With 2008 being such a politically charged year, everybody felt the need to pitch in their two pennies. Especially those big stupid musicians, right?
The influx of politicized music in the past few years has divided many fans, even if they agree with the policies the artist stands for (or against). But when did we start thinking it was OK to tell musicians what to sing about?
I can tell you one thing: the artists aren’t going to stand for it.
“The news media in the U.S. have been pretty successful in convincing the public that singers, actors, whoever, have no right in having a political opinion,” Michael Stipe, lead singer of legendary alternative band R.E.M. said in an interview with “The Financial Times” earlier this year. “I find that to be dismissive and insulting.”
When bands sign that elusive record deal contract, I’m sure there is no clause included which calls for the artists to “simply shut up and sing” (a perplexingly oxymoronic phrase I’ve always marveled at).
Just shut up and switch the station.
R.E.M. and other like-minded bands have been exercising their right to an opinion for years – from supporting local mayors to organizing entire tours aimed at voicing a certain political viewpoint.
As I’m typing this, R.E.M.’s “Mr. Richards” plays in the background. It’s a victorious laugh at shady administration cronies who ultimately get an extra serving of karma, and it’s as hummable as anything the Beatles ever wrote.
Whoever Mr. Richards is, he might as well be everyone and no one. There are too many candidates in recent history to choose from, and the band isn’t telling. But does political content really matter when the music is this good?
Most Green Day fans I know turned the music off when “American Idiot” catapulted them back into the mainstream four years ago. The album is a pop masterpiece, but let’s put opinions of the music aside for a minute.
Take a look at the lyrics. They express opinions, sure, but there are no specific anti-Bush references. Without context, “Holiday” could be about not following the pack of sheep and the title track could be a comment on our mindless fixation with brain-dead reality TV. Most of the album is just about the fictional Jesus of Suburbia character, anyway.
And we can dig deeper. I received a promo CD earlier this week from a Brooklyn multimedia collective calling itself Caesar Pink and the Imperial Orgy. Reading the press release, it became evident the band had a message besides “We’re so quirky, we’ll throw a swastika on Mickey Mouse.” The music and lyrics are corny and banal, but they all preach for religious tolerance.
Is that a bad message to sing about? Should they stick to wacky topics like (no joke) losing a significant other to the charms of Robert Plant?
What is music if not an expression of one’s ideas set to a melody? If you’re saying you don’t want to hear what the artists have to say on a personal topic, your options are really limited.
You must also hate love songs (see The Beatles, Roxy Music, Bob Dylan). And angry songs (Nirvana, Sex Pistols, Marilyn Manson), and songs that express any sort of view on the world we live in (take your pick).
Dave Matthews Band, Jay-Z, Bright Eyes, even the friggin’ Jonas Brothers – they all put personal feelings to music. So turn away from Nickelback and The Hush Sound, because you don’t need someone to tell you what they think of love.
You can handle your own personal life, and you surely don’t need some rock star telling you how they deal with a situation. At that point, you might as well listen to instrumental music. There’s nothing wrong with classical or wordless indie rock like Explosions In The Sky, but do you really want to limit yourself?
Even if you’re afraid to have your political beliefs challenged – that’s OK, most of us are – it doesn’t mean you should stop listening to artists when they decide to take a stand.
It takes a megaton of courage to put your views out there when you’re a visible performer. The fan base can be divided, the band risks criticism, decreasing sales and, most importantly, its credibility.
At least give the artists credit for taking a chance on exercising a basic freedom.
Alex Bahler is a senior public relations major from Woodridge. He is the Scout Voice editor.
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