5 Social Action Songs about the Most Pressing Issues of 2019

Musicians Use Their Lyrics as Calls to Action

John Legend, singer of “Preach.” Lauren Monaco. CC 2.0.

John Legend, singer of “Preach.” Lauren Monaco. CC 2.0.

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, “I Rise”

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.

The Killers, “Land of the Free”

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?

John Legend, “Preach”

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.”

Fever 333, “One of Us”

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.

Yungblud, “Parents”

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. 


The Hawaiian Rain Dancers Who Summon Storms

On the island of Hawaii, the rain dancers of Waimea perform their art for the only audience that matters: their ancestors. When they call for rain and snow, they dance not to entertain, but to feed and nourish their land. Each performance is a physical manifestation of the spiritual world, a chance to connect with the natural land we inhabit. Practicing a centuries-old form of hula rarely seen in public, these dancers carry on generations of tradition with every graceful move and each handmade kapa garment. 

PERU: Saving an Ancient Language Through Pop Music

Renata Flores is a 16-year-old singer from Peru who is using her voice to save an ancient Incan language. Though Quechua is the second-most spoken language in Peru, native speakers have suffered from discrimination and social stigma for generations, and today, many young people aren’t learning the language at all. But with her powerful vocals to covers of pop songs by Michael Jackson and Alicia Keys in her native tongue, Flores is sparking a renewed celebration of Quechuan language and culture.

Masters of Ceremony: Hip-Hop’s Influence in the Tibetan Diaspora

Tibet was invaded by China in the 1950s. Tibetan independence is still a fiercely debated topic in Asia and abroad.  (WT-en) SONORAMA  at  English Wikivoyage  - Own work. Public Domain.

Tibet was invaded by China in the 1950s. Tibetan independence is still a fiercely debated topic in Asia and abroad. (WT-en) SONORAMA at English Wikivoyage - Own work. Public Domain.

Ask a person for their opinion on rap and they may tell you that it’s all about money and material possessions- they would be right. More precisely, it is all about money and material possessions that the rapper never thought he or she would have when he or she was poor, and the “haters” who want to harm the rapper, emotionally, physically, or both. Rap in America tells the story of social advancement in low-income neighborhoods, where anyone doing anything that might take them to a new landscape or living standard will incur the resentment of their peers. The lyrics often fly over the heads of middle and upper-class listeners, who can reach the same the stature as the rapper they are listening to, but without the same arc. Hip-Hop tends to find its voice among the lower classes, and not just in the US. The genre is finding an audience among Tibetans as well, and they are using the music to tell the story of their own struggles inside and outside of their homeland.

The Tibetan autonomous region lies in the southwest part of China, bordering India, Nepal, and Bhutan. It is considered to be the traditional home of the Tibetan people, though some members of the Tibetan community have also asserted rights to parts of the Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu Provinces. Tibetans viewed their homeland as an independent country, governed by spiritual and temporal leaders known as Dalai Llamas, but in 1950 the Chinese Communist party asserted its sovereignty over Tibet, sending troops to crush the Tibetan army and annex the land. A failed revolt against the Chinese forces in 1959 prompted the 14th Dalai Lama to flee Tibet and establish a government in India. From there he continued to push for Tibetan independence from China. Even today, Tibet is a very touchy subject in China and one best avoided by foreigners visiting the country.

After the occupation, much of the Tibetan community was scattered, with some remaining in the autonomous region while others spread to neighboring countries or left Asia entirely. As American Hip-Hop became more popular and international it was adopted by the Tibetan community but modified to reflect Tibetan cultural values. In 2009, Swiss-Tibetan rapper Shapaley ’s single “Made in Tibet” called for Tibetans around the world to stay strong and remember where they came from. Shapaley spent his childhood years in Lhasa, an experience that profoundly shaped his views on the condition of Tibet and Tibetan people under the Chinese Communist regime. The song was banned by Chinese authorities. In 2017, female rapper TibChicks won international fame when she released several songs on the internet without the backing of a record label. Singles like “Fearless” reflected a new bolder ideology that is spreading among the Tibetan youth. There is a belief now that anything is possible, and through music, Tibetans are not only preserving their identity but evolving it.

JONATHAN ROBINSON is an intern at CATALYST. He is a travel enthusiast always adding new people, places, experiences to his story. He hopes to use writing as a means to connect with others like himself. 

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In Tokyo, These Trains Jingle All the Way

While most train stations alert passengers with basic dings and dongs, metro riders in Japan are treated to uniquely crafted melodies. Minoru Mukaiya is the mastermind behind these jingles—he’s made around 200 distinct chimes for over 110 stations. For Minoru, there’s no greater joy than bringing a little bit of music to millions across Japan every day.

Heavy Metal Hijabis

The town of Garut in Western Java, Indonesia is a quiet place—that is, until Voice of Baceprot takes the stage. While most people in the town live tranquil, pastoral lives, teenagers Firdda, Widia and Euis thrash out and rock hard. The band has shot to fame for playing heavy metal in the religiously conservative country. After gaining popularity, VoB began to face criticism for performing while wearing hijabs. Still, they continue to shred—an inspiration for everyone with a little bit of music and a little bit of hardcore rebellion in their souls.

"Poverty Porn" Parody

This parody video calls on Africans to save frostbitten Norwegians... by donating radiators. Made by The Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund, it highlights how exploitative "poverty porn" can be. As the Africa for Norway website asks, "What if every person in Africa saw this video, and it was the only information they ever got about Norway, what would they think?"