There is a strong undercurrent of apathy buoying this election season, and the brunt of it is being felt by us young voters. We are facing an unprecedented amount of pressure right now, trying to figure out how the decisions made by us and for us will affect our futures. Politically charged music has been created throughout the years for this very reason and have consequentially become classic anthems of unrest. There is a new class of songs that have been created with the same purpose and carry the same weight that political songs of the past did for our parents.
Baby Boomers gave way to Generation X, and Generation X gave way to Millennials. Each generation of young people comes with their own set of large-scale anxieties and therefore creates art to serve as both a response and a relic as time goes on. Younger generations do not only serve as tastemakers in culture, but they also have the power to completely shift the tide of politics. This is especially important in this election because Tuesday’s outcome does not only have obvious partisan and economic implications, but monumental cultural implications as well. We can confront this in the best way we know how: Let’s cling to our technology, put our earphones on and reflect on politically aware songs of the past and present.
- “Mr. November” by The National
This song was written during the latter half of George W. Bush’s second term. The National seem to scrutinize career politicians like Bush: blue-blooded, Ivy League men who have consistently led our country. The titular “Mr. November” churns through an overwrought, aggressive internal monologue. “I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November,” lead singer Matt Berninger sings in a way that strains his voice beyond comfort. The pressures leading the country pose to any potential leader are captured by the song’s pounding, kick-crash drums that carry the song’s angst to unfathomable heights.
- “Young Americans” by David Bowie
For clarification’s sake, Bowie was British in every single sense of the word. Even from the other side of the ocean, however, he was fascinated by our way of handling political unrest: specifically, the widespread uneasiness that characterized Nixon’s presidency and how young people acted upon the way they felt. This and Bowie’s use of elements from soul music of the ‘70s, characterized the album Young Americans as a whole. This song is upbeat, which makes it easier to find positivity in being unestablished but still in control of our futures.
- “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
In a communication class I am taking this quarter, the professor screened an advertisement featuring this iconic track written by war veteran and lead singer of CCR, John Fogerty. It was an advertisement for jeans; denim as a symbol of classic American ideals is analogous to apple pie. However, the professor mentioned the irony of this song being used in the commercial as a positive representation of being an American citizen because it is a blatant criticism of young men being drafted for the Vietnam War. America, of course, is not currently under the threat of war, but it is important to remember that although for different reasons, young people in the ‘60s were facing just as much — if not more — discontent with our country as we are now.
- “Holy Shit” by Father John Misty
Singer-songwriter, amateur comedian and all-around magnetic persona Josh Tillman, also known as Father John Misty, is famous for his commentary on the state of love as it relates to everything. Whether it be religion, technology or politics, he glides through it all, acoustic guitar and silky voice softening his tongue-in-cheek criticisms. In this track from his sophomore effort I Love You, Honeybear, his disillusionment with the issues our country is constantly bombarded with is clear. He is a part of the group of people in the grey area between Generation X and Millennials, and his music reflects his uncertainty in his position. Tillman is well aware of how the problems we are facing are affecting us, but he is unsure of how to confront them.
- “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye
Of the many stories I’ve heard from my mother about my great-grandfather, one of the fondest is her memory of this song by Marvin Gaye, his favorite classic soul track. My own memories of him are blurry because he passed away when I was young, but I can imagine him sitting at the kitchen table, shaking his head at all of the confusion going on in the world and tapping his cigarette into an ash tray. The finger snaps and doo-wop singing in the background of the record give it a pool hall feel, but it is instantly elevated by the impassioned lyrics and string orchestration in the foreground. This song, like “Fortunate Son,” is anti-Vietnam, but it is more of a plea than a protest. With the current state of conflict within this country, this would still be my grandfather’s favorite song if he were alive. Because certain tracks have a way of bridging gaps between multiple generations, it is just as relevant to me as it was to him.
- “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan
Although Dylan is practically the father of musical activism, this track is not explicitly political. “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,” he sings, as though he is soothing a crying child, and it is a sentiment which can quell the worry of almost any problem. Perhaps the most overwhelming emotion we are feeling this election season is uncertainty. No matter who you are voting for, the outcome this year is quite uncertain. But, in a way, it is comforting to know it is floating somewhere in the universe, and we will figure it out very soon.
Zoë has been an Artsweek Editor since the 2016-17 school year and enjoys it much more than she lets on. In her free time, she enjoys reading Pitchfork and drinking chai lattes with almond milk (because, of course).