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The State of Politics And Music

By Kunj Shah

With the looming presidential election and the impact musicians have in the American community, it’s no secret how coveted an endorsement from the music world is. It’s also no secret Democrats usually garner more public support from performers than Republicans. However, these year things seem to have taken a different turn. On Friday, it seems Republican VP pick Paul Ryan received some Rock and Roll support from Kid Rock, who will be playing at the Republican National convention. Other performances at the Republican National convention include a song premiere called “One Light” by 3 Doors Down, Journey, Lynyrd Skynyrd (which may be delayed or cancelled due to the hurricane), the Oak Ridge Boys, Neal Boyd, Randy Owens, Taylor Hicks, Jack Blades of Night Ranger, and Bebe Winans.

Still, Republicans are not the only ones collecting musicians this year. The National will be “opening” for President Obama at a stop in Des Moines, IA on September 1st. They had previously thrown their support behind President Obama with Ben Harper in 2008. Democrats have also booked James Taylor for their Democratic National Convention along with scheduled performances by Common, Inspire the Fire, Delta Rae, and local performing musical acts from America’s Got Talent.

While some believe this is all a distraction from the issues, I’m very curious to know what different artists’ views are on the pending election and issues surrounding this country. Artists and musicians used to be some of the top proprietors of social, civil, and political change in our country. Today, it seems fewer musicians are outspoken about their political views, some only play to the highest bidder, and others just tip-toe around the subject.  Even those performing at each of these conventions are pretty tight lipped about their views on any of the policies or ideas for either candidates.

One would think invention of social media would help enact some social change. However, it seems as if an artist has a million something followers on a social platform the most controversial issue they will tweet or post about is their support for either hard or soft tacos. More musicians in today’s world choose not to take a public stance on everyday real issues and almost seem afraid of the notion. They claim it’s not “our job” to voice their opinion on policies, current events, laws, and government. But isn’t that exactly “our job” as citizens of a Democracy? When this country was founded, wasn’t there a vision of having an educated and outspoken electorate? If you have the influence, why not use it to bring about discussion? Aren’t there any concerns about the world you live in, which you want to have addressed?  The level of conversation in this country seems to be lower than it has ever been in years, and only the most trivial of issues seem  to be discussed in any public forum.  Anthony Weiner’s wiener got more news coverage than the global economic crisis going on at the time.

The amount of music created influenced by social, political, economic, and racial issues has dropped significantly.  John Lennon once praised Chuck Berry by saying he “was writing intelligent lyrics in the 1950s when people were singing ‘Oh baby I love you so.'” According to Lennon, “It was people like him that influenced our generation to try and make sense out of the songs rather than just sing ‘do wah diddy.'” Music used to have the power to move people, and change history. In this day and age, songs don’t need to be filled with lyrics on social issues like Bob Dylan’s, but artists shouldn’t be afraid to converse about these issues as well. The social consciousness in music seems to be drifting back to the 1950’s. Influence is power, and with power comes social responsibility.

There are those who speak out. Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan spoke of being a fan of Rage Against the Machine’s music. In reaction, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine almost instantly wrote a piece in Rolling Stone explaining to readers, “Paul Ryan Is the Embodiment of the Machine Our Music Rages Against.” Artists support amazing groups like Head Count and Rock the Vote, which help mobilize people to vote. We just need more of an outcry from more of our nation’s influencers, and we need it now. No matter what your beliefs, a democracy needs conversation and debate like a musician needs practice.