Fight the Power: A New Era of Protest in Music
From grime legend Stormzy and Jeremy Corbyn, arm-in-arm at the GQ awards last month to the Glastonbury crowd serenading the Labour leader to the tune of Seven Nation Army and artists uniting against (and in some cases, rallying behind) the Trump administration, 2017 has given rise to a significant trend; a return to political activism through music.
Since the counter-culture of the 60s with artists as diverse as Dylan and the MC5 making politically-inspired stands against The Man, through to the anarchic nihilism of punk bands like the Sex Pistols, music has found itself at the heart of political discourse.
What emerged was a kind of pop version of Braggs’ Law where the more divisive the political environment, the better the music it provoked.
In recent years, however, music has become less politically charged, despite a war on terror, seemingly unending political scandals and a global financial crash leading to years of austerity.
In fact, for those under the age of 30, music and politics have become mutually exclusive. This is in no small part down to the increasing commercialisation of rock music – historically the most politically charged genre in the UK – and the shifting sands of an industry getting to grips with the new streaming landscape.
However, in the new post digital era, a new dynamic has emerged between artists, audiences and labels, giving artists the confidence to be more authentic and to tackle more controversial topics without risking their commercial appeal.
But it’s taken Brexit, Trump and the emergence of the far right across previously stable western democracies to really bring protest music out of the shadows.
Phenomena like #grime4corbyn – the rallying cry to a disenfranchised generation to get behind the only party that seemed to understand their struggles, spearheaded by new to the mainstream artists like JME and Stormzy, inspired young people to vote in numbers never seen before.
Beyond grime, 2017 is seeing a new generation of UK protest rock bands such as Manchester-based Cabbage, finding their way on the BBC Sound of 2017 list of austerity-themed songs while London based Vant view their performances as a form of activism and protest.
In the US, Trump’s rise inspired big name artists like Arcade Fire, Gorillaz and Green Day to voice serious dissent through their music, and members of Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine formed a supergroup ‘Prophets of Rage’ to challenge the contentious positions adopted by the President.
So, what does this mean for brands?
Music is a hugely popular passion space, but traditionally brands have steered clear of being affiliated with artists with strong partisan views for fear of appearing divisive. However, as younger generations become increasingly engaged with social, ethical, environmental and political issues, they expect brands to stand for something.
The real opportunity here is for brands to use their influence, financial means and own channels to campaign for positive change through music. With mainstream artists and genres taking an openly political position and audiences increasingly buying into brands with a clear point of view, there is an opportunity for brands to gain differentiation by taking a stand themselves.
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