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Social/Political Commentary in Music


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There has always been social/political commentary in music. Woodstock was based upon bringing peace and love to the masses. Punk was formed because of all the angst teenagers held towards the British government. A lot of rap and hip-hop has to do with the plight of blacks in a white dominated America. The queercore and riot grrl movements have always tried to generate change to homosexuals and women. There are thousands of more examples from Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" to Anti-Flags "Turncoat" to At the Drive In's "Invalid Litter Dept".

Music is so power-ful and empowering, it has the ability to work on peoples emotions. Whether it be sadness, happiness, anger, whatever, musicians can literally can grab hold of their audience and mold their emotions.

The question I pose is this social commentary a good or bad thing? A lot of critics of bands who come out and reflect their beliefs in music write that they aren't informed about the subjects. Anti-Flag make damn good pop-punk songs, but does that mean they are in the position to inform teenagers out their about "injustices" within the government?

Do you think artists have the right to speak about their political/social views?

Do you think artists are informed about these political/social views? Are they even valid in our society?

Have we arrived at a point within music where things are becoming all too preachy and rely too heavily on the message and not enough on the music? And is there something wrong with letting the message of the band take precedent over the music itself?

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Guest bruins72

I'd much prefer musicians, actors, athletes, and any other entertainers to keep their political (and otherwise) opinions to themselves. These people didn't get into the entertainment industry because they're geniuses (although a few are very intelligent) and can solve the world's problems.

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Guest Angry Baboon

I've grown to hate it, because it's either overbearing (Yes, Eddie Vedder), preachy and self righteous (Michael Stipe) or batshit insane/out of touch with reality (Zack De La Rocha). It can be done well, especially when it's got sharp wit in it (Bob Dylan, David Byrne, Morrissey) but most of the time's it's complete whiny generic shit (SeanDMan's sig :P)

Edited by Squancho McFap Fap
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Here is something I thought about.

If you are going to say artists shouldn't talk about politics, when do you stop? What happens if a band can't write about love songs because I don't think they understand love enough? And what makes authors who write political commentary any more intelligent than System of a Down who went out and researched a subject (Boom! and Prison Song) and did something about it. Don't you think these artists who dumb-down politics are making an accessible voice for the people who don't necessarily have the greatest grasp on politics?

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I don't mind bands/artists that make a career out of it ie. Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Ani Difranco etc. But I do hate it when bands who normally could care less jump on the band wagon in the attempt to seem cool.

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At the Drive In's "Invalid Litter Dept".

can someone explain that one? I fucking love that song, but I don't see how it has political/social commentary.

Maybe I'm not paying enough attention to the lyrics.

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I've grown to hate it, because it's either overbearing (Yes, Eddie Vedder), preachy and self righteous (Michael Stipe) or batshit insane/out of touch with reality (Zack De La Rocha). It can be done well, especially when it's got sharp wit in it (Bob Dylan, David Byrne, Morrissey) but most of the time's it's complete whiny generic shit (SeanDMan's sig :P)

I could not agree more.

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can someone explain that one? I fucking love that song, but I don't see how it has political/social commentary.

Maybe I'm not paying enough attention to the lyrics.

Oops. Watch the video and you'll understand.

Basically it is about the treatment of women in sweatshops in Mexico. Very well done.

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If done well, than yes I can enjoy social commentary. Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" is a song I think is brilliant at its treatment of this. Vedder obviously felt moved to write a song about how people treat this person and how it could affect that person's view of life to be motivated to do something as bad as suicide.

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If done well, than yes I can enjoy social commentary. Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" is a song I think is brilliant at its treatment of this. Vedder obviously felt moved to write a song about how people treat this person and how it could affect that person's view of life to be motivated to do something as bad as suicide.

....that's not what Jeremy's about. Jeremy is about a school shooting, isn't it?

I pretty much agree with Squancho, but I think very few people can pull off politics successfully, them being Springsteen, Dylan, Joe Strummer/The Clash, Morrissey, and Bob Geldof.

Most other bands can strike it lucky with one political song, but that lot are the only ones who can really make a career out of it.

EDIT: And when bands like NOFX and Good Charlotte try to be political or whatever, it actually makes me sick. NOFX are just "Boo! Bush sucks!" and Good Charlotte's anti-suicide song, whatever it was called, was appalling and offended me in how hideously unknowledgeable they were about the subject.

