The age we live in is awful, the news so unbearable, our political stance so shameful, that it seems strange to me that so little of it is addressed through the means of modern art of any kind. But should politics be at the forefront of art?
My immediate response to this question would simply be no. “Let people do their own thing,” I hear my inner hippy cry. However, this is a debate that I have seen crop up on various social media outlets countless times in the past few weeks, of course due to the shocking political events that have occurred recently. Reading the views of various industry experts and music fans alike has caused me to adapt my stance on the topic somewhat. My solid ‘no’ attitude has been reconditioned into a more flexible ‘well, what if…’ view for a couple of reasons.
All good art has a purpose, something to say. Often, that something involves controversial issues and with politics arguably being one of the most controversial topics in the world, you’d think it would be more commonly used in art, right? But in fact, politics is everywhere in the music scene if you know how to detect it. Politics is more than just someone’s opinions on the far right fascists or who the next president will be. It covers everything from the actions used to gain such power to topics such as the immigrant crisis, inflation, LGBTQ+ rights, the housing crisis, and many others. Many of these topics are widely discussed through the music that you hear every day. For example, Macklemore wrote ‘Same Love’ directly referencing gay rights and more recently ‘Take Me To Church’ by Hozier expressed his views on gay marriage. Both of these tracks hit the charts with their political stances, but are they good because they’re political or are they good songs that just happen to be political?
The alternative music scene also has a lot to offer regarding their opinions on political debates. Enter Shikari are very open with their music and often use political expression in their songs. More recently, author Dave Eggers set up a project titled ‘30 Days, 30 Songs‘ in order to raise awareness of the race to presidency and the importance of voting. Artists such as Jimmy Eat World, Cold War Kids and Modern Baseball jumped on board with the campaign, each releasing an anti-Trump driven track. Not forgetting that many punk bands have taken a slightly less subtle route in the past, with the likes of The Clash and the Sex Pistols who often raged against capitalism, racism and the government through their lyrics.
It’s obvious that there are many artists who aren’t afraid to discuss politics through their work, so why are people still suggesting that more and more politically charged songs should be written? Well, our society is one that teaches children that education is only important in order to get a job, people are brainwashed into thinking that violence is the only answer and the media tells us only what we want to hear. Perhaps artists have a duty to speak out against this. Music is a repository of free speech. It allows artists the opportunity to fight back with that zero tolerance attitude that politicians seem so fond of, maybe more artists should utilise this. I’m not saying every song your favourite band releases should be politically charged, nor am I saying that every artist should be pushing their political views on others. However, it’s hard to deny that there are many kids out there who idolise these people and look up to media icons to show them the way. For that reason, I do feel it’s important for artists to use their platform to encourage people to educate themselves in their own time. This is their opportunity to use their status to raise awareness of the importance of politics without forcing a biased opinion on them like the media seems to do so well.
There is of course no right answer to whether politics should be more widely discussed through art. Music is an expressive art form, whether it be personal feelings or their political views, and so the content of their work is ultimately down to the artist themselves. Who are we to be telling others what to write about and what not to write about? So whilst I feel artists could help to influence others to become more educated on such topics, I do not at all feel like it is absolutely necessary for society, or in fact that the songs themselves need an auxiliary cause or controversial topic to justify and elevate them.
Where do you stand? Do you think it’s important for more artists to address such issues?