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Published on March 14th, 2018 | by Alan Cross

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Where are all the protest songs?

This email from Dave arrived yesterday.

Alan,

What has happened today the art of the protest song?

In the 60’s and 70’s, music’s influence as the voice of change, counter-culture and a generation. Alternative rock in the 90’s had some bands the carried the torch but who now carries it.

In an era of Donald Trump, the 1% protests, Me Too movements etc, you would think that alternative music would be ripe to provide a soundtrack of bringing issues to light but that is not the case.   I can’t think of a mainstream protest song in recent years except for Pearl Jams latest release and also Gord Downie’s activism with aboriginal rights. Red carpet celebrities do speak on their platform, but I don’t see new alternative bands taking a stance in their music.

Is this a result of news outlets already taking sides, or society’s questioning of authority is now common. Is a protest song seen as the “low hanging fruit”?  Or has the business model for record labels changed so much that protest songs aren’t good for business?

I would love to hear your view on this,

Dave

Great question, one that a lot of people are asking. Here are some thoughts.

1. There is some good protest alt-rock protest music out there.

Pearl Jam just released a track called “Can’t Deny Me.” Gord Downie’s efforts to push reconciliation with First Nations has gained tremendous momentum. Meanwhile, Prophets of Rage have been, er, raging since they were formed. For example:

2. If you want more anger, turn to hip-hop

Hip-hop artists have never been shy about expressing their opinion. Want some anger? Turn to people like Eminem or YG and Nipsey Hustle.

3. The issue might not be the lack of protest music…

…but the nature of modern slacktivism. Social media has distorted what activism and protest mean. For many people, changing the avatar on their Twitter account or leaving an angry comment on Facebook counts as protesting against The Man.

4. People just don’t want to get involved

I know many people who think this way: “Nobody listening to what I have to say. And even if they did, nothing will happen.”

5. And you’re right, protest music just doesn’t sell like it used to

Back in the 60s, the counter-culture was driven by music. The hippy kids ate up this music because it was the galvanizing force of the generation. Today? Not so much. Protest music might be out there, but it just doesn’t have the same effect on the general population as it once did.

Anyone else want to chime in?

 




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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.


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4 Responses to Where are all the protest songs?

  1. stevegow71 says:

    I’d argue HOW listeners consume music has an impact as well. Spotify and all these streaming services supply algorithm-based tunes to the ears of the masses – which is obviously less diverse and more corporate. If you don’t listen to protest music, you won’t get to hear protest music – unless you know where to search. Where’s a hungry ear to go to stumble upon different ideas if its not accessible for the stumbling upon?

  2. Eric says:

    Frank Turner anyone?????

  3. Chris says:

    Frank Turner, absolutely. Exhibit A is just one among many of his protest songs, maybe the most obvious: https://youtu.be/AZ6s8C88zzk (“Sand in the Gears”)

    But you’ve also got Flobots: https://youtu.be/UDf2r9DnVGU (“There’s a War Going on For Your Mind”), https://youtu.be/Lsgbb23z27w (“White Flag Warriors”).

    Sleater-Kinney: https://youtu.be/ibrXJRfhsNs (“Combat Rock”)

    Michael Franit: https://vimeo.com/1906327 (“Hey, World”)

    Headstones: https://youtu.be/vnUPVbpXoJU (“Dontfollowtheleader”)

    And no, rock is not the only place to look for protest. If you aren’t seeing it, maybe you’re looking in the wrong places. Though it’s pretty hard to miss Hamilton, for instance. The Hamilton Mix Tape: https://youtu.be/6_35a7sn6ds (“Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)”)

  4. stevegow71 says:

    Just read an interview with Neil Young. Heres his take:

    Why don’t you think there are any good Trump protest songs or albums?

    There’s nowhere for them to be played! The whole media thing is under tight control—it’s all formats, and you have to fit into a format. When “Ohio” came out there were no formats; it was heard everywhere. It was a new song and people played it.

    (from: https://www.thedailybeast.com/neil-young-sounds-off-on-trump-he-has-no-balls?ref=wrap)

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