A very current topic in the news today is the controversial placing of NFL football player Colin Kaepernick as the face of Nike’s new advertisement. The controversy began in 2016 when Kaepernick chose to kneel on one knee rather than stand during the national anthem before the start of his games. His actions, which sparked both positive and negative responses, were a form of protest against racial injustices in the United States and now that Nike has made him one of the faces of the company, the discussion is far from over. Overall, the main question comes to this: Should Kaepernick exercise his right to protest publicly? Some say he’s using his voice and popular presence for good while others believe he should keep quiet and stick to what he’s paid to do: play football.
While public figures such as actors, musicians, and athletes have huge platforms they can use to spread important messages and call for change, they are so often told to stay in their place and profession. Some use the justification that the performing arts and sports are groups generally classified to be nonpartisan and should have no defined political agenda. But for inherently expression-focused industries, where’s the line? For musicians especially, it can be hard to speak out because they risk losing or hurting some of their fanbase. There are some artists however, that use their popularity to infiltrate the political conversations of today not only to spread awareness, but in hopes of changing some minds along the way.
On August 7th, 2018, indie-rock band Imagine Dragons played a show in Alabama as a part of their most recent Evolve tour. After the show lead singer Dan Reynolds tweeted, “We played in Alabama tonight & a fan threw a (rainbow) flag on stage & as I sang & looked at it on the ground I thought to myself, this is one of the most conservative places we will play in America – if I pick that flag up some fans will be upset – that’s why I knew I HAD to pick it up.”
Reynolds is an outstanding example of an artist who advocates for absolute equality among all people, everywhere. Having grown up in a mormon household and living in Utah, a specific issue he’s passionate about is having the LGBTQ community be openly accepted by the Mormon church.
In reference to the Alabama show, he later goes on to say, “But truthfully I felt fear in my heart for just a moment. And trepidation. Fear I would turn off fans and be told to shut up and sing. I want that thought to never enter my head again. I fear losing another one of our LGBTQ youth to suicide. That’s all I need to fear.”
Many artists aren’t just speaking out at shows, but they’re also integrating politically targeted messages into their lyrics. From their new album Rally Cry due to be released on October 19th, Canadian rock band The Arkells don’t hold back with their single “American Screams.”
In the second verse, lead singer Max Kerman expressively lets out, “Down in the desert, outside the Mandalay, hoping and praying didn’t change a thing.” In explaining the meaning behind the words, the band tweeted out “The second verse is for despair we all felt after the Vegas shooting outside the Mandalay.”
The Arkells are just one of many bands proud to release activism fueled songs. In their song “The Currents”, lead singer of Bastille Dan Smith sings, “How can you think you’re serious? Do you even know what year it is? I can’t believe the scary points you make.”
In his distinctively titled song “Make America Great Again,” British rock singer Frank Turner of Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls says, “But I wish it was a bit less significant, the program and the name of the President, because it seems to me the truth is self-evident, you fought our kind to be independent.”
So the question remains: Should musicians speak out and create music about political issues regarding equality and injustices within our government? There are a range of answers to this question, but I firmly believe that they should. In actuality, everyone should be speaking out because it’s the first step to implementing change. With a little help and a little courage from our favorite bands, the world can become a better place.