A couple of years ago, you’d be spending quite some time to find more than a handful of musicians really investing time into talking about political issues, taboo subjects and subject matters that reflected a glaring critique of society. As professional musicians have begun getting younger and younger, the current political climate has had a huge impact on the way they are seeing the world, and in turn, the music they create.
Polygraph Eyes, by Yungblud, really cemented his place in the music industry, as a young man, creating music that was worth listening to. He did so by taking aim directly at one of the issues he saw himself growing up, and that many of us may have witnessed or noticed, and the song portrays the story of young boys, preying on drunk girls on a night out, targeting them when they are in no shape to resist or give proper consent, and the repercussions that the boys don’t face, but the girls do. Polygraph Eyes is a blatant attack on the entire ‘lad’ mentality, which often results in the ‘boys will be boys’ argument being put forth in an attempt to excuse the fact that boys see their own friends treating young girls in such a way, and don’t say anything. It’s a blatant attack on victim-blaming, and instead of punishing the girl or the victim in the situation, the song calls out the abuser.
For a young man, a teenager at the time, to write a song like that, a catchy song, that forces you to sing along to lyrics that say ‘Leave it alone mate, she doesn’t want to go home with you’ and ‘She can’t even run, she can’t even walk, she slurs when she speaks, you hear what you want when she can’t even talk’, is ground-breaking, and coming at a time when victims are being empowered and feeling safe enough to say something, having that kind of support can mean a lot.
This Is America literally rocked the entire world. For days on end, weeks and weeks, people were talking not only about the song, but about the accompanying music video that was dropped along with it. In hindsight now, it kind of feels like the song was made for the music video, and not the other way around. That said, knowing the creative mind that was behind not only the song but visuals, Donald Glover, Childish Gambino himself, it’s not hard to imagine. The song took aim at numerous hard-hitting topics and was a harsh, scathing critique of not only the social climate, but the political climate in the USA, and the impact it has had on minorities, specifically the African American community. Issues like police brutality, gun violence, gang crimes, stereotypes and discrimination, the hardships that those living in poverty suffer through every day and political injustices, such as the Flint Water Crisis that is yet to be completely solved.
The music video caused people to think, especially people who would not usually spend time giving these subjects any thought. The fact that such a high profile artist would construct something like this on such a public level, was shocking for so many people, especially those who were not open to or knowledgeable about these issues. For a large majority of the people who saw the music videos, heard the lyrics, it was things they already knew.
The impact, was the conversation it started. People who never would have turned an eye to police brutality and institutional racism, were forced to converse about it, purely due to the fact that not only was it a highly controversial song, but it was a highly popular and highly rated piece of popular culture, for a large part of 2018. It was impossible to miss, and the social aspect of popular culture, the social involvement, the discussions that happen around the media we consume, forced a lot of highly privileged people, to join the conversation whether they liked it or not.
Declan McKenna, at 19, has nearly an entire album of catchy, incredibly well crafted songs, that all raise questions on topics either socially, politically or religiously. His song Brazil which kicked off his career on a global stage, spoke directly to the devastation and destruction caused to minority communities and those living in poverty in Brazil, through the construction that went on for the 2014 World Cup. His song Bethlehem tackles the intolerance and negative aspects of religion, while Isombard targets xenophobia that is pushed through the media. The Kids Don’t Wanna Come Home is a tribute to our generation, a voiceless one that rarely gets heard, yet has so much to say. One of his most powerful songs, Paracetamol, was inspired by the well known story of Leelah Alcorn, the late transgender teen from the USA, who’s parents decided to send her to Christian conversion therapy in an effort to reject her transition and who she was.
Topics like these, which the generations before us seem to assume we should have no opinion on, form the catalogue of Declan’s work, and it makes for an empowering feeling when you listen to them and understand that we’re an entire generation with thoughts and ideas and opinions and voices. I believe his music is the embodiment of this generation of young people.
During a time when music reaches so many billions of people, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the amount of different, contradicting messages you’re listening to, however there are clearly some artists, especially younger, newer artists, who refuse to hold back and really say what they think. There are so many more musicians singing and writing about the important topics that people in power seem to shy away from addressing at all, so many more than the three mentioned in this piece, and it’s a small glimmer of hope.