Political Activism In Today’s Music

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By Kyle Dean

Political issues appearing in popular music isn’t a new development. Bob Dylan, U2, Public Enemy and Lady Gaga are just four among an almost endless list of artists who’ve voiced their opinions through song and media. Today, artists are increasingly sharing their political views with the world through various mediums. This is the case with Jessie J being a role model for her fans, Macklemore’s “Same Love,” and Beyoncé’s essay on gender equality.

Jessie J is a prominent figure in today’s music industry. She was a songwriter for Sony/ATV, where she wrote songs for top artists like Chris Brown and Miley Cyrus, was a judge on The Voice UK, and is now at the top of the charts with her own solo career. She prides herself on being a role model for her fan base and writing lyrics that mean something. Jessie isn’t the first female artist in recent years to write songs aimed specifically at female teens with topics on being true to yourself or not caring what others think of you, but she is doing a fantastic job at maintaining her message. In one of her recent hits, “Who’s Laughing Now,” she describes herself being bullied when she was younger and, in a recent interview with The Guardian, she explains how kids have it worse now:

“They either love, love, love you – adore you, or it’s I hate you and I want you to die. That’s it, there’s no middle ground any more. Children used to get bullied at school. Now they go home and that’s where the problem starts – because they sit on their phones all night, thinking about who has ‘liked’ a photo of them, who hates them, who loves them. They don’t know what’s real and what’s not, editing their lives constantly to fit other people’s views.”

Jessie J is not wrong, according to recent research done by consumer reports: “One million children were harassed, threatened or subjected to other forms of cyber bullying on Facebook during the past year.” And, other research shows that 25% of girls aged 10-18 have been cyber bullied in their lifetime.

However, bullying is not the only issue on J’s mind; she is also very passionate about empowering her female audience and with songs like “Do It Like A Dude.” She says, “The song is about saying: don’t try and undermine us as women; we can do it just like you.” Another of her songs, “Sexy Lady,” is about not letting someone keep you down.

“You’re feeling nervous, having your doubts
Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t fit in the crowd
Keep standing tall and hold your ground
Show them it’s not okay to let them kick you down”

With lyrics like these, it’s hard not to feel stronger after listening. Relatable lyrics and an incredibly catchy melody will keep Jessie J topping charts for years to come, and that’s good because I think we need more songwriters like her. She had it right at her audition for an anti-gun campaign where she reflected, “Even then I was all save the whales, save the world… The campaign really inspired me to start singing songs that meant something.”

However, Jessie J isn’t the only artist to recently make waves on political issues. Macklemore’s “Same Love” is the first song ever to embrace marriage equality that has made it into the Top 40; it peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 charts at #11. In a New York Times interview, Macklemore said he “composed the rap in March 2012 after reading a news article about a teenager who committed suicide after being bullied. He said he thought the epithets routinely heard in rap music might be partly to blame, and that denying gay adults the right to marry might also contribute to despair among gay teenagers. He also wanted to write a song, he said, to support his two gay uncles and his gay godfather in Seattle, all of whom are in committed relationships.”

“Same Love” has seen some fierce criticism from bloggers on various websites. Openly gay rapper Le1f went on a twitter tirade saying, “that time that straight white dude ripped off my song then made a video about gay interracial love and made a million dollars.” However, much of the criticism seems to stem from Macklemore, a straight white man, being the one to bring the issue to a much broader audience with one article saying:

“This is how marginalized groups gain acceptance from the mainstream, apparently. It’s not all of the work that we do—it’s the work of the majority that brings awareness and understanding. Of course, that is patently untrue, and it’s certainly infuriating to see those who fit into the status quo — that is, straight white guys — be rewarded and pat themselves on the back for accomplishing something that those of us who have felt alienated, ridiculed, and discriminated against have worked so damn hard on for years.”

One can see their point; however, the song is a massive success no matter which side of the wall you are on. Macklemore has brought a progressive stance on the LGBT movement into mass hip-hop culture and that deserves some acknowledgment.

Last but certainly not least, Beyoncé is making waves once again with an article she has written for the most recent Shriver Report titled, “Gender Equality Is a Myth!” Beyoncé is bringing the topic of the gender wage gap to her very large audience saying, “Today, women make up half of the U.S. workforce, but the average working woman earns only 77 percent of what the average working man makes. But unless women and men both say this is unacceptable, things will not change.”

This issue has been around for over 50 years, ever since John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act in an effort to end wage discrimination based on gender. Since those 50 years, women, on average, are still paid less than their male counterparts. We have to stress the word “average” because the numbers are different depending on age, occupation, education, etc. Unfortunately, in the 50 years since it’s passing, there is still a gap but it has certainly improved. According to an article in Forbes, “[In 2012] a total of 16 states boast women earning 80 cents or more to every male dollar, twice the count of 2010.” According to the 2012 American Community Survey, the state with the worst gap is Wyoming boasting a horrible 64-cent gap. While in Massachusetts, women make 79 cents to every dollar a man makes, higher than the average, but still inexcusable. Maybe we should all listen to Beyoncé when she says, “We have a lot of work to do, but we can get there if we work together.”