Musicians Use Their Lyrics as Calls to Action
Throughout the ages, some musicians have used their song lyrics as a tool to impart their political, social, and spiritual beliefs. Musicians have a unique opportunity to reach audiences with their words because unlike politicians and speechmakers or television, radio, or published personalities, musicians have their words sung over and over again by their audience. Their words—and subsequently, their ideas—are repeated with a catchy tune, until they are ingrained in the memories of their listeners.
Think about how John Lennon’s 1971 piece, “Imagine”, or Bob Marley’s 1973 hit “Get Up, Stand Up,” are still being played on the radio, and on playlists, for over 40 years. Their messages live on, even after they have both passed away.
In 2019, there is still much to protest and sing about. Musicians are still taking advantage of their platform to write and produce songs with a mission, or a call to action. Here are some powerful songs written in 2019 by famous musicians:
Madonna makes a statement about protest and gun control in her new single, “I Rise.” The song opens with a clip from a speech that Emma Gonzalez delivered to a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2018. Gonzalez became an advocate for gun control after surviving the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018.
In her song, Madonna encourages her audience to act like Gonzalez, and “Rise,” in the face of adversity. She sings, “There's nothing you can do to me that hasn't been done
Not bulletproof, shouldn't have to run from a gun.” She recognizes as humans, we are vulnerable, but we also have the power to take action as a group. This is demonstrated by her switch from “I Rise,” to “We Rise,” at the end of her song.
In “Land of the Free” The Killers make a scathing critique of American society. Their music video contains clips of migrants trying to cross the border from Mexico to the United States. The video does not omit the barbed wire, security guards, and fences that will greet them. The Killers sing, “Down at the border, they're gonna put up a wall, Concrete and Rebar Steel beams (I'm standing crying), High enough to keep all those filthy hands off, Of our hopes and our dreams (I'm standing crying),People who just want the same things we do, In the land of the free.”
Like Madonna, The Killers also mention gun control. “So how many daughters, tell me, how many sons, Do we have to have to put in the ground, Before we just break down and face it
We got a problem with guns? (Oh oh oh oh), In the land of the free.” They also bring up race and privilege, “ When I go out in my car, I don't think twice, But if you're the wrong color skin (I'm standing, crying), You grow up looking over both your shoulders.”
The Killers are holding up a mirror to their audience and asking them: Is America really the land of the free and home of the brave? How can we change?
Ironically, in “Preach,” John Legend sings about how it’s not enough to simply write songs, speak out, or “preach” to an audience. It is more important to take action when things are wrong in society.
He sings, “Every day I wake and, Everything is broken, Turning off my phone just to get out of bed. Get home every evening, And history’s repeating, Turning off my phone cuz it’s hurting my chest.” His music video features clips of police brutality against African Americans, and violence at the border with Mexico, as issues that deeply hurt him.
Yet, Legend knows that action speaks louder than words. “I can’t just preach, baby, preach. And heaven knows I’m not helpless, What can I do? Can’t see the use in me crying
If I’m not even trying to make the change I wanna see.”
In “One of Us,” rock band Fever 333’s rage is contagious. They are angry about the state of society today. They sing about the people in power, “They gotta isolate, they gotta segregate this. Just to keep us down, to keep us broken down.”
Instead of breaking down under oppression, Fever 333 sends the message that we are all united in taking responsibility for change. In their music video, the band marches on the street among protesters for many types of causes—from environmental, to social.
They scream at their listeners, as a wake up call, to “Stand up or die on your knees.” If we don’t stand up for ourselves, nobody else will.
The desperation and pessimism at an out-of-touch leadership is palpable in Yungblud’s “Parents.” He writes about he, and people in the LGBTQ communtiy suffer at the hands of intolerant and closed-minded people. He sings, “My daddy put a gun to my head
Said if you kiss a boy, I'm gonna shoot you dead. “
Even though Yungblud’s “high hopes are getting low,” he sings, “I'll never be alone
It's alright, we'll survive. 'Cause parents ain't always right.” Yungblud is hopeful in a new generation of ally leaders.
In 2019, just as in the past, artists continue to try and inspire change, action, and introspection through their words. Who knows which activists and movements they will inspire?
ELIANA DOFT loves to write, travel, and volunteer. She is especially excited by opportunities to combine these three passions through writing about social action travel experiences. She is an avid reader, a licensed scuba diver, and a self-proclaimed cold brew connoisseur.