Newsletter #130 - The Politics Of Music

10 Nov 2016

At the risk of going out on a political limb, in the wake of last night’s US Presidential election, it’s impossible for the outcome to not influence the tone and content of this editorial.  After all, it isn’t everyday that a complete outlier gets to tuck their fit under the desk in the Oval Office…

If pressed to come up with one song that captures the moment, ‘Something Inside So Strong’ by UK artist Labi Siffre – an enduring Ivor Award-winning classic most famously covered by Kenny Rogers, has to be up there.

“The higher you build your barriers, The taller I become
The farther you take my rights away, The faster I will run”…

“The more you refuse to hear my voice, The louder I will sing
You hide behind walls of Jericho, Your lies will come tumbling”…

History shows that music and politics have been inextricably linked – from Billy Bragg to Verdi.  In this year’s race for the Whitehouse, musicians, actors and directors haven’t shied from taking a stand in campaigns that themselves have been either outright political like the 30 Days, 30 Songs campaign which was expressly anti-Trump, or that have simply encouraged people to vote at all, like the rather brilliant and a-political #VoteYourFuture, campaign, which pricks the conscience of the politically unengaged.

Artists take a huge reputational risk when laying their beliefs bare at the altar of political advocacy.  At worst they open themselves up to unintended accusations of racism (Beyonce/ #BlackLivesMatter) and ridicule (Sting’s Rainforest campaign). 

To be fair, in a world saturated in opinion and people journalism, we are all overloaded by other peoples’ beliefs and opinions, wryly commented in this piece by DMNs Paul Resnikoff.

At best, campaigns can be positive agents of change.

In that respect, and somewhat closer to home, perhaps the counter melody to 2016’s underlying theme of rising political distrust will be the positive changes brought to voting boards of both the Academy Awards and the BRITS. In both cases, pressure brought to bear on the lack of truly representative and diverse judging panels means that 2017 is set to re-dress a long-standing imbalance, with which to ultimately ensure greater recognition for all artists, and in the process elevate the visibility and vibrancy of a broader range of creativity, too.

In the context of the US presidential election this might make a trite and relatively inconsequential parallel, were it not for the fact that changes such as these better reflect the society in which we live and work

As some wag Tweeted in the early morning aftermath of the US election, “suddenly Kanye running for President in 2020 doesn’t seem so ridiculous anymore”…

Heaven help us all.

Editorial by Jonathan Robinson