In lue of one of our countries most divided eras we have once again turned to artists voices, on and off the stage, to influence our own.
“But Obama shut the Government down for seventeen days? Yeah b***h! For health care. So, your Grandma can check her blood pressure and so you b*****s can go check your p***y at the gynecologist with no f*****g problem.” This is Grammy award-winning female rapper Cardi B. responding via Instagram a few weeks ago to Trump ordering government workers to return to their jobs, with no pay, during his government shutdown over the border wall. While this might not be the most nuanced example, the response received outstanding support. During The Late Show, comedian Stephen Colbert jokingly started a petition on twitter for Cardi to give the rebuttal statement after Trump’s State of The Union address. What started as a comical late-night segment suddenly gained traction, getting over 73,000 signatures and over 114,000 likes. While Cardi B inevitably didn’t give a statement, her response begs to question of the role of an artist and, more specifically, are musicians playing in to today's political climate?
Most recently, recording artist, Joy Villa, was seen at the Grammy’s sporting pro-Trump designs on her outfit. Joy Villa displayed a “Make America Great Again” hand bag as well as a barbed wire gown in support of Trump’s border wall. In an interview with Variety on the red carpet, Villa explains how her newly released album is titled “Home Sweet Home” which exemplifies her, “love for America [and] barbed wire.” Villa wanted to show her support for the President while simultaneously “having fun with it.” And although Joy Villa is notorious for her outright support the Trump administration, she’s not the only one who provides their political statements with wardrobe choices. Pop rock star Ricky Rebel was also seen on the red carpet wearing a blue jacket with words “Trump 2020” and “Keep America Great.”
This is by no means the first-time musicians have used their platform to make a political statement. Looking at the Beatles, their songs “Blackbird,” “Taxman,” and Lennon’s “Imagine” were all songs protesting government and advocating for civil rights and peace. The “Unknown Soldier” by The Doors, spoke out to highlight the atrocities of the Vietnam war; the album “The Wall” by Pink Floyd, dissecting the partitioning of the Berlin wall; The Dixie Chicks famous quote saying they were, "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." Childish Gambino’s “This is America” comments on issues of police brutality and racism.
In the age of social media, the stakes are a bit different. Artists can quite literally go from posting an impromptu video on Instagram, to being called on by thousands to speak on a national political stage. While some look at this as a danger and hesitate to allow just “anybody” into the conversation, I look at with a different perspective.
Music for centuries has been a means of expression. Regardless of genre, we respond as listeners most positively to music that feels the most genuine and relatable. To feel that sense of authenticity, it is vital to allow these artists to continue their self-expression in multiple facets, including politics. We often use artists as mouthpieces for unrest within our communities as well as on a national scale. Before it was Childish Gambino, we were listening to Kanye’s “Jesus Walks” and NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” for insight into the injustices in the black community. Throughout the careers of both of these artists have inspired discussions and have provided a better conceptualization of social issues. For the journalist and politicians claiming these musicians shouldn’t have a place in these discussions are simply undermining the power that music plays as a political catalyst. They are undermining festivals such as Live Aid and Woodstock, undermining the very foundation of music — expression. The expression of love, storytelling and, recently, politics. When musicians take away the artifice and show who they are and what they believe, it inspires a generation of kids who are listening to continue to stand up for what they believe. It is for this reason we should be applauding the Caribbean female rapper from the Bronx for having the conviction to speak out, just as musicians of the past have and, hopefully, will continue to.
By Jackson Siporin