Edited by Skumfrog
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I don't mind if a band expresses their political/social views through their lyrics. Some bands lyrical content is humorous, some is dark, some is political, it all depends on the band. I happen to listen to alot of bands whose lyrics are primarily politcally oriented. However keep in mind, I do not listen to music for political views. Simply put, if the music is good, and the vocals go well with the music (no matter the content) then I'll listen to it. One technique I do like is Jello Biafra's approach to using politics in his music. Basically his songs come from the point of view of whom he believes the villian to be (Kill the Poor, or California Uber Alles for instance).

I also believe that some of these musicians have valid opinions, but I find it hard to take bands like RATM, Pearl Jam, etc. seriously with the lucrative deals they have recieved in the past. Of course, that doesn't mean they should not be allowed to express their views to the public. I've read alot about older punk bands, and many of them kept themselves informed through various sources of media or literature. Groups like the Dils, Feederz, Dead Kennedys, Reagan Youth, etc. are all examples of this. Another group The Offs touched on a wide variety of political and social issues. The vocalist Don Vinil touched on homosexuality (he was homosexual himself), racism, workers rights, drugs, and more.

So in short, I have no problem with any band using any kind of political message. Of course I have to draw a line in the case of bands like Skrewdriver, whom I could never support.

Edited by VerbalPuke
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....that's not what Jeremy's about. Jeremy is about a school shooting, isn't it?

I pretty much agree with Squancho, but I think very few people can pull off politics successfully, them being Springsteen, Dylan, Joe Strummer/The Clash, Morrissey, and Bob Geldof.

Most other bands can strike it lucky with one political song, but that lot are the only ones who can really make a career out of it.

EDIT: And when bands like NOFX and Good Charlotte try to be political or whatever, it actually makes me sick. NOFX are just "Boo! Bush sucks!" and Good Charlotte's anti-suicide song, whatever it was called, was appalling and offended me in how hideously unknowledgeable they were about the subject.

Jeremy is about a kid who goes to school and kills himself in front of his class.

And I agree with everyone above - those who do it well hooray, those who don't boo.

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Here is something I thought about.

If you are  going to say artists shouldn't talk about politics, when do you stop? What happens if a band can't write about love songs because I don't think they understand love enough? And what makes authors who write political commentary any more intelligent than System of a Down who went out and researched a subject (Boom! and Prison Song) and did something about it. Don't you think these artists who dumb-down politics are making an accessible voice for the people who don't necessarily have the greatest grasp on politics?

No. They're transplanting their views onto impressionable teens. Young people these days (outside of America at least) are inundated left wing politically influenced artists/celebrities. I'm not a Conservative by any means, but that's lopsided and unfair. I got to where I was politically by listening to what both sides have to say and making my mind up. These kids are being asked to choose between fashionable musicians and old politicians; who do you think they're going to side with. So yeah, artists should keep their big mouths shut, and if they want to enlighten people then give people the unbiased facts and let them make their minds up. People aren't too dumb to do that.

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No. They're transplanting their views onto impressionable teens. Young people these days (outside of America at least) are inundated left wing politically influenced artists/celebrities. I'm not a Conservative by any means, but that's lopsided and unfair. I got to where I was politically by listening to what both sides have to say and making my mind up. These kids are being asked to choose between fashionable musicians and old politicians; who do you think they're going to side with. So yeah, artists should keep their big mouths shut, and if they want to enlighten people then give people the unbiased facts and let them make their minds up. People aren't too dumb to do that.

The majority of left wing artists that spread a political/social message through music that I can think of are American. Most of the artists I named don't mention names or political parties instead they sing about injustice. Ani Difranco sings mainly about the fact that capatilisim and the race for a buck leads to people getting trampled. That is neither here nor there politically instead it is an indictment of our times.

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No. They're transplanting their views onto impressionable teens. Young people these days (outside of America at least) are inundated left wing politically influenced artists/celebrities. I'm not a Conservative by any means, but that's lopsided and unfair. I got to where I was politically by listening to what both sides have to say and making my mind up. These kids are being asked to choose between fashionable musicians and old politicians; who do you think they're going to side with. So yeah, artists should keep their big mouths shut, and if they want to enlighten people then give people the unbiased facts and let them make their minds up. People aren't too dumb to do that.

