Presidents' Day quiz: Do politics have a place in pop music?
Happy Presidents' Day! We hope you're one of the lucky few who actually get the day off (looking at you, bank workers, mail deliverers and other governmental types), and we hope you spend the day in deep contemplation of our nation's great leaders (that is the point of Presidents' Day as a holiday, right?). Us? Well, we're not so lucky. But Presidents' Day got us thinking all the same...
We live in an era where we've seen two of the most polarizing presidents of the modern era elected back to back. So much so that political rhetoric is almost impossible to escape -- it's always in the news, comedy relies on it and we've even seen it used to pimp happy hours around town. But it's conspicuously absent from pop music. That leads us to ask: does politics have a place in pop music?
Sure, there were a few anti-bush and anti-war anthems that came out during the Bush years. And we're willing to bet that some Neo-Nazi skinhead bands have written a tune or two about Obama (not to mention the tasteless "Barack the Magic Negro" song Rush Limbaugh was pimping a while back). But really, can you say that any of those got any traction? Have the days of politically active pop music faded forever? And if they have, should we be sorry or thankful?
On the politics-positive side, you could argue that two modern generations of music have relied heavily on politics -- namely the late-'60s protest/folk/rock scene and the early-'80s punk scene. Also, music is capable of eliciting powerful responses in listeners and thus should arguably be one of the best motivators of awareness and action -- and in theory at least, was during those movements. And there's the argument that politics is present in every part of life and thus should be part of music.
On the politics-negative side, have you ever noticed how much most politically-charged music sucks? Not only does it instantly alienate half its potential fan base, the dull earnestness required to get across a message in song has a tendency to kill the tune. And while not every song has the potential to be a timeless gem, pretty much every political song is destined to become dated within months of release. At best, you're looking at a time capsule. At worst, a piece of embarrassing, moldy agit-prop that hangs around your neck like an albatross for the rest of your career. And usually, it's just forgotten -- seriously, for all the press the "politically aware" pop of the '60s got, how many political tunes can you name that emerged from that era?
So how about it? Are politics welcome in your record collection? Or would you rather just dance, party and bang your head?
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.