The Uneasy Relationship Between Politics and Music


Protest songs are a popular way of fighting the establishment.

For their entire career, Public Enemy have used their platform to fight for black people and their rights. Their music is rooted in political activism; they are a movement in music form. Politics is the last reason why you'd expect a split to occur within the band, but with Flavor Flav's refusal to join in with the band's backing of Bernie Sanders, it seems that that is what has somehow happened.


Now, Public Enemy have released an official statement in which they claim that they "did not part ways with Flavor Flav over his political views" - though this tweet from Flav himself suggests otherwise. It's fair to assume that the Sanders issue played a part, even if it not the whole reason.


Whatever the case, music and politics have shared an uneasy relationship since just about forever. Some artists stay well away from it, whereas others build their whole careers on it. Punk music of the 1970s, with bands including Dead Kennedys and Sex Pistols, were political in everything they did, and the Grime music of today often deals with the struggles that black people face, much like Hip-Hop did before it. Stormzy's 'Vossi Bop' includes the line "F**k the government, f**k Boris", a statement he then backed up on the day of the election when he released a short video urging his fans to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.


Political artists and songs can be found all across the musical spectrum. Rush's '2112' was inspired by Ayn Rand (whom they later denounced), Black Sabbath's 'War Pigs' deals with the Vietnam War, as does Bruce Springsteen's 'Born In The USA', Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' is supportive of LGBTQ rights, and the very existence of Rage Against The Machine is one big "f**k you" to the American establishment. Current events and issues are prime influences for lyrics, providing social commentary on the world in a way that is catchy, accessible and powerful for the listener.


Sex Pistols: No fans of the monarchy.

It's a little risky; incorporating your political opinions into your music risks alienating those who disagree. However, there is an argument to say that that's precisely who the music is for, with the music being used as a powerful tool to send the message out. Does it work? It's tough to say, but that hasn't stopped these artists before and it's not going to in the future either.


It's also often interesting to hear what songs politicians choose to use on their campaign trails, and it can bring them into hot water if they use artists who fundamentally disagree with them - and more importantly, weren't asked for permission beforehand. Donald Trump was criticised by Queen, REM, Adele, Neil Young and Aerosmith when he used their music during his 2016 trail, and the Dropkick Murphys told Wisconsin governer Scott Walker "we literally hate you" after he used their music at a talk. It's not just Republicans either; the Democrats were also criticised when they used Cyndi Lauper's 'True Colors' without her permission.


There's no denying that politics is a key element in music. It's a relationship that extends back as far as music itself, though of course it's become more prominent as music has been recorded. Perhaps this is no surprise, given that both music and politics have the ability to both unite and divide people. Music can be a powerful tool when used in the correct way, and there's no doubt that artists have recognised this and tried to utilise it to bring attention to the issues that plague the world, rallying people together to fight back in the process. Some even took ther politics further; Dead Kennedys' Jello Biafra ran for the position of San Francisco mayor in 1979, coming a respectable third, and for the Green Party's presidential nominee in 2000, coming second.


This relationship won't end any time soon. Some artists feel it's their duty to use their platform to speak up about the issues they care, whereas others won't risk the alienation of their fanbase. It can cause rifts and tensions - Daltrey and Townshend of The Who don't spend any time together outside of onstage due to their polarising beliefs - but it can also cause change. It's a fascinating alliance between two very different, and yet so similar, parts of human life. As we enter the 2020s with the right-wing generally in charge of things, we'll see how music responds in the coming years. There's no doubt that artists from all walks of life will definitely have something to say about it.