Soundtracking the Resistance - Singing from the Barricades
Recapping Some Notable Anti-Donald Trump Songs Thus Far
Apr 14, 2017 Web Exclusive Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern
If there's one thing we can say for President Trump, it's that he's been a boon for creativity. The mere thought of his residence in the White House sent a number of artists into spasms of rage, prompting a flurry of protest songs. There's certainly been no shortage of behavior to protest either. His administration has been an extension of Trump the man: opportunistic, deeply unpleasant, ill-thought through, and prone to scandal. How then do you go about nailing a target so large and obvious?
Well first let's take a step back. Last year there were a number of people unhappy merely to be associated with the Trump bandwagon. Such is the nature of political campaigns, a whole festival worth of bands find their music blaring out from podiums over the course of the election period. Some are happy to make explicit endorsements; others can't rush out quickly enough to demand candidates cease using their music to soundtrack rallies.
Given the problems Trump had finding anyone to play his inauguration, it's hardly a surprise to find a number of luminaries publicly disassociating themselves far earlier than that. The likes of Neil Young (just why the Republicans thought the co-writer of "Ohio" would want anything to do with Trump is one of the great mysteries of this universe), R.E.M., and Adele have all voiced complaints. And then there's The Rolling Stones, not best pleased to find their music shanghaied into service. But it has been something to hear "You Can't Always Get What You Want" echoing out behind Trump, a song the sentiment of which manages to accurately sum up the likely feeling at the end of his erratic Presidency from supporters and foes alike.
That's all reactive of course, and the response last year has been anything but. It seemed to take no time before Death Cab for Cutie, Jim James, Aimee Mann, and many others were rocking out protest songs that sound more like sad laments than an energetic call to arms. I guess if anything is going to lean towards lamentable it was the last election. There's energy and anger to be had though. Just listen to Franz Ferdinand cry "demagogue" repeatedly.
Moving forward a couple of months to the turn of the year saw that dreaded inauguration day spark a second wave. Arcade Fire and Mavis Staples got in there with "I Give You Power," and it's hardly a shock to find Damon Albarn—never a retiring figure politically—stepping into the breach. He's since said the new Gorillaz album is provoked by the rise of Trump and his ilk, and "Hallelujah Money" (featuring Benjamin Clementine) finds enough walls and towers to sing about.
Elsewhere Compton MC YG doesn't mince words with "FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)," A Tribe Called Quest reappear, brought to life by the business tycoon turned charmless populist, and CocoRosie and ANOHNI make it sound almost fun in "Smoke 'Em Out" until you listen to the lyrics. Oh, and of course Billy Bragg is re-working classic Bob Dylan because it wouldn't be a protest without the veteran singer/songwriter.
It's not only the songs that are worth paying attention to though. The platforms matter just as much. In some cases they exist to amplify the music. 30 Days, 30 Songs has been picking protest tracks new and old daily, and has since expanded to 1,000 days and 1,000 songs, determined to see out all of Trump's first term.
Meanwhile, Our First 100 Days has been bringing a brand new song out daily, raising money for organizations and causes under threat from a Trump presidency. Artists contributing range from Angel Olsen, who kicked it all off, to Entrance, Jens Lekman, Speedy Ortiz, Wild Nothing, Minus the Bear, Mitski, and The Mountain Goats.
And when it comes to live shows, performers as recognizable as Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and Rihanna have been speaking out, while Katy Perry stood alongside the Planned Parenthood President during the Women's March (which also saw Fiona Apple's excellent chant "we don't want your tiny hands, anywhere near our underpants" put to good use) where far more people gathered than bothered to turn up to watch Trump step forward to read his oath. The latter was an event that suddenly left liberal souls across the country (almost) wondering if George W. Bush wasn't so bad after all.
Yeah, the situation kind of sucks, but it also seems there are plenty of people unwilling to stand by and let it pass without raising concerns. All those listed above are but a snapshot. Simply by being himself, President Trump is proving a great catalyst for musicians everywhere. Brecht's dictum has been brought back to life. "In the dark times, will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times."
Song of the Week: Father John Misty—"Pure Comedy"
In amongst all the very specific protest songs that place Donald J. Trump firmly in the center of big glowing crosshairs, Father John Misty has returned with his own take. He's stepped back some distance to remind us the real problem is not Trump as much as it is our penchant as a species for latching onto the kind of half-baked ideas that leave us in thrall to the Trumps of this world. Over the course of the six-minute plus title track from his new record, he takes on everything from gender inequality to religion and our strange desire to make Gods of whoever we decide to elevate to pedestals. The video also features extensive footage of Trump (especially when referring to "these goons they elected to rule"), and his inauguration. Not exactly uplifting stuff then, but with Trump still bouncing along on the recent thrill of his election win, these are not yet uplifting times. He does possibly end on a positive note of sorts with a plea to remember that underneath the bickering and fighting, all we have is each other. Though right now, in a country split in two, that's hardly reassuring.
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