Politics are divisive. The Alt-Right, the Liberal Media, Twitter, memes, its almost too much to absorb. But just as in generations past, musicians help us make sense of the madness. Several recently-released protest songs tackle these ideas with political messages.
Jason Isbell just released a new single called “White Man’s World” that makes no bones about the message. The first line of this protest song is “I’m a white man living in a white man’s world. Under our roof is a baby girl. I thought this world could be her’s one day. But her momma knew better.”
Isbell goes on to sing “There’s no such thing as someone else’s war. Your creature comforts aren’t the only things worth fighting for…” and “I’m a white man living on a white man’s street. I’ve got the bones of the Red Man under my feet. A highway runs through their burial grounds…”
Listen to the full lyrics here:
White male privilage, materialism, race relations, heritage, religion: nothing is off limits in this song. Isbell reminds us to think about the country – the world – that we’re leaving to our children in his latest single from his upcoming album The Nashville Sound, available summer 2017.
Another recent example of a protest song, or at least a song with a global, materialistic message is Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now” from their album by the same name that drops July 28, 2017.
The music video for this song, which you can watch below, features obliviously apocalyptic scenes of the beginning of a modern-day arms race. The lyrics to the song remind us of WHY we might be in that situation. The line, “we’ve got everything now” is repeated over and over again. From references to blog posts that we obsessively read to the perfectly fake lives we post about on social media, Arcade Fire reminds us about the pitfalls of having “Everything Now.”
Toward the end of the song the band also reminds us of how sad the end is when living in this world. “Every inch of space in my heart is filled with something I’ll never start. Ashes of everything now. I’m in the black again. Can’t make it back again, from everything now.”
Next, Roger Waters’ single “Is This the Life We Really Want” literally begins with a quote from Donald Trump criticizing CNN. In a classic Pink Floyd sounding protest song, Water’s hammers away with the lyrics “Caviar in fancy bars, and subprime loans…it’s not enough that we succeed, we still need others to fail.” Then he asks over and over Is this the life we really want?
Waters continues with, “fear keeps us all in line. Fear of all those foreigners. Fear of all of their crimes. Is this the life we really want?” He continues with, “every time a young girl’s life is casually spent, and every time a nincompoop becomes the President, and every time someone dies reaching for their keys…”
With obvious references to events leading to the Black Lives Matters protests, the many police shootings throughout the US, the election of Donald Trump in 2016, treatment of African Americans, immigrants, the poor, and others, Waters leads listeners on a reminder tour of what NOT to forget.
Waters’ then abruptly closes with the lyrics, “so every time the curtain falls on some forgotten life, it is because we all stood by silent and indifferent.”
You can listen to the full song on Spotify here:
Finally, we leave you with a single from a band from Providence, RI called Downtown Boys. Their new album, titled “The Cost of Living” drops August 11, 2017 and leads off with a protest song titled “The Wall.” Lead singer Victoria Ruiz screams “Am I under arrest? (Fuck It) Do I have the right? (Fuck It)” in an obvious nod to the proposed border wall between the US and Mexico.
The band also implores listeners to look at the current barrier between the two countries and hope they can see themselves in the current iteration. But they remind us that “a wall is just a wall.”
Listen to the full song here:
Protest songs have always been part of the American landscape. From “Yankee Doodle” during the the Revolutionary War to the Civil War ballad of “John Brown’s Body” to the Vietnam War era song “Ballad of the Green Berets” and “For What It’s Worth,” musicians have imparted their views on American society through music. The 2017 iterations are no different. Only now, we have YouTube and Spotify to help other hear and see the messages from bands throughout the world.