give me five good reasons you trust us with our future”

I wrote a story while I was in school inspired by this song. Read it here.

“All American Made” – Margo Price

“I wonder if the president gets much sleep at night / And if the folks on welfare are making it alright / I’m dreaming of that highway that stretches out of sight / That’s all American made”

“Quiet” (Stripped) – MILCK

“Put on your face / Know your place / Shut up and smile / Don’t spread your legs / I could do that / But no one knows me no one ever will / If I don’t say something, if I just lie still”

In case this one sounds familiar to you…

“I Know A Place” – Muna

“You think being yourself means being unworthy / And it’s hard to love with a heart that’s hurting / But if you want to go out dancing / I know a place / I know a place we can go / Where everyone gonna lay down their weapon”

“Siren” – Overcoats

“I feel the weight of many worlds on my shoulders / Live the broken dreams of all the others / Please don’t pull me down, I think I’m drowning / This is not my burden to carry”

“A Living Human Girl” – The Regrettes

“Because I can be brave and I can be bold / No matter what you have to say / Oh I fall in love with people once a day / Oh, but if you ask me out, I’m still allowed to say no way”

“When” – Rostam

We just wanna keep living in America / But come on / We just wanna change the distribution of wealth / The weapons industrial complex, and the use of / Force by sundown / Like I said we the crazy ones / Them the crazy ones we know better come on”

“The Wall” – Sir the Baptist

I can’t find the complete lyrics online but there are lines like

“These American terrorists / Walking into churches and emptying magazines” and “I wish the ban was in play on that slave boat”

“Vanderlight” – Stop Light Observations

“Stained glass, golden doors / Marble columns, granite floors / God must really love his toys / Like a formulated recipe from century to century / Generation by the spoon / They feed the prophet to the people / And keep building up the steeples / But the Son is gonna rise up soon”

“Talkin’ Bout A Revolution” – Tracy Chapman

“Talkin’ bout a revolution, oh / While they’re standing in the welfare lines / Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation / Wasting time in the unemployment lines / Sitting around waiting for a promotion”

“M.A.H.” – U.S. Girls

“We can never know the hands we’re in, until we feel them grip / Choking off our air supply but I don’t cry / Every day I look, every day I see / That good war music still getting written for me”

Here’s a few songs that I received from other people as their personal favorites:

“Rebel Girl” – Bikini Kill

“For What It’s Worth” – Buffalo Springfield

“Queen” – Flint Eastwood

“Reagan” – Killer Mike

“What’s Going On” – Marvin Gaye

“Townie” – Mitski

“Love Me, I’m A Liberal” – Phil Ochs

“BagBak” – Vince Staples

Want To Get Involved?

I’ve researched a few different political organizations that music lovers can volunteer with.

The Barbara Lee Family Foundation – “The Barbara Lee Family Foundation advances women’s equality and representation in American politics and in the field of contemporary art. Our work in both our program areas is guided by our core belief that women’s voices strengthen our democracy and enrich our culture.”

Headcount – I wrote a story about them while I was still in school. Following is an excerpt and so you can get a general idea what the organization does:

“HeadCount is an unbiased organization that collaborates with musicians to encourage people to register to vote. The non-profit organization has registered over 300,000 voters at events since 2004, and continue to make progress by creating successful digital media campaigns with the likes of Jay-Z, Dave Matthews Band and the Grateful Dead.

It is easy for anyone to get involved with HeadCount by creating an account on their website and signing up to volunteer at concerts all over the country. By visiting the website, you can find information about the organizations, how to volunteer and upcoming shows and events that HeadCount will participate in.”

Rock The Vote – “Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to building the political power of young people. In 1990, music executives founded Rock the Vote in response to censorship of hip hop and rap artists. Our first partnership, with MTV, helped us to promote the message that “Censorship is Un-American” and to engage young people across the country in fighting back. For over 25 years, Rock the Vote has revolutionized the way we use pop culture, music, art, and technology to engage young people in politics and build our collective power. We’ve registered and turned out millions of young voters on campuses, in communities, and online. We’ve successfully fought for — and defended — voting rights and increased access to democracy. We’ve raised awareness and campaigned for issues that impact the lives of young people. We’ve pioneered innovative ways to make registration and voting work for our generation, and built open-source technology to empower other organizations, too.”

This post ended up being a stream of consciousness and if you made it this far, I seriously appreciate it! This post is a bit more nuanced than normal things I tend to write, thank you so much for reading!
– Kristin
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