It’s Official: A New Era Of Protest Music Has Begun



I speculated on a couple of occasions last summer that we may be on the verge of the return of protest music. But I don’t think anyone could have predicted the flood of new material that artists from across the sonic spectrum released in the past week in response to the new administration in Washington. I don’t think there’s any doubt now that politically-inspired music is going to be a very big thing in the months and years ahead.

For those who share the sentiments of the protest songs, this is a very exciting development. For those who hold conflicting opinions, I understand how this could be problematic. But to them I say this: Anything that can open the doors of creativity for an artist is a good thing. If turbulent times can free the creative juices, like they did in the Sixties, then all music fans stand to benefit in the long run, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum.

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A couple of the protest songs that came out this weekend really caught my eye. “I Give You Power” is a collaboration between Arcade Fire and Mavis Staples, and I was completely on board just seeing their names together. There’s not that much going on in this one, just a call-and-answer with Mavis over an electrobeat, but then again, Mavis could sing the names in a phonebook and it would sound powerful and soulful. The song’s main message “I give you power / I could take it back” is a generic statement of protest and ought not to offend anyone.

On the other hand Father John Misty’s “Pure Comedy” is a hard-hitting piece of work that would offend many if they ever had the unlikely opportunity to watch the video. The song itself doesn’t name names and is ultimately more critical of aspects in American society than it is of any particular politician. It is a compelling piano ballad that starts off small-picture – “The comedy of man starts like this /Our brains are way too big for our mothers’ hips” – and then grows to a Beatley crescendo as Father John lets it all hang out – Comedy, now that’s what I call pure comedy / Just waiting until the part where they start to believe / They’re at the center of everything / And some all powerful being endowed this horror show with meaning”.

When you get right down to it, a song is just a songwriter’s version of the truth. But when real truths are as elusive as they are these days, the wise among us listen to as many different versions as they can to help come to their own conclusions. So get ready to hear a whole lot more of it coming out of your speakers this year.

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