Hold on, I don't necessarily think it is a leftist thing within music. It is the art of rebellion. Lots of protest bands were hot and popular when Bill Clinton was in office. Heck, go listen to the (International) Noise Conspiracy who attack the neo-Liberal agenda in some of their songs. It isn't a matter of liberals vs. conservatives with the majority of the bands, but in some cases it can be, it is more a unified cry for something. I mean, Fuck Tha Police by NWA was probably not written with a certain politician in mind.

Of course, Rock Against Bush goes against everything written above (but hey, go in the thread and look to see that I didn't support the CD). But still; I wouldn't call it a big liberal thing, but more of a big rebellion thing.

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No. They're transplanting their views onto impressionable teens. Young people these days (outside of America at least) are inundated left wing politically influenced artists/celebrities. I'm not a Conservative by any means, but that's lopsided and unfair. I got to where I was politically by listening to what both sides have to say and making my mind up. These kids are being asked to choose between fashionable musicians and old politicians; who do you think they're going to side with. So yeah, artists should keep their big mouths shut, and if they want to enlighten people then give people the unbiased facts and let them make their minds up. People aren't too dumb to do that.

Who the hell wants to listen to a conservative rock band? Rock, rap and several other genres of music have their roots in rebellion, struggle and controversy, and I'll take that over the safe commercial crap that many bands churn out because they're afraid to say something that might upset a potential customer. There'll always be bands that are too ham-fisted or simplistic in their attempts to cram politics or ethics in their songs, but that isn't an argument that politics in music sucks any more than Vanilla Ice is an argument that rap sucks. To me, addressing real issues, political or otherwise, in lyrical form will always be one of the primary purposes of music, and any indeed most forms of art.

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I have no problem with it.

Artists can write about what the hell they want. Its their band after all. Take Propagandhi for instance - When people tell them to lose some of the talking at their shows they say "Well its our show.."

And NOFX's intentions are to encourage enough people to vote to kick Dubya out of the White House. Thats the whole reason PunkVoter was set up. Granted, their political songs are more for comedy value, but at least they are still trying to make a difference somehow.

Edited by FunkAsPuck
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Uh, there are conservative rock bands out there. Lots of them. The fact that leftist political rock dominates the airwaves is a reflection on who owns the media; the liberal veiwer and advertiser.

And you managed to insult two of my favourite musicans in one post. I shall avenge them upon you Squancho.

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No. They're transplanting their views onto impressionable teens. Young people these days (outside of America at least) are inundated left wing politically influenced artists/celebrities. I'm not a Conservative by any means, but that's lopsided and unfair. I got to where I was politically by listening to what both sides have to say and making my mind up. These kids are being asked to choose between fashionable musicians and old politicians; who do you think they're going to side with. So yeah, artists should keep their big mouths shut, and if they want to enlighten people then give people the unbiased facts and let them make their minds up. People aren't too dumb to do that.

Seriously, 'impressionable teens' and 'young people these days' are NOT 'inundated' with 'left wing politically influenced artists/celebrities', that's a joke. There are hardly any actually political bands in the mainstream of the music industry, and the ones that are rarely make specific, coherent or cogent arguments about current issues/events or people.

for the most part it's just general angst crap, ocassionally you might get a issue-specific song, that recent SOAD song comes to mind, but most is so generic it's hardly influential in any meaningful way, 'fuck the system' etc. is about as rebellous as good charlotte or sum41 head-banging/dressing like punks and throwing up the horns.

you act as if music is dominated by artists with cogent, so-called 'left-wing' political arguments and statements, when in reality the majority is just packaged 'non-conformism', one of capitalisms most effective cultural products. I would argue that 'young people these days' are more influenced by the fake 'rebels' of the sony or universal music variety than anything of meaningful political strength.

