How is political action by musicians changing this election season?

Everywhere you look artists are encouraging you to get out and vote.

October 25, 2018

Heading into midterm election season (thus also marking the halfway-point of the Trump administration), it feels like the whole nation of our southside neighbours are getting ready to go to war, fighting against the prospect of allowing the racism, sexism, and the increasing normalization of both that have crept in over the past years to continue. Perhaps one of the most unlikely—and welcome—arenas of political outspokenness in the Trump regime is that of music, with artists across a multitude of genres using their platform to influence change.

Though the history of popular music obviously weaves in and out of protest, counterculture and social issues, from Dylan to the Dead Kennedys, these foundations of music as a utility of social change largely eroded during the complacency of the Obama era—hell, even during the tension of the Bush years, much of music’s political bent was flaccidly nonpartisan (Diddy’s ‘Citizen Change’ initiative) or the product of familiarly narrow perspectives of straight-white-maleness (the inescapable and vague pop-anger of American Idiot).

However, after two years with Trump, most of your Spotify favs seem to be partying like it’s ’69. While some musicians did flirt with political activism leading up to the 2016 election, they played it pretty mild and safe when it came to their manner of engagement, with the more toothy pieces coming from bands and spaces already enmeshed within a tradition of political outspokenness, such as punk.

The most recent example of music’s renewed focus on political activism can be noted in the emergence of nonprofit #iVoted, created by former members of Wilco and an ex-music manager. The organization’s initiative is simple: show proof that you voted, get a free concert ticket to one of your favourite artists. Among the musicians that have signed on for the voting-stub-as-cover payment plan are Playboi Carti, Ty Segall, Good Charlotte, Toro Y Moi, and Iron & Wine.

All it takes is a look at that list, populated by mostly til-now apolitcal artists, to realize how significantly the role of the musician has changed just over the past two years. Hell, even the act of being Taylor Swift in 2015 only really involved shaking it off and flirting with dubstep – a role which these days is necessitated by the political climate to now include rallying your fans to vote and spreading awareness of questionable candidate policies. This isn’t a bad thing at all, quite the opposite, actually, given the voter spike Swift’s comments influenced earlier this month.

As destitute as the larger political climate may be, it’s refreshing that as music grows in its celebration of creators with marginalized origins—whether that marginalization be racial, economic, gendered, or sexual—those at the top of the pop food chain are rightfully working to change the culture to one more tolerant and welcoming of a plurality of voices, driving music back to a fiery, political heart that hasn’t beaten for far too long.

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