I know, what have I done?! Cue the alarm bells!
Our political climate is divisive, there is no denying that. After 8 years under President Obama, we are all adjusting to a new administration, whether we agree with what is being done by that administration or not. However, this is not the first time we have had a switch to the government that caused some waves within our society, and just like we did before, we as American citizens will handle it in our own unique way. And that’s what makes America great already. We have the freedom guaranteed to us by our Constitution to express our opinion any way we want to, and that is never, *ahem, repeating it for the people in the back* NEVER going to be taken away from us.
That being said, musicians over the years have taken this freedom of expression and run with it. Political discourse has inspired some of the best songwriting in history, and even if it’s not done in the most prolific of ways, it at least starts a conversation, and that is something.
Now, no matter which way an artist may lean, a song declaring some sort of opinion when it comes to politics will create some waves, and oftentimes, it sparks a conversation that has nothing to do with the topic being discussed: should famous singers and songwriters even be making statements about these kinds of things? I mean, they’re just celebrities…what do they know about politics and how to run our country?
Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat it for those people out there that ask that question: they probably know just about as much as you do. However, that’s the whole point. If you get to go on Facebook rants that could fill up a book, then they can write a song about it. If you choose to listen to it, then all you’re doing is supporting them. In the end, they get the last laugh.
However, the question presented is still an interesting one. Is it good that artists express their opinions through their music? Or should they leave the music separate from that, and if they feel like making a statement about something, do so outside of their songs?
In my humble opinion, there’s a simple answer to that question: never trust an artist without an opinion.
I can honestly say that I have more respect for an artist that has the guts to speak their mind, even if their opinion differs from mine. Sure, I don’t think that Kanye West completely thinks through everything that comes out of his mouth. And yeah, that’s a lot of stuff. The man likes to talk, no doubt about it, and a lot of it puts people off, including yours truly. But I can still respect the fact that he has the guts and the confidence to go out there and speak his mind. Because, in reality, like it or not, he has a platform as a prominent musician in the industry, which means people will listen to all of those things that he says. And like it or not, he has the freedom to do so, which is not a freedom supplied to people in other countries around the world…
…and that begs the question: if you’re given this freedom, AND a platform from which to speak from where plenty of people want to hear what you have to say, why don’t you use it?
Exhibit A: Taylor Swift.
Don’t get me wrong, Taylor Swift is one of the best pop songwriters currently alive and recording. There will never be a day where I deny this as a fact, and her talent is undeniable. She’s become one of the biggest musicians on the planet. But here is where I lose respect for her and artists that operate this same way…
Her history in feminism is a splotchy one to say the least. It is very, VERY hard to say that you’re a feminist when you have an entire song and video dedicated to trash talking another prominent female artist in the business. It is very difficult to shake the “serial dater” label when you base your entire musical catalogue on your relationships and then purposely say things in your interviews to essentially make it a manhunt to figure out which song is about which guy you used to date. It’s VERY hard to believe that you are a full fledged feminist when you can tweet your support of the nationwide women’s marches without participating in them, like so many other prominent males and females did.
Compare that to Demi Lovato, Pink, Miley Cyrus or Madonna, all of which marched in those marches (Pink even while pregnant) and all of which have prominently made statements towards issues they care about. All four of those previously mentioned women are advocates for equal rights, for all genders, races and members of all sexualities. All of them voiced their support for Hillary Clinton during the election, with Demi performing at a Clinton rally and speaking at the DNC about mental health rights. Pink has been an outspoken supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and has also makes clear in her music her political opinions with songs like “Dear Mr. President”, a song blatantly calling out President Bush during his administration. Madonna gave an uproarious speech at the women’s marches, made her acceptance speech at the Billboard Women in Music event a call to arms for female artists everywhere, and has constantly supported powerful women with her brash, unforgiving attitude towards her artistic expression. And hey, you know what? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t see Taylor Swift anywhere near Trump Tower the night of the election, when Lady Gaga stood outside protesting with a “Love Trumps Hate” sign.
