Songs of Freedom, Songs of Fear: Music’s Role in the 2016 Election

From Kanye teasing a possible presidential run to Third Man Records selling “Icky Trump” t-shirts, music had played a prominent role in this election. The world of music has provided an inclusive, open platform to discuss race, gender, religion, and sexuality and roles they play in politics. Musicians also used their voices to join political movements, take on activist roles, and inspire others in a completely new and unique way.

Music has always been intertwined with politics. The likes of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez served (and continue to serve, in many ways) as the musical voices of change makers in American politics. Like them, many of today’s musicians are marching alongside protesters, organizing rallies, and acting as outspoken agents of social change. Artists like Blood Orange with his ode to police brutality victims titled Sandra’s SmileBest Coast, who campaigned for Bernie Sanders and endorsed Hillary Clinton, and Chance The Rapper, who organized a free concert and march to the polls for Chicago’s young voters are redefining the relationship between social justice and self expression.

Clearly, I am writing this from a liberal, democratic point of view and putting a spotlight on peaceful and artistic political involvement, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the other side of music’s role in this election and current political climate. Amongst the revival of bohemian ideals of love, art, beauty, and compassion, there are also some musicians using their voices to promote hate and violence while halting productive political dialect. We have a right to free speech (as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it, in the words of Joe Strummer) and should make a point to exercise that right in times of political unrest and vulnerability, but when Marilyn Manson featured a Trump lookalike getting slaughtered in his Say10 music video or when Martin Shkreli dangled his collection of unreleased music in front of our faces, I felt that there was a much more productive way to voice one’s political opinion.

After the announcement of Trump’s presidency, the reactions coming from the music world ranged from Mac DeMarco offering to marry anyone who wants to move to Canada to Bethany Cosentino opening up an e-mail based safe space for her fans to Ty Segall’s emotional Facebook post detailing his hopes that the good in people will trump hate (that pun was so intentional it hurts). Whether their words were rooted in anger, hate, hope, or love, the artistic creations, efforts, and opinions that came out of the music world during this election were historical and representative of a generation looking to make change.

by Hayley Robertson




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