On May 20th, 2017, in a stadium set to hear performances from the Libertines, Madness, and Little Mix, an unmistakable anthem took on a new meaning. As a 68-year-old, 2-time divorcee from Islington took the stage, a rendition of the White Stripe’s unmistakable ‘7 Nation Army’ echoed through the political epicentre that is Prenton Park Stadium, home of the Tranmere Rovers. At first, the speaker could not hear the words that were being chanted at him due to his booming voice over the sound system. However, during a pause in his speech, he realised they were chanting his name over and over again – a realisation that made him “quite emotional”. Since that day, the “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” chant has been heard at almost every major sporting and music event in the UK and has boosted streams of ‘7 Nation Army’ almost 17,000%. It is safe to say that Exeter might not be a shining beacon of the left-wing ideology, but one often hears the familiar ring of the Labour leader’s name being recited on any given night out. So, the question arises, is there a place for politics in music?
Well, without writing an article that sounds like it was written by someone who genuinely takes an interest in the wine list at a Wetherspoons, political music has been around for a long time. We are more familiar with NWA’s ‘F**k the Police’ or Chance the Rapper’s ‘Angels’, but political music is nothing new. Since the times of Verdi and Beethoven, music and lyrics have been used to send a political message. The colonisation and oppression of African-Americans led to the birth of the blues, and then jazz, which led to rock and roll, R&B, Rap and effectively most mainstream music today. This is the first point that should be made – political music is inescapable.
However, when commentators try to argue that artists and musicians have no right to send out a political message, it just stinks of hypocrisy.
Music is shaped by the time it is created in. As long as there is a war being fought, oppression being wrought or a need to boycott there will be political music. One of the great things about music is that a song, regardless of when it was written, can feel as though it is speaking directly to you and your experiences. This is why some songs, and indeed genres, can withstand the test of time. When there is a group feeling and music taps into that, it is called political. When musicians write about love and loss and hit those same emotional buttons for a different reason, it is not played down or criticized. Why is this? When a writer creates a song that makes us laugh, or cry, or sing so loudly in the shower it wakes our flatmates up, it is not a threat to the establishment. However, when a writer creates a song that makes us think, realise, that creates protests and movements and sends a message, all of a sudden the artist is in the wrong. I’m not going to say that the “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” chant is on par with the likes of ‘Solidarity Forever’ that was banded about at the picket line not too long ago. However, when commentators try to argue that artists and musicians have no right to send out a political message, it just stinks of hypocrisy. These commentators argue that musicians are abusing their position and corrupting the mind of children while they sit behind a ‘news desk’ on FOX and attack the Black Lives matter or March for Our Lives movements in front of millions of people. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, it is precisely because these people have the gift to reach out their figurative hand to others through music that they have gained the position they have and therefore should absolutely have the right to send a political message if they so wish.
Thankfully, we do not live in a country where governments censor artists who are critical of it. However, if members of Parliament, journalists or whoever else truly attempt to stand against artists’ rights to tap into society’s frustrations, you will see movements much bigger than some singing teenagers in a football stadium.