Racism and Homophobia – Does Activism Hold Its Place In Music?
By Maddie Anandarajah
Should songs reflect the singer’s personal and political beliefs or is it worth excluding a proportion of the fan base? Do you think activism holds a place in today’s music?
The landscape of music and its creative content are ever-changing and extremely dynamic in nature. Boundaries are pushed and reinstalled continuously and society continues to question and deem what is appropriate and what is against popularly emerging cultural norms.
Some of the most successful singers took on political agendas that they brought across through their music. This ranges from Tupac, Bob Marley and Eminem that criticize powerful state leaders, government corruption and inequality distinguished between race and class to today’s more prevalent issues focusing increasingly on gay rights (Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, Macklemore, Ricky Martin, Pink, and Rihanna). The current political climate is a strong indicator in determining what some artists venture out to explore in their music; a decade ago police brutality based on race and street racism was universally present. Today this has been replaced by LGBTQ+ rights, where society is in the process of gradual change to encompass all human rights.
Political content has certainly taken a backseat today as the notion of keeping controversial content that is political separate from artistic content created. Any other form of controversy is often encouraged and the backbone of celebrity culture but the involvement in politics is viewed as different matter altogether. The general consensus is that if you are not fully invested and knowledgeable about the topic at hand, your views are shunned. The line is blurred to say the least; many celebrities do not speak out about any type of political debate while others are comfortable to do so as long as it is not ingrained in their songs. Of course, essentially it is a personal choice and perhaps a systematic move to have music reflect all communities which is why themes of love and heartbreak are the most common themes drawn upon.
It is a question of exclusion and involvement; religiously inclined communities may feel excluded when songs approach themes of drinking, drugs and homosexuality. On the flip side however, for the first time the LGBTQ+ community feels included in pop culture. Discussing LGBTQ+ is still considered relatively debated whereas the presence of drug and alcohol references are a common practice most particularly within Hip-hop and pop culture thereby it also becomes a question of desensitization and self-detachment. The selective process a consumer undergoes in ignoring/distancing oneself from topics they fundamentally disagree upon; a rather mature option in general.
It is the debate between providing entertainment that is separate to the artist’s political philosophy and a safe distance away from controversy to releasing political opinions as these are considered part of the individual’s personality and values. Therefore it is only natural for these notions to be present in the music they create with a distinctive notion to trigger change in the current system by raising awareness.
Celebrities that stay away from politics can be split into two groups; those who have a keen interest in the political arena but consciously chose to stay quiet in light of their career development to those who have no interest in the global ongoings whatsoever and therefore this has no place in their personal or professional life. More commonly we see young stars aligning themselves with feminism, Animal Rights, LGBTQ rights, anti-racism initiatives but outside of their profession i.e. attending campaigns and volunteering speeches. Activism with the years has become a stronger mainstream component and this has most certainly been adapted by the general public and liberalism continues to be the ruling ideology within the Music and Film Industry.
The fact that these major money-making industries are liberally-inclined is thought-provoking as the US is established as a highly diverse melting pot of philosophies including Republicans and Liberals but the adoption of left-wing ideals have been overly represented in these industries. Is this complementary to individuals who are right-wing minded and identify with Republican values? Is it at all a question about money-making and fan service or is it simply a question of using the personal liberties granted? Music continues to propel political attitudes; is this positive or negative phenomenon of music? Should music not be universal? Can music be universal at all?
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