Last week, virtual band Gorillaz dropped their first new song in six years. The track, “Hallelujah Money” was a political song and subtly attacked new U.S. President Donald Trump, warning of the dangers that big business can have on politics. However, what interested me, was the reaction the track received on social media and notably the criticism of it. People were bemoaning that Damon Albarn was getting on the so-called “anti-Trump bandwagon,” while others labeled the track “liberal anti-government BS”.
This got me thinking, do people have short memories? After all, Damon Albarn is a left-wing musician and has written politically-charged music before. For example, Gorillaz 2010 album “Plastic Beach” was in many ways a socio-political album that explored the damage being done to the environment, while Albarn himself has also championed and been involved in political causes such as the anti-war movement during the height of the Iraq War.
The point I am trying to make is during times of political and social unease, when is it the job of musicians to engage creatively and write music that explores those times? And, is it an expectation that if a musician is known to be politically active that they do indeed speak up and address societies problems in their music?
The connection between music and politics goes back decades to the likes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, to Bob Dylan, to Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, to Public Enemy. Some of the greatest songs in popular music have been political, while musicians have often been at the forefront of social and political movements. Can you imagine the civil rights movement without the music of Nina Simone or the anti-Vietnam war protests without some of the great musical contributions?
One of the silver-linings of Trump entering the White House is that there seems to be more politically-charged music emerging, or at least more musicians speaking up. We have seen Compton rapper YG’s song “FDT” become an anthem, while hip-hop duo Run the Jewels are always pushing the political envelope with their music and their connections with former Democrat presidential contender Bernie Sanders. Other artists have also been incorporating political and social issues into their shows, notably Massive Attack who have raised awareness of the refugee crisis, and Roger Waters who has been vocal not only in his support of Palestine but also through the use of political imagery in his concerts.
Given the connection that music and politics have, and the long history of musicians standing up in support of political and social issues, it would be surprising that during this political juncture we find ourselves faced with if no musicians were speaking out, releasing politically-charged music, or raising awareness of political issues. As a music fan, music historian, and political junkie, I expect to see songs like “Hallelujah Money” and “FTD”, and I expect to see Killer Mike speaking out against police brutality. Often the loudest and most durable political messages can come through music and musicians, as music has the ability to break through barriers and connect people like nothing else, and sometimes like no politician ever could.
So, to those saying enough of the liberal BS Damon, I would say, well what do you want from your musicians? To just shut up and sing? And, also, what were you expecting to come from a left-leaning musician known for releasing political music? The Hallelujah Chorus?