So yeah, artists should keep their big mouths shut, and if they want to enlighten people then give people the unbiased facts and let them make their minds up. People aren't too dumb to do that

im suprised squancho hasnt pulled out a nazi-reference yet, artists should be allowed to express their opinions in their art, that's raison d'etre of art! EXPRESSION, saying they shouldnt be able to do it because it 'influences' teenagers to be 'left-wing' (what's wrong with that btw?) is akin to claiming that marilyn manson drives people to mass murder, it's just music, main-stream artists ARE NOT driving any 'teenagers' to anything meaningfully rebellous or 'left-wing', saying 'FUCK BUSH', 'FUCK THE SYSTEM', is great, but the same teenagers are still going home to sit down, take off their nikes, get changed into their comfortable *insert trendy clothing brand here* clothes, take off their nikes, eat their mcdonalds and watch big brother, just because they think george bush II is an 'idiot', doesnt mean we should start restricting or censoring artists that conservatives label 'too radical' or 'rebellous', this isnt a theocracy/stalinist/authoritarian/fascist state, it's democracy remember?

hehe, Zearle, this guy has some decent anti-capitalist hip-hop if not at times abit 'fuck the system', he rhymed proletariat though, so respect :P

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Guest Angry Baboon

im suprised squancho hasnt pulled out a nazi-reference yet

Oh, bugger off you silly twit. Don't drag me into this :P

EXPRESSION, saying they shouldnt be able to do it because it 'influences' teenagers to be 'left-wing' (what's wrong with that btw?)

Because teens are impressionable? I guess that makes the Hitler youth okay then, influencing impressionable teens through cultural fads. Oh wait, does that only apply to your own political ideals?

PS: Do you have try and turn any vaguely political topic into an anti capitalist/racist/homophobical/politically incorrect tirade?

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Who the hell wants to listen to a conservative rock band? Rock, rap and several other genres of music have their roots in rebellion, struggle and controversy, and I'll take that over the safe commercial crap that many bands churn out because they're afraid to say something that might upset a potential customer. There'll always be bands that are too ham-fisted or simplistic in their attempts to cram politics or ethics in their songs, but that isn't an argument that politics in music sucks any more than Vanilla Ice is an argument that rap sucks. To me, addressing real issues, political or otherwise, in lyrical form will always be one of the primary purposes of music, and any indeed most forms of art.

I've got to agree with conniption, here. A lot of great music is based around things like rebellion and controversy, as conniption so mentioned in his original post. Without these elements, there might have never been any Elvis, or any Beatles, or any Rolling Stones to influence generations of artists & musicians.

And I have no problem with social & political commentary being used in music. One of my all-time favorite songs is the Jello Biafra written, Sepultura-performed song "Biotech is Godzilla".

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Oh, bugger off you silly twit. Don't drag me into this :P

Thought id just return the favour, since you seem to enjoy lacing your posts with 'commie' ribs from time-to-time, the childish games we play.

Because teens are impressionable? I guess that makes the Hitler youth okay then, influencing impressionable teens through cultural fads

Captain hyberbole to the rescue again! yeah, since the effects of SOAD or dare i mention RATM, are so much like that of the hitler youth, 'okay then', id hardly consider neo-nazism a 'cultural fad', it's a conscious political/social movement, one that does affect some impressionable teenagers, but equating the negative influence of nazism on teenagers to a perceived 'negative' influence of 'left-wing' music is moronic. i dont think teenagers are going to go out and start shooting cappies after listening to SOAD, they might dye their hair or where a political t-shirt, theyre not going to start harrasing people who they deem 'racially inferior', or commit, assault, arson, robbery, or murder, oh wait, COMMIES ARE FASCIST NAZIS LOL! SIEG HEIL! LOL! <_<

Oh wait, does that only apply to your own political ideals?

Seeing as none of the artists mentioned or in mainstream distribution reflect my political 'ideals', no, it doesnt. Again squancho, never make assumptions about my political beliefs, since you have no idea what they are, and funnily enough they're not as 2D as you like to think.

PS: Do you have try and turn any vaguely political topic into an anti capitalist/racist/homophobical/politically incorrect tirade?

Im sorry Squauncho, next time i want discuss my opinions on politics in music or political music in any thread entitled, "Replying to Social/Political Commentary in Music" :mellow:

oh and "tirade", give the hyperbole a rest, everything i do is a 'tirade', a 'rant', 'self-righteous', 'egotistical', hope it makes you feel better or something. :thumbs-up:

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I'm going to paraphrase the liner notes from my new Tim Buckley double-album and say that a great political songwriter isn't one who tells you what to think or one who tells you what's wrong and what's right. A great political songwriter is one who asks questions and leaves you to make up your own minds.

See Dylan, Bob (early) and Waits, Tom for examples.

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