The Critical Curmudgeon
Should politics and music be a harmonious pairing?
Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Well, the election is over. Not yet as I’m writing this, since our columns are due at midnight on Tuesdays … but, in theory, by the time this article gets published, our nation will have decided on either another four years of mediocrity or perhaps, even more exciting, a whole NEW four years of mediocrity, depending on whom the Electoral College decided to vigorously hornswoggle this time around.
But what am I saying? Please excuse my pessimism—it’s just this funk I’m in. See, I just finished reading up on music news, and it’s been flooded with presidential endorsements from musicians. The statements are generally predictable: chicly dressed pop musicians went Obama, rough ‘n’ tumble country stars and Christian rockers went Romney. Jay-Z revised the refrain of his vicious rap hit “99 Problems” to say that he continues to have 99 problems, “but a Mitt ain’t one.” In other news, Jay-Z’s desperate efforts to be relevant so far yield unimpressive results. Stay tuned! Kid Rock and Rodney Atkins were seen waving their Republican flags high at the Victory Rally (at this point, that title is either prophetic or hilarious) in a heart-warming show of camaraderie for their fellow White Land-Owning Male. I’m not sure why all this fuss annoys me the way that it does, but something about modern musicians telling me who to vote for grinds my gears. This is out of character for me, because I generally like when artists address serious issues with their work rather than just the regular drivel about boyfriends, break-ups, and booty shaking. Still, I just can’t get on board when Beyonce Knowles says Obama is “inspiring” for the 50-bajillionth time, or when Meat Loaf makes self-referential puns at a concert he held in support of Romney’s campaign. (Look it up. It was actually kind of funny.)
It can’t be helped at this point, of course. The damage is already done, and now the issue will be essentially irrelevant for another four years. For future reference, however, let’s examine the pop musician’s role in the political sphere.
Politically charged musical appearances aren’t a new phenomenon. Their prominence reached a critical peak in the late ’60s and early ’70s, particularly around the Watergate scandal. Bands like Buffalo Springfield came out against the establishment, and the youth responded big-time. Songs like “Ohio” and “For What it’s Worth” were very specifically critical of governmental practices, and they urged the “children” of America to keep in mind a hearty skepticism toward authority. What’s the difference between that and Nicki Minaj tweeting her political leanings, or Lynyrd Skynyrd frontman Johnny Van Zant declaring he was inspired by Ronald Reagan?
First of all, these statements were made public via dubious celebrity gravitas, not songwriting. There’s a distinct difference between making opinionated music and coming out with your opinions on the side, namely that the former is actually the musician’s job. The latter, conversely, is an irritating abuse of fame. Just because people enjoy your songs about how great large-hipped women are doesn’t mean you can get on your soapbox. If your career and your popularity have nothing to do with political or social concerns, then your opinion on those concerns is no more relevant than any other American citizen’s. The fact that people listen to you because you’re famous is mere coincidence, and to exploit your own image to make your every bias known isn’t fair treatment of an audience. Besides, what makes those opinions any more important than those of the people who aren’t being interviewed? What expertise do Katy Perry and Trace Adkins possess that CPA Joe Shmoe from Ohio doesn’t? Assuming Joe Shmoe can read, none. In fact, if Joe Shmoe can’t read, his opinion might actually be more significant.
So why do we investigate our musicians’ politics? Their answers are inconsequential and frequently insipid. The same goes for athletes, actors, and other celebrities: these people aren’t any better qualified for political activism than you or I, so who honestly cares how they cast their vote? Heck, let’s ask the politicians tough questions about their beliefs. Maybe then we’d actually know their freaking platforms.
Well, that’s my rant. God bless America, folks … but pop culture endorsers can seriously shove off.