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The Role of Music in Politics

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 1446 words Published: 12th Jun 2017

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“If there’s any hope for America, it lies in a revolution. And if there’s any hope for a revolution, it lies in Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara.” These words by Phil Ochs, an American protest singer, reflect the power of the political use of music (Street, 2003). Since music is a strong way of expressing inner thoughts and feelings, it reveals the political views and stands of people; thus serving as a political tool. Music has the power to get massive crowds pumped up, which is why it is used to bring support to various causes. In war times, governments used music as propaganda to boost nationalism and promote fighting. In addition, music is used in elections numerous times. From a different standpoint, many musicians benefited from music as their resistance. Rock and roll was the voice of anti – war protests in ’60s, folk music stood for civil rights (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, 2012). These examples also proves us that music is closely related with issues going on at a certain time; just as soul music, which focused on lives of Afro – Americans in ’30s. All of the things mentioned above show us music and politics are inseparable. Music is just not about entertainment, it’s the reflection and expression of people; therefore music serves humans as their truth bearer, so the political use of music should be done strongly and continuously.

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If we look at the role of music in politics, we’ll see that it is used to aid two causes (generally); either serving or rebelling against dominant institutions in society (Williams, 2009). Due to music’s irresistibility and ability to change people’s ideas, it has an integral part in public; therefore music is used by various political sides to promote their beliefs. National anthems are highly respected by their citizens and boost nationalism, for instance. Governments also benefited from other songs, especially in war times. American government frequently has songs to raise support for troops in war, as in “God Bless America”, which was used in WW2 (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, 2012). Also during WW2, Soviet government funded bands and other forms of entertainment to maintain military morale, and infamous Nazis specified the use of songs in their Nazi Youth trainings, as John Street stated (Street, 2003). Music was also used against governments, as in anti – war protests. Redgum, an Australian rock group, recorded a song called “I Was Only 19” to show what young Australian soldiers been through in Vietnam. Song had exploded in Australia and became the voice of people against war. Through ’60s, hippie music was considered as a threat to government because of its peaceful attitude. All these situations are great examples of how music is used successfully to promote a belief, a stand; therefore I think it’s safe to say that music plays a big role in determining politics.

Music is a great way to create a bond between people and make them act as one. It is also the unofficial voice of resistance. An intriguing case study is provided by Peter Wicke, who argues that rock musicians in East Germany were the catalysts for collapse of the East German regime. He states that government’s repression of rock turned it into a resistance, which was more or less impossible to control (Street, 2003). A local example from Turkey, a protest rock group named “Grup Yorum” had released countless recordings which created conflictions with government, and often resulted in group members ending up in jail. All of these happened because of the group’s political stand, but these events made them the #1 protest group in Turkey. In addition, Woodstock music festival was the biggest event of its time, showing youth’s resistance to government, while uniting the general young population. Bennett stated that Woodstock ’69 is remembered as much for its “bringing together” of counter – cultural generation, as for the music performed. The festival was a milestone for the political use of music and it opened the way for events (Williams, 2009). Woodstock ’69 festival spread to the world the concepts like free love, civil rights and anti – war stance. Just like this, summer of 1967 was called “Summer of Love”, due to the events going on in that summer, as freedom or anti – war thoughts, similar to Woodstock. Music was one of the main parts of these events, it helped to re – shape the community, united youth and resisted to the existing reactionary thoughts. Music created a better way of living for us, starting from these events.

For many times, music was used to inform the society about various issues. Soul music in 1930s demonstrated the hardships of anguished Afro – Americans. Folk singer Woodie Guthrie wrote many songs about the lives of black people, especially in rural areas, where black people were used as slaves. An example for this, is the song “I Ain’t Going to Be Treated Like This Way”. His outspoken lyrics caused him to be labeled “un – American”, but his work informed the US society and influenced many artists to follow his way (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, 2012). There are also much more peaceful attempts, just as the “USA for Africa”. Many famous artists including Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen etc. founded this group and recorded “We Are The World”. It made the community aware and raised millions of dollars to stop the growing famine in Africa. Some artists wrote a song called “Sun City”, criticizing the Apartheid in South Africa. Bob Geldof can be considered as the father of charity concerts, such as Live Aid, which was also started for the poor living standards in Africa. These concerts raised hundreds of millions and created conscious in society, while giving immeasurable pleasure to its audience.

Grossberg stated that so many attempts are being made to articulate rock with politics, although these attempts mainly have little or no impact on society (Shuker, 1994). Some might say that music is irrelevant with politics and the political stance of a musician does not need to be shared by its listeners. This is partly true, considering the apolitical youth in 2000s and so. But they are forgetting something. People identify themselves with music. They want to connect with the artist, and if the artist is not on the same page with its audience in politics, the songs won’t be listened. Dixie Chicks, which is a then – famous country music group, created a confliction, regarding to Iraqi War and US President Bush. Lead singer Natalie Maines said that she was ashamed of her president, because of Bush’s war policy (Dixie chicks: Shut up and sing! [DVD], 2006). The words were incendiary and the US society jumped on this. They were criticized in every possible way and eventually, they lost their popularity. This wouldn’t have happened if the listeners were not considering the group’s political stance. Another example for this is the music following 9/11. John Parales said that “People wanted to hear something to comfort them. They wanted to hear something that captured the anger people felt.” (McMasters, 2003). Any song irrelevant with the political stand of the US society, which was supporting war then, would not be listened. Also, rock music in 1960s integrated the black and white youths. Since they were all listening to the same songs, they supported the same political views. This was not viewed as a good thing by the government and the parents at that time. Still, it opened a way for future, and it’s a wonderful example of the political relevancy of music. Music is closely connected with politics.

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In conclusion, political use of music is being done by the governments, protest groups, literally every single group in every society. Music is a reflection of people, and the political issues at a certain time, as seen in the examples that were mentioned. Music brings support to various causes. Plus, it connects people and opens a way for a better future, also raising money and consciousness in societies. It is being said that music is irrelevant with politics, but people define themselves with music and search for same political views in artists, as written here in examples. All these points emphasize that music is an effective political tool, and the political use of music should be done strongly and continuously.


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