Planet of Sound


From Morrissey to Kanye, politics and music have always been inseparable, writes Paul Fennessy.

A FEW YEARS ago, Morrissey was quizzed on the most pressing topic of the moment – whether musicians should have the right to opine on political matters. He responded with characteristic bravado: “Well, I feel that, if popular singers don’t say these things, who does?” Unsurprisingly, this debate has re-arisen, following the recent abundance of musicians practically queuing up to air their thoughts on the US Presidential election.


What is particularly striking about these latest developments is the unprecedented numbers of performers, such as Arcade Fire and Kanye West, who have vehemently voiced their support for one of the candidates (Obama). In the past, whenever artists spoke of state affairs, they would typically make great efforts to condemn a particular politician rather than lavish praise on them.

However, this time around, rappers such as Jay Z and Ludacris have continually expressed their admiration for the new president. Furthermore, other musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder gave concerts to celebrate Obama’s presidential inauguration.

In contrast, enthusiasm for the McCain campaign was considerably less noticeable in the music world, but the Arizona born senator did receive some approval, albeit from considerably less acclaimed sources.

Curiously, his most visible backers constituted country music artists such as Hank Williams Jr and John Rich (who wrote a song for the campaign entitled ‘Raisin McCain’).

However, stereotypes aside, rock musicians have always been inextricably linked with more left wing opinions. Their views have generally encompassed both moderate standpoints (Damon Albarn’s frequent criticisms of Tony Blair), as well as substantially more extreme ones (Robert Wyatt’s acquisition of Communist Party membership).

Hence, it is questionable whether musicians should openly endorse political parties, particularly given their undoubted influence on young, impressionable fans. Conversely, it can also potentially have a negative influence on the said artist. The most infamous example of this scenario was in 2003, when millions of Dixie Chicks records were destroyed, after the band members stated that they felt ‘ashamed’ to be from the same state as George W. Bush.

Nonetheless, despite the alarming levels of controversy often aroused as a result of such statements, it is difficult to begrudge artists their right to free speech. Similarly, it seems rather excessive to deprive oneself of listening pleasure purely because a band you previously loved are suddenly revealed as staunch Marxists.

In addition, without politics, music would be vastly less entertaining. If this coalescence was regarded as taboo, then music fans would be denied a host of brilliant songs such as the aforementioned Morrissey’s venomous indictment of the Thatcher era, entitled ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’ as well as last years equally enthralling ‘Black President’ by Nas.

Unfortunately though, such pronouncements are invariably more cringeworthy than cutting. Therefore, artists’ political opinions should be welcomed, providing they are accompanied by an element of wit.