In contrast, Taylor has never mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement. She didn’t attend the marches. She never picked a side during the election, and only talked about the prospect of voting on Election Day with a simple neutral Instagram post, encouraging people to go vote.
She donated money to Kesha, who has been embroiled in legal battles with Dr. Luke over sexual assault allegations, but has never commented on how she feels about the situation, which Demi Lovato called her out for.
She is the poster child for not picking a side, and for not having an opinion. That is why I can say that I can respect Kanye more than Taylor Swift. That is why, despite my political beliefs, I even respect Donald Trump more than Taylor Swift. I haven’t agreed with a single thing he has said, but at least he has the fortitude to voice his opinion at all.
Where Kanye will speak his mind, Taylor will not. And she has to have an opinion on some of these things, right? In her mind, she feels some kind of way, but she remains mum about them in her music AND in her interviews and public actions. And here’s the thing: like it or not, you’re a public figure. People are going to listen to you. If you’re not expressing your opinion on these issues so as not to upset anyone, you’re in the wrong business, sweetheart. I doubt incredibly highly that you were all that concerned about upsetting the guys you talk about in your songs the way you do when you release them. That being said, don’t you think discussing your societal beliefs concerning things that influence the livelihoods of people that may be fans of your music is a little more important than talking about another guy that has scorned you? Adele has also made her career on singing about her relationships, but even she can find the time to profess her stance on these issues, and she’s not even an American citizen.
And if artists like Ariana Grande, who’s audience is very much similar to your own, can also take clear stands on gay rights and where she stands politically, you have no excuse to not also do the service to your audience so they know you even give a crap.
My point here is not to trash Taylor Swift, but rather to make an example of her. Justin Bieber is another one in particular that, in my opinion, with his grand scope of influence because of the LEGIONS of young women that listen to him, that he at least make his views known.
According this article on Gawker, so you can choose to believe it or not, Justin almost took the opportunity to perform at the RNC because of indifference, due to his Canadian roots (yup, just because he doesn’t really care one way or another, he was willing to accept money to perform on behalf of someone who’s view he may not even agree with). And his manager, Scooter Braun, who fundraised for Hillary Clinton, allegedly told him that he would no longer represent him if he chose to align himself with Trump, which was one of the reasons he chose not to appear. Now, I’m not saying that all of these people, especially Bieber, who become famous are the most intelligent beacons for our young minds to listen to (because TRUST ME, they’re not). However, like I said, even if I didn’t agree with his views, I can still respect him more for knowing where he stands in society and using his platform instead of strategically staying quiet just so he doesn’t upset anyone, and can continue raking in money.
My point is that artists almost have a responsibility to make their opinions known in their own way, and this is true for a couple of reasons. First, because it is your Constitutional right to be able to speak your mind. Not only is it your right, but it also starts the conversation and from a strong platform of someone with a lot of followers and vocal support, things can get accomplished more often than not. And the less we exercise this right, the easier it will be for it to be taken away if someone ever tries to make that happen.
However, secondly, and most importantly, this right to expression is something not everyone has the ability to have. Artists are censored all over the world because their form of art may not be in accordance with those with power over them. We here in America have the unique ability to be able to put our opinions out there into the world without answering to anybody about them, and musicians have the ability to do that to a mass audience. It’s up to the general public if they want to listen to the songs they put out that may have political messages to them, but we have that choice, and that’s what’s great about America.
Aside from that, let’s not forget how politics has been bleeding into music for years. From Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, to John Lennon’s “Imagine”, to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changing”, music has been used by artists to express their feelings about the times in which we live for a long time now.
