Chase Dean is a political science senior and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Music has always been intertwined with politics. This is seen in songs such as Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” which is filled with populist lyrics, to anti-war songs of the ‘60s, like Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” which forewarned of the U.S. military-industrial complex. For many artists, music has been a platform to express one’s own politics and bring to light a plethora of social issues. This is why the music we listen to and the musicians we support are political choices.
During the 2016 elections, videos of former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters’ concert surfaced showing a large inflatable pig with the words “Fuck Trump and His Wall.” Roger Waters is one of many artists who more overtly craft their music to share a political message.
Another artist that immediately comes to mind is Kendrick Lamar, the widely acclaimed Los Angeles rapper. Lamar’s magnum opus, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” highlights the many social injustices that the African-American community faces, specifically touching upon topics ranging from police brutality to institutional racism as a whole. Listening to artists such as Waters and Lamar is an indirect form of support for those musicians. Therefore, by supporting their music and sharing their music, listeners are more or less also promoting their messages. While Waters and Lamar are more overtly political in their craftsmanship, others are not so apparent.
Ed Sheeran is an artist that many people listen to, but don’t realize is often a perpetrator of immoral politics. Sheeran, first off, has a toxic masculinity problem, one which he is enthralled with projecting through his music. Consider his lyrics in his song “Don’t,” in which he can’t figure out if a woman wants to have sex with him. The tune is filled with misogynistic lyrics and portrays women as a prize to be won. I will acknowledge that misogynistic lyrics appear within other genres such as hip-hop, but amongst scholars there is a debate whether the lyrics are a product of the environment, like much of rap, or if the lyrics are truly there with the intent to assert toxic masculinity.
In addition to Sheeran’s perpetuation of toxic masculinity by conveying women as simple objects, he also has a history of stealing from African-American artists. He has faced multiple lawsuits claiming he stole melodies and other aspects from artists such as Marvin Gaye and TLC. White musicians have a long history of stealing musical elements from African-American artists, but in particular, Ed Sheeran is guilty of multiple ill attempts. This in itself is an example of white supremacy in action: a white artist is very clearly guilty of stealing art from a marginalized community and is still praised as an artist.
Whether accidentally supporting misogynistic lyrics, or fighting racism through rap verse, your music choice is also a political choice.
While some may argue that music and politics are two separate elements, they are in fact immensely intertwined. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Tom Morello, the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, put it best when he stated, “100 percent of music is political. Music either support the status quo or challenges the status quo. So every artist is political.”
This philosophy that Morello shares is key to understanding the politics of music and the messages that they support or purport to convey. It thus falls upon people to be responsible listeners and critically consider what artists they listen to and whether or not they support artists’ attempt to reaffirm the status quo or challenge it.