Music and politics go hand-in-hand in 2018
Toni Morrison, the American novelist, once said, “The best art is political and you ought to be able to make it unquestionably political and irrevocably beautiful at the same time.”
Music and politics have perpetually lived hand-in-hand, just as musicians have been involved in politics outside their music. Some may be able to recollect the “Rock the Vote” era, where Red Hot Chilli Peppers and a multitude of other performers were cast in commercials that implored young people to flex their political power during voting season. Those commercials rest in peace within a 1990’s time vault, but musicians today are attempting the same feat, proving the nexus between art and politics to be alive and well 2018.
The political climate has called some of the biggest names in music — Willie Nelson, Travis Scott, Kanye West and Jim James — to compose unforgettable masterpieces that express their political discomfort and their will to see it change. All of these musicians are headlining in the world of music and found unique ways to campaign during the midterm election.
Willie Nelson released a new single titled “Vote ‘Em Out,” which challenges voters to take action if they are unsatisfied with their government. He serenades with guitar in hand, “If you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out / that’s what Election Day is all about / the biggest gun we’ve got is called the ballot box / if you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out.”
Nelson premiered this tune during a concert for Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, who attempted to unseat Ted Cruz during the midterms but came up short in the results.
On stage and alongside his sons Lukas and Micah, Nelson performed with Leon Bridges, Carrie Rodriguez, Tameca Jones, Joe Ely and even O’Rourke himself.
Nelson, O’Rourke and the rest of the band during the performance painted an admirable picture. If you didn’t know that a major political candidate was behind the guitar and mic, the picture would lack all politics; it would be just a band of friendly faces lost in the music. Their message may be politically driven, but in that moment there was no division, only balance in the weight of the music.
The response to this song, much like the Senate race, has been roughly split down the middle. Right wing websites hosted comments from ex-Nelson fans saying, “I adored you – but no more” and “I always thought you were a patriot.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone, the 85-year-old cowboy broke out an old saying, “Opinions are like a**holes, everybody’s got one.”
“I’ve endorsed a lot of people: Jimmy Carter, Dennis Kucinich, and Hillary and Bill, Obama,” Nelson commented. “A lot of people seem surprised that I’m backing a candidate, but it ain’t my first rodeo.”
Willie Nelson was not the only big name to get on stage for O’Rourke. Travis Scott made an appearance at an event for O’Rourke at the Bayland Community Center in Houston during an October rally.
Scott, now relocated to Los Angeles, remains a proud supporter of Texas. His most recent album, “Astroworld,” released in August, is named after a departed Houston theme park.
“They tore down AstroWorld to build more apartment space,” Scott told GQ magazine before the album’s release. “We want it back. We want the building back. That’s why I’m doing it. It took the fun out of the city.”
In a 2015 interview with Hot New Hip Hop, Scott said, “I don’t really get too involved in the whole political sh*t, that sh*t is like all too weird to me.”
But the time for Scott’s political complacency has long-since passed, as he preached last month with a megaphone in hand and O’Rourke by his side, “All the kids, we’ve just got to go out and hit these polls. From 18 and up, we can change the world.”
Travis Scott found solace in O’Rourke’s campaign.
Catch a flight from Texas to Chicago, and you’ll have found Kanye West busy in his support of Democratic Chicago mayoral candidate Amara Enyia.
Politics have wiggled their way into West’s music since his 2004 album “The College Dropout,” but one of the most famous lines that still echoes in the recesses of every millennial’s brain is one that appeared on the 2016 “The Life of Pablo” album. West rapped, “On the field I’m over-reckless on my Odell Beckham / 2020 I’mma run the whole election.”
It’s unsure whether America can expect a Kanye West ticket in 2020, but they can expect West to vocalize his political dispositions on the regular and show face on the campaign trail.
West appeared at a November sidewalk rally and left the speaking to the mayoral candidate, Enyia.
“I also have to give a shoutout and kudos to Ye [Kanye West], who is from the South Side and is invested and committed to giving back to our city,” Enyia said over a megaphone.
West went on to donate $200,000 to her campaign.
Following the rally, West spoke to his 28.8 million followers in a tweet.
“I support creating jobs and opportunities for people who need them the most, I support prison reform, I support common-sense gun laws that will make our world safer. I support those who risk their lives to serve and protect us and I support holding people who misuse their power accountable. I believe in love and compassion for people seeking asylum and parents who are fighting to protect their children from violence and war.”
Through song, speech or tweet, the platform to be heard exists. The voice of My Morning Jacket’s frontman Jim James flows through all mediums and weaves a communal message for all.
Jim James dedicated an entire album, “Eternally Even,” as an existential response to the last primary election. Released on Nov. 4 2016, it acted as a final sentiment for the United States before voters headed to the polls.
The themes within the album address issues of religion, politics and life, but certain songs stand out from the crowd and give meaning to the mystery. His song “Same Old Lie” has gained massive popularity and acts as a memento for the inquisitive voter. It goes, “It’s the same old lie you been readin’ ’bout / Bleedin’ out, now who’s getting cheated out? / You best believe it’s the silent majority / If you don’t vote it’s on you not me.”
In an interview with Monster Children, James was asked if the message behind the song dictated the rest of the album.
“It was triggered by recent events — by all the killing and hatred in the world, and from our terrible political system […],” James said. “I’m just sick of the lies, sick of the hate, sick of watching good people get lost in the shuffle […] Govern in the name of peace and equality for all.”
James has been far from silent since his album released in 2016. Releasing four albums since then, they all share the same political and humanistic vigor.
In a concluding statement with Monster Children, James said, “People can’t sit silent. They need to vote. They need to get up off the couch and say that they believe in love and peace.”
During the midterm elections, James conducted his tour “The Future is Voting.” Commencing in Austin, Tex. (narrowly missing the company of Willie Nelson and Travis Scott) and concluded in Urbana, Illinois, James hit the road and the stage and hosted a number of politically charged concerts with the intent to invoke the voter.
In an era where political silence and complacency grows extinct, these musicians have dedicated their time to bring life to their works of art in hopes of inspiring Americans to vote. Some may listen to these artists and find inspiration to make their way down to a polling center next election, and some may not. But the music cannot be ignored for long, especially when they sing the same tune.
Written by: Jarrett Rogers — firstname.lastname@example.org