And that hasn’t stopped! Pink’s “Dear Mr. President” that I mentioned earlier is a scorching analysis of President Bush’s shortcomings while he was in office, touching on gay rights (“what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay?”), women’s rights (“what kind of father would take his own daughter’s rights away?”), the gap between the lower, middle and upper classes (“how do you sleep while the rest of us cry?” and “let me tell you about hard work/ building a bed out of a cardboard box”), education (“how can you say ‘no child is left behind’/ we’re not dumb and we’re not blind/ they’re all sitting in your cells, while you pave the road to Hell”), and the growing number of people finding themselves homeless (“what do you feel when you see all of the homeless on the street?”).
Even Katy Perry’s newest single “Chained To The Rhythm” is subtlety politically charged to the point of blinking and missing it. Though it’s all set to a techno, disco dance beat, the song’s lyrics talk about how brainwashed we’ve become with technology (“are we crazy? living our lives through a lens”), our constant need for political correctness (“trapped in our white picket fence, like ornaments/ so comfortable we’re living in a bubble, bubble/ so comfortable we cannot see the trouble, trouble”), our constant chasing of perfectionism (“are you lonely, up there in utopia?/ where nothing will ever be enough, happily numb”), and our tendency to not want to talk about pressing issues (“are we tone deaf? keep sweeping it under the mat”). The video also speaks to different societal issues in it’s own way, but all hidden through a thinly veiled rose-colored-glasses outlook. An outspoken supporter of Hillary Clinton as well, people were expecting some sort of response from Katy when she ended up losing the election.
And remember when I said that artists need to exercise this right before it gets taken away? As farfetched as some people may think this sounds, it’s not entirely unrealistic.
A part of our national budget exists called the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) that is set aside for grants and scholarships to be given to artists looking for money to jumpstart their projects (link to the website is below).
All in all, the NEA has about $146 million allotted to them to give out to artists. And sure, that seems nice to say when you look at it microscopically. Macroscopically, though? Not so much.
This allotment equates to about .46 cents per person when it comes to what people pay in taxes that contribute to this fund. And in comparison to what other countries contribute to the arts? It’s nothing. Close to nothing, anyway. Do yourself a favor and look into arts funding in Germany and Sweden and you’ll see what I mean. Artists are heralded as royalty there and encouraged to do whatever they have to create the art in whatever form it is that they do.
So, naturally, you’d think that with it being so minimal that the natural thing to do would be to add more money to it and further the promotion of the arts in this country.
Out current administration recently released a plan to cut this funding altogether. Ronald Reagan also had made moves to attempt to cut the funding for the NEA during his presidency, but that did not go through as he had originally planned. However, President Trump seems to be steamrolling ahead with his new proposal to eliminate the NEA’s funding completely, making it that much harder for musicians who aren’t in the top 1% of the industry to continue their craft.
With this in mind, wouldn’t it make sense that artists, with this freedom to express themselves through the very format that is being threatened to have its funding terminated, do something about it? Band together and make the statement that, “This is unacceptable”. Unify and stand up for the right for others to create the same form of art that you do.
And that’s where artists like Taylor Swift annoy me. Where she makes herself look like a guardian angel for up-and-coming artists when she battled Apple Music and Spotify to look at the way they compensate the artists they have on their services, her lack of attention to major issues like this make her stance on streaming look less like it was about her sticking up for the little guy and more about making sure she’s getting all of the pieces of the pie that she thinks she deserves. With her scope of influence being as big as it is, input from her and other artists with massive followings that keep quiet on these issues are actually hurting the cause rather than helping it. Hey, Apple Music listened to her when she made her case about the compensation for streaming! Apple! Who doesn’t listen to anyone!
Whether we like it or not, politics has its place in music, and artists have every right, (practically a responsibility!) to use their music to say anything they’d like to. And when the money used to support others that create the same kind of art that you do is threatened, there should be no debate that musicians should be allowed to fight back in only way they know how: with their craft.
But oh, dissenters, you’re right. We as musicians should DEFINITELY stick to just standing up there and singing what we’re told to sing. Don’t make it political. We have no right to make a stand when our livelihood is threatened. Makes a whole lot of sense.