As Barack Obama demonstrated this week, it is sometimes hard to find words to say that what you managed to achieve was a bit of a disappointment.

Apparently, he regrets not having closed Guantanamo Bay while he was president. Well, in fairness, he only had eight years.

But right now, musicians with an inclination to write or sing about politics are not especially bothered about Obama. They are far more concerned about what comes next. Not just in America, but across Europe and anywhere else in the world that the extreme right (and racism) is on the rise.

Donald Trump may not turn out to be the worst US president in history – there is a fair bit of competition there. But it is rather disappointing that, beyond declining to appear at his inauguration ceremony, American singers have failed to join Meryl Streep and other actors in criticising Trump for his despicable brand of politics.

Strictly no politics

Last year, Beyoncé and Alicia Keys both produced excellent albums with a political theme. John Legend even attempted to criticise Trump on BBC’s Breakfast programme but was silenced by the show’s presenters who preferred to talