Music has long been intertwined with politics, with many musicians using their platform to express their political beliefs and inspire social change. From protest songs and folk ballads to hip-hop and pop anthems, music has been a powerful tool for political activism throughout history. In this blog post, we will explore the political power of music and take a brief look at the history of political music. From the revolutionary songs of the 18th and 19th centuries to the protest music of the 20th and 21st centuries, we will see how music has played a crucial role in shaping political movements and influencing public opinion. Whether through lyrics, melodies, or performances, music has proven to be a formidable political force.
Music as an agent of politics can be considered a part of this broader activity. It refers to how culture is used to assert and challenge political power. It is a general term that encompasses a wide range of activities, from creating and promoting cultural artifacts to developing cultural policies and studying the relationship between culture and politics.
It can take many forms, and how it is practiced can vary depending on the context and the cultural traditions of a given society. By channeling creativity, political expression can be conveyed through cultural artifacts such as literature, art, and music that challenge prevailing systems or emphasize certain ideals. In other cases, cultural politics may involve the development of policies or programs that support the arts and cultural heritage or studying how culture shapes political beliefs and behaviors.
Cultural politics is a complex and multifaceted field that encompasses various activities and approaches. It is a way of understanding culture’s role in shaping political power and how politics and culture are intertwined.
A brief history of politics in music:
The earliest examples of political music date back to ancient civilizations, where music was often used to praise rulers, celebrate military victories, and express political beliefs. In ancient Egypt, for example, musicians performed at ceremonies and religious festivals, and some of their music was intended to glorify the pharaohs and their accomplishments. In ancient Greece, music was often used in theater and poetry, with works such as Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” containing political themes and references to the political events of the time.
In ancient China, music was an essential part of court life and was often used to express political ideas. The “Book of Songs,” a collection of Chinese folk songs from the 11th to 7th centuries B.C., contains many songs that deal with political themes, including songs about rulers, wars, and the people’s loyalty to their rulers.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, political music flourished in the United States and other countries. In the United States, folk songs such as “John Brown’s Body” and “We Shall Overcome” became anthems for the abolitionist and civil rights movements. In Europe, political composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert used their music to express their support for liberal political ideals.
One of the most famous examples of politics overlaying music from the 18th century is “The Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France. Written in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, the song was originally a rallying cry for the French Revolution and has since become a symbol of French patriotism. Indeed, historically politics in music has trended toward patriotic songs as opposed to the more political lyrics we are accustomed to today.
In the 19th century, political music continued to thrive in the United States and other countries. In the United States, folk songs such as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie” were popular during the Civil War, while other songs such as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful” became patriotic national anthems. While in Russia, composers such as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote operas and symphonies that celebrated Russian national identity.
Overall, the 18th and 19th centuries saw the rise of political music in the United States and other countries, as musicians used their art to express their political beliefs and support various causes.
One of the most notable examples of political music in the 20th century is the protest music and anti-war song movement of the 1960s. During this time, folk artists like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez would create political music to speak out against the Vietnam War and advocate for civil rights. Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and Baez’s “We Shall Overcome” became anthems of the civil rights movement, inspiring millions of people to take action. This was known as the American folk revival, a resurgence of interest in traditional American folk music and a broader interest in the roots of American culture.
The folk music revival was driven by several factors, including the rise of the labor and civil rights movements, the popularity of the radio program “The Grand Ole Opry,” and the influence of folk musicians such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. The folk revival helped revive interest in traditional folk music and inspired the development of new folk music styles, such as the protest and anti-war songs movement of the 1960s.
In the 21st century, political music continues to thrive in popular music. For example, the rapper Kendrick Lamar has used his music to speak out against police brutality and systemic racism. His song “Alright” became a rallying cry and protest song for the Black Lives Matter movement, with its chorus of “We gon’ be alright” offering a message of hope and resilience in the face of adversity.
Another example is the British rapper and hip-hop star Stormzy, who has used his music to speak out against racism and police brutality. His song “Vossi Bop” raps about the Black Lives Matter movement and the need for social and political change.
Kendrick Lamar and Stormzy build on a long history of powerful protest songs in the hip-hop music world that also includes:
- Public Enemy’s 1988 album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” contains several songs with political subjects, including “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” which addresses the issue of police brutality, and “Don’t Believe the Hype,” which criticizes media manipulation.
- N.W.A.’s 1988 album “Straight Outta Compton” contains several songs that address political issues, including “F**k the Police,” which protests police brutality, and “Express Yourself,” which encourages self-empowerment and self-expression.
- The Coup’s 1994 album “Genocide & Juice” contains several politically charged songs, including “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish,” which criticizes economic inequality, and “Pork and Beef,” which addresses police brutality.
In pop music, a notable example of political music in the 21st century is “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. This song, which celebrates diversity and individuality, became an anthem for the LGBTQ+ community, with its message of acceptance and inclusion resonating with millions of people worldwide.
Additionally, popular music singer Taylor Swift has used her music to express her political beliefs, including her support for the LGBTQ+ community and her opposition to President Donald Trump. In her song “Only the Young,” she addresses the issues of gun violence and voter suppression, urging young people to take action and make their voices heard.
Rock music has long been a vehicle for political expression in America’s history, and many rock musicians have used their music to comment on political events and express their political beliefs. Here are a few examples of politics in rock music:
- The Rolling Stones’ 1968 song “Street Fighting Man” is a protest song that addresses the political unrest of the time, with lyrics that criticize the government and call for revolution.
- Pink Floyd’s 1979 album “The Wall” contains several songs that address political themes, including “Another Brick in the Wall,” which criticizes the education system, and “Goodbye Blue Sky,” which addresses the impact of war on society.
- Rage Against the Machine’s 1992 debut album “Rage Against the Machine” contains several politically charged songs, including “Killing in the Name,” which protests police brutality, and “Take the Power Back,” which calls for political and social change.
- Beyond the United States, the band Pussy Riot, formed in Russia in 2011, is known for its politically charged music and performances. They have used their art to protest against the Russian government and advocate for human rights.
Live music and politics
Live music has long been used in political campaigns to help connect with voters and inspire support, with many artists lending their support to campaigns.
One notable example is Bruce Springsteen’s support of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in the 2004 election. Springsteen performed at campaign rallies and events, using his music to energize and mobilize supporters.
Another example is the use of live pop music at political conventions. In 2012, the Republican National Convention featured performances by Kid Rock and Ted Nugent, while the Democratic National Convention featured performances by James Taylor and Mary J. Blige. These performances helped to energize and rally the respective party’s supporters.
Live music can also be used to raise awareness about political issues while not being explicitly tied to any particular candidate. For example, the Live Aid concert in 1985, which featured performances by many of the most prominent musicians at the time, was organized to raise awareness about the famine in Ethiopia. The concert, which was watched by millions of people worldwide, helped bring attention to the issue and raise funds for relief efforts.
Live music can be deployed on a small scale too. A good example of this comes from the intimate concerts company Sofar Sounds who produced a global series of house party style events with Amnesty International in 2017 to support their work advocating for the rights of refugees.
Live music is used as part of political campaigns for several reasons. Firstly, live music can help to energize and mobilize supporters. A live performance can create a sense of excitement and community at a campaign event, which can help to inspire people to take action and support the candidate.
Secondly, live music can be used to connect with voters on a more personal level. A live performance can create a sense of intimacy and connection between the candidate and the audience, which can help to build trust and support.
Thirdly, live music can raise awareness about political issues and the candidate’s platform. A well-known musician performing at a campaign event can draw media attention and help to bring attention to the candidate’s message.
Rock The Vote
“Rock the Vote” is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1990 to increase youth voter turnout in the United States. The organization was founded by Jeff Ayeroff, a music industry executive, and Michael McDonald, a political consultant, who saw a need for greater political engagement among young people.
To increase youth voter turnout, “Rock the Vote” uses a combination of outreach and education programs and partnerships with other organizations and public figures. The organization has worked with many musicians and celebrities, including Madonna, Pearl Jam, and P. Diddy, to promote its message and encourage young people to register to vote.
One of “Rock the Vote’s” most notable accomplishments was its role in the passage of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the “Motor Voter” law. This law made it easier for people to register to vote by allowing them to register when they applied for or renewed their driver’s licenses. “Rock the Vote” played a key role in advocating for the law and helped to secure its passage.
Overall, “Rock the Vote” is a well-known and influential organization that has worked to increase youth voter turnout in the United States. Through its outreach and education programs, partnerships with other organizations, and advocacy efforts, the organization has helped to empower young people to participate in the political process.
More recently, organizations like SoundsGood Presents have picked up the torch from Rock The Vote, bringing politics in music to the next generation of voters.
The challenges of using music in politics
There are several challenges to using music in politics. Firstly, not all musicians are willing to align themselves with a political campaign or party, and those who do may face backlash from fans who disagree with their political views. This can be a difficult decision for musicians, potentially damaging their careers if they are not careful. What, however, is more common is politicians using musicians’ songs without their permission. Here are a few examples:
- In 2008, the band Heart sent a cease-and-desist letter to Republican presidential candidate John McCain after he used their song “Barracuda” at a campaign rally. The band stated that McCain’s use of their song was unauthorized and violated their rights as musicians.
- In 2012, the band Survivor sued Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich for using their song “Eye of the Tiger” at campaign events without permission. The band argued that Gingrich’s use of their song was unauthorized and violated their rights as musicians.
- In 2012, the band Silversun Pickups sent a cease-and-desist letter to Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan after he used their song “Panic Switch” at a campaign rally. The band stated that Ryan’s use of their song was unauthorized and violated their rights as musicians.
- In 2016, the band Earth, Wind & Fire sent a cease-and-desist letter to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders after he used their song “September” at a campaign rally. The band stated that Sanders’ use of their song was unauthorized and violated their rights as musicians.
- In 2015, the Rolling Stones sent a cease-and-desist letter to Donald Trump, who was then running for the Republican presidential nomination, after he used their song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” at his campaign events. The band stated that Trump’s use of their song was unauthorized and violated their rights as musicians.
Secondly, using music in politics can be seen as exploiting the art form for political gain. Critics may argue that musicians should focus on their art and not get involved in politics and that using music as a political tool cheapens the art form.
Thirdly, music in politics can be ineffective if the audience does not connect with the music or the message. For example, a campaign may use a particular song or artist to appeal to a specific demographic. Still, if that demographic does not connect with the music, the campaign’s efforts may be unsuccessful.
Luckily today, there are many available online tools to help determine if a particular artist’s audience demographics connect to the campaign’s objectives. One good example is Chartmetric. Chartmetric is a data analytics tool specifically designed for the music industry. It provides insights and analytics on music streaming platforms, social media, and other online platforms.
With Chartmetric, artists and industry professionals can track and analyze data on their own music and on their competitors. The platform offers a range of features, including real-time streaming data, artist and track rankings, social media analytics, and more.
One of the key features of Chartmetric is its ability to provide insights into an artist’s audience, including demographics, location, and behavior. This can help artists understand their listeners better and tailor their content and marketing strategies accordingly.
In addition, Chartmetric offers analytics on industry trends, such as the performance of different genres and the impact of events and releases on an artist’s popularity. This can help artists and industry professionals stay up-to-date on the latest developments in the industry and make informed decisions.
Campaign can also engage specialist impact event production companies like SoundsGood Presents to run their talent partnerships process on their behalf. With their access to exclusive audience insights data, as well as influential relationships within the industry, organizations like this can quickly and easily garner attention from artists and their teams when crafting campaigns.
While using music in politics can be a powerful tool, it also presents several challenges that must be carefully considered. Campaigns and politicians can work to build relationships with musicians and the music industry to create partnerships that are mutually beneficial and authentic. This can help to overcome the challenges of using music in politics and make a positive impact.
The future of politics in music
Before discussing the future of politics in music, we should touch on the future of politics in general: Gen-Z voters. These voters are the future of politics because they are the next generation of young people eligible to vote and shape the political landscape. As the largest and most diverse generation in history, Gen-Z has the potential to make a significant impact on political issues and voting behaviors.
Gen-Z voters tend to have progressive political preferences and are passionate about issues like climate change, social justice, and human rights. They are more likely to prioritize inclusivity and diversity in politics and are more open to non-traditional candidates and political parties.
Despite the resonating power of Gen-Z voters, they still have a relatively low voter turnout rate. In the 2018 and 2022 midterm elections, only 31% and 27%, respectively, voted during those years. But when Gen-Zers vote, progressive candidates tend to come out on top — 63% chose democratic house candidates over their republican counterparts in the 2022 election cycle.
Overall, Gen-Z voters are the future of politics, and their progressive political preferences and passion for social and political issues make them an essential demographic for election campaigns. However, their relatively low voter turnout challenges them to take action and make their voices heard.
Music and Gen-Z Voters
Music is a powerful tool for mobilizing Gen-Z voters for several reasons. Firstly, music can connect with people on an emotional level and inspire action. For Gen-Z voters, who are often passionate about social and political issues, music can be a powerful way to connect with their values and beliefs and inspire them to take action and make their voices heard.
In addition, music is the common thread that can bridge any divide. Gen-Z voters are a profoundly diverse and inclusive generation, so using music to form a sense of community with them will be an incredibly effective method. Music speaks volumes when words cannot – it has the power to unite us all.
Thirdly, music is a prevalent part of Gen-Z culture, and many young people are passionate about music and follow their favorite artists closely. For election campaigns, this presents an opportunity to connect with Gen-Z voters through music and create a sense of authenticity and connection.
- According to a 2019 Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) survey, 91% of Gen-Z respondents said that music is an important part of their lives.
- A 2020 International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) survey found that 73% of Gen-Z respondents said that music is a very important part of their identity.
- A 2021 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 63% of Gen-Z respondents said listening to music is their favorite way to relax and unwind.
Live music is a powerful tool for mobilizing Gen-Z voters because it can connect with them emotionally, bring people together, and create a sense of authenticity. This is true for campaigns as much as it is for any brand looking to execute an effective Gen-Z experiential strategy.
Here are some examples of election campaigns using music to mobilize Gen-Z voters:
- In 2020, the Joe Biden presidential campaign partnered with the pop singer Lady Gaga to create an original campaign song and performance featured at campaign events and on social media. The song “Rain on Me” was a collaborative effort aligned with the campaign’s message of hope and resilience.
- In 2018, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez congressional campaign used music to create political content that appealed to Gen-Z voters. The campaign released a series of videos that featured Ocasio-Cortez dancing to popular songs, which helped to engage and inspire young people to support her campaign.
- In 2016, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign used music to create community and inclusivity among Gen-Z voters. The campaign hosted a series of concerts and events that featured performances by famous musicians, including Vampire Weekend and Jason Mraz. These events were designed to bring young people together and create a sense of connection and support for the campaign.
These are just a few examples of how political campaigns have used music to mobilize Gen-Z voters and connect with them on a deeper level. Using themes to create authentic content, build community, and inspire action, political campaigns can effectively engage and mobilize Gen-Z voters.
Music is a powerful tool for mobilizing Gen-Z voters because it can connect with them emotionally, bring people together, and create a sense of authenticity. Political campaigns have begun to recognize the power of music and are using it more frequently to mobilize young voters. Music can help connect with Gen-Z voters emotionally, creating a sense of community and inspiring them to take action.
WithOthers is an organization that provides support to campaigns utilizing live music as a tool for engaging and energizing Gen-Z voters. To learn more about our services, sign up for your complimentary trial or book a free consultation with us anytime!
This Post Has One Comment
I see something really special in this web site.