When Music Meets Manifesto

Today’s political and social milieu is worrying to say the least. Yes, we’re making a lot of progress in a lot of ways, yet we live in times marked by inequality in extensive forms. Between topics like Brexit and the ongoing mess of US politics, it is becoming easier for problems closer to home such as mass poverty, discrimination, and marginalisation to be overlooked and ignored by the media and politicians alike. Not to mention, the mental strain of trying to figure out whatever the hell is happening is one of the most disconcerting effects brought about by present political discourse.

As a result, 2019 has already created a market and a need for a fusion of politics and pop culture in the music industry to show that sometimes, even if people in power don’t appear to be listening, artists certainly are.

Musicians are becoming increasingly vocal in lamenting political worries and woes. Artists are using their platform to be critical, reminding us that a lot of the time, they share a lot of the concerns affecting the masses.

Lana Del Rey is the epitome of musical development in this sense. Her hit single 'Video Games', released in 2011, depicted an idyllic, dream-like world of “blue-dark” starry nights. Lana now delves into illustrating the antithesis of the world she once described. Lana daringly asks in 'When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing', “Is this the end of America? Is this the end of an era?”, following the Presidential inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017.

Lana Del Rey's 2017 album Lust for Life is full of political sentiments which, two years after initial release, are still relevant in today's political climate. In 'Get Free', Lana sings about her “modern manifesto” as a “commitment” to fight for what she believes in, stating “I'm doin' it for all of us, / Who never got the chance”. The artist, once characterised as a melancholy voice, devoid of optimism, has become a beacon of hope. Lana uses ‘manifesto’ as a commitment to fight for what is right instead of something symptomatic of an empty promise, manipulated as political propaganda in the hope for unbridled power.

Undeniably, Lust for Life also reflects Lana’s personal growth. In her song 'Change', Lana reveals that in the past, she did not fully realise the potential she had to address the political and societal troubles she now confronts. The song highlights the artist’s previous belief that ‘it's just someone else's job to care’, which can be a pretty common attitude due to the exhaustion that comes with trying to comprehend everything that is going on. But now, Lana has come to the realisation that, ‘Change is a powerful thing, people are powerful beings’ which is not only the central message of the album, but also the artist. Lana is now aware of her responsibility, not as a singer, but as a human being to better herself and the world around her, an awareness that, unfortunately, a lot of us could, but still don’t have.

Notwithstanding the appraisal that records such as Lust for Life receive, to be so open in addressing potentially taboo issues is understandably a brave move considering the worldwide backlash influencers can, and often do, get. Despite the adverse responses that can accompany this type of vulnerability, Lana’s interview with Complex says it all: “You don’t negotiate when it comes to your work or your art. You stand totally firm and take the consequences.”

Lana isn’t the only musician to adapt her music to help us try and navigate recent political circumstances. The 1975 are currently touring with their latest album A Brief Enquiry into Online Relationships which includes songs such as 'Love it if We Made It' which, in an interview with Genius, lead singer Matty Healy labels a “gem of hope”, amongst the profound depiction of immigration, substance abuse and misogyny. The music video presents us with burning buildings, guns, and mob mentality, which not only echoes sentiments of chaos and disillusionment that we might currently feel, but also highlights what we really need to be focusing on for a better future.

However uncomfortable it might be for us to acknowledge these issues, The 1975 don’t stop there. The music video graphically presents us with ideas of self-destruction not only of ourselves, but also of our planet. As Healy laments “We're just left to decay, Modernity has failed us”. But of course, issues of global warming are currently being hidden behind the current rhetoric produced by the press concerning deals, no deals, referendums… the list goes on. It seems that amongst everything it is easy to forget that we have a planet and that we are, ultimately, destroying it.

Consequently, artists continue to indicate that 2019 will also be a year in which music is imperative as a port of call for salvation amongst all this confusion. Within Lana Del Rey’s latest single ‘hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but i have it’, she not only hints at a new album which deliberates female empowerment versus misogyny, but also pleads for hope and faith among her listeners.

Still, the market for songs, centred around political protest have been present for decades. Tracy Chapman’s song ‘Talkin’ Bout a Revolution’ in 1988 is founded on an upbeat, revolutionary tone whilst simultaneously depicting the tragic reality of the American working class ‘standing in the welfare lines’. This blatant depiction of poverty in a society ‘crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation’ provides relief and hope for the oppressed that change, like the revolutionary discourse of Chapman’s song, is imperative.

Yet, the song possesses stark parallels with the working class in present day society both in the United States and elsewhere in the world as many can still resonate with the bleak reality painted by Chapman. Current unemployment rates, homelessness and unequal wages suggest that despite Chapman’s implication that in 1988, the tables were ‘starting to turn’, these societal and political problems are still not being dealt with effectively, as shown by their continued resurrection within pop culture.

And so, despite the apparent apathy of many of those in power to often deal with these profound themes illustrated within music, artists have constantly provided a voice to unite, educate and aid the masses. However, with the continued need for and thus production of music centred around prominent issues, it is important to consider whether 2019 hints at any solutions for the internal turmoil that present-day society and politics brings us. Not right now perhaps, but hopefully not too far ahead.