“I can’t sit and hope/ I can’t just sit and pray/ that I can find a love/ when all I see is pain.”
There is a longstanding history of artists and bands speaking up about social justice issues. However, the
continuation of violence in recent years makes these topics crucial to talk about now more than ever.
John Legend’s newest single, “Preach,” encompasses the fear and hope one feels through the cycle of chaos faced in today’s modern world. Carrying the chorus of his newest single, the lyric above amplifies the struggling efforts toward societal change, a prominent theme in the current conflicts of the United States.
“Preach” shares the powerful message of putting change into motion and its music video displays the reality of gun violence, racial bias, police brutality, and the border wall debate with families, all occurring in our country today.
There is an instilled memory for victims who have experienced traumatic events of violence, often hard to explain to those who were not present. John Legend’s music video for “Preach” gives the convincing portrayal of such events with scenes often hard to watch let alone imagine as a reality for some people. With the first scene Legend walks through, it is evident what the people are running from who go past him. The display of weapons, aggression toward African American teens, children separated from parents, and the lives lost in just moments confronts the actuality of violence and the emotions experienced after.
“I can’t see the use in me crying/ If I’m not even trying to make the change,” Legend sings, where later in the video he rallies communities together for action. The music video uses Youtube’s fundraising feature for FREEAMERICA, a campaign founded by Legend “to amplify the voices of individuals impacted by the criminal justice system and those who are working to change it.”
Similarly, Childish Gambino’s single, “This is America,” which was released last year, exhibits themes of social justice. Having recently won Grammy Awards for both song and record of the year, Childish Gambino’s, “This is America” confronts the many issues overlooked in the United States. Gambino’s single holds similar themes as Legend’s, however, it takes a more satirical approach. The music video is filled with countless symbols of situations occurring in America’s history, but the quick paneling to different violent acts, continuing one after another (often overlooked and hard to keep up), symbolizes the same pattern we
often see today.
In a recent tweet, John Legend explains the message of social justice behind his single and asks, “Do we
become apathetic? Do we become engaged? Do we just talk about it, or do we do something?” These
are questions constantly debated about in the minds of Americans today. With the scenes of conflict in
both music videos and the messages they share, it is apparent of what actions the artists’ want us to
take, and in return, it is hard to not want the same.