8 Musicians Making New Music to Occupy Wall Street
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Contemporary musicians are always being accused of not being political enough. They aren’t Bob Dylan or Nina Simone or Woody Guthrie, the complainers grouse, or Joan Baez or Joe Hill, the author of all those famous Wobbly songs. Particularly in times of strife—say, 9/11 up to now—there is a warped perception that today’s songwriters simply aren’t concerned with contemporary events, and that the alleged narcissism of this generation has rendered political music moot. In the last 10 years, there have been approximately 2,000 thinkpieces written about this non-fact. It’s true, Google it. ( Et tu, Ziggy?)
But the idea that there is no political music today is, if I may say so, propagandist BS. There are political musicians, and there is political music—it’s just that the best kind doesn’t necessarily mimic the modes of 50 years ago (goodbye, folk) and the people spewing forth such nonsense aren’t necessarily looking in the right places (hello, hip-hop). Granted, they aren’t exactly populating the top 10 (although here’s a good attempt at chronicling some of the more mainstream), but if you’re not wearing blinders, you can find it—and it totally doesn’t have to suck! Indeed, the Occupy movement is pulling musicians out of the woodwork, with many artists big and small dropping by to show support and perform. With that in mind, here are the best, most political songs by some of our favorite musicians who’ve lent their support to Occupy Wall Street et al. Proving that bashing working musicians as apolitical is not just dunderheaded, it’s straight up wrong.
1. Katy Perry, “Who Am I Living For?”
Perry joined her husband Russell Brand and life magnate Russell Simmons at Occupy Wall Street a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t the first time the pop superstar has made explicit her political leanings, which top Lady Gaga’s by a landslide. No, we’re not talking about the misstep that was her tokenist girl-kissing song. In June, she spoke up for universal health care, telling Rolling Stone:
I think we are largely in desperate need of revolutionary change in the way our mindset is. Our priority is fame, and people's wellness is way low. I saw this knowing full well that I'm a part of the problem. I'm playing the game, though I am trying to reroute. Anyway, not to get all politically divulging and introspective, but the fact that America doesn't have free health care drives me fucking absolutely crazy, and is so wrong.
Certainly the revolution she was looking for is represented in OWS, which she promoted on Twitter to her more than 11 million followers. But this is not a totally new development, and her candied pop hits aren’t completely devoid of political undertones, either. In “Who Am I Living For,” from her 2010 album Teenage Dream, over a dramatic, dubstep-influenced beat, she sang, I am ready for the road less traveled/ Suiting up for my crowning battle/ This test is my own cross to bear/ But I will get there. And the chorus? I can see the writing on the wall/ I can’t ignore this war/ At the end of it all/ Who am I living for? Full of biblical allusions, the song is certainly about finding the courage to be part of some kind of resistance—whether or not it’s about Perry’s Christian upbringing, as some have suggested, it’s a righteous anthem for the brave souls currently sleeping in tents at Occupy Wall Street, and a great reminder that Jesus was himself a revolutionary.
2. John Legend & the Roots, “Wake Up Everybody!”