Second-wave feminists embraced the slogan “the personal is political,” meaning that things like abortion, healthcare, and the right to show skin if one wants aren’t just personal space issues; they are politicized by of the standards society puts on the female body.
Much in the same way, in 2018, the musical is political. The actions and ethos of musicians are being called into questions right alongside their riff-writing skills or how well they can carry a tune.
Some argue that this is a bad thing, that by doing this we are putting the kibosh on musicians’ creativity. Many think that a good song is a good song, regardless of who wrote the song and what they are like in life. They want to be able to separate the art from the musician.
But the fact remains, what we do matters, and impacts how people see our creative works. In the age of #MeToo, and in a divided country with a president who many don’t think is fit to serve, almost anything can be a political statement. Those frustrated with the current political climate, or with a lack of human rights for immigrants, people of color, and queer people, are looking to musicians, artists, and others in the public eye to make a statement—and calling out those who aren’t bold enough to do so themselves.
It’s a recurring theme in a lot of underground genres like hip-hop, punk, and metal. Hip hop is known to have artists who routinely objectify women in their songs, and now female artists and other more forward-thinking folks are starting to say that isn’t OK. It also has some homophobia in its history, and many within the scene are working hard to erase that.
Genres like punk and metal are known for relying on a certain shock appeal to go along with the music. Whether it is through aggressive sound or subject matter in lyrics, the idea is often to get a rise out of people or make music that is “dangerous” and not easily defined. But activists within the genre are standing up to say hate speech and violence against women isn’t necessary in 2018, and people are working hard to call out those who are known to be racist, sexist, or violent.
Even mainstream pop isn’t exempt from this phenomenon. Right alongside the #MeToo movement taking place in the world of Hollywood, Kesha was bold enough to call out her producer for sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. And those who find fault with someone in the pop world, like the people who were offended by Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” video, or Katy Perry’s comments about Barack Obama, are speaking up.
This has even been seen in the drag world, as people are starting to call out celebrity queen and musician RuPaul for behavior on her reality show. Many are upset that Ru isn’t inclusive of trans people in her dialogue, and feel that despite being black herself, she paints black queens as “angry black women” when they are on the air.
No one should be surprised that our pop culture falls under such harsh scrutiny. After all, it’s more than just mindless entertainment we consume to fill the hours between work and sleep. Queens live and breathe RuPaul and everything she touches; hip hop artists emulate the rhymes of their favorite stars, and fans of metal and punk live and die by their genres. Our pop culture, and our music, is reflective of what is going on in our lives at the time. Listen to “American Idiot” by Green Day, and those who lived through the Bush Jr. era are immediately transported back in time. Put on any protest song from the 60s, and you can practically hear the riots in the streets over Civil Rights and the Vietnam War.
So, for those who think music shouldn’t have to answer to these social norms, that it should be “dangerous,” who think we should give Ru a pass because she’s the queen supreme, ask yourselves: isn’t it actually more dangerous, more queer, more punk, more badass, to engage in a dialogue about current problems, and to take a stand?
This issue is dedicated to the musicians who do take a stand on social issues, who are queer, who are allies, who have a lot to say with their music. We talked to them about what they’re working on and their recent albums and tours, but we also talked to them about their political beliefs, and how they fit into the LGBTQ community. We hope you discover some new artists to listen to and some new tunes to hum, but we also hope you learn a little something about the ideas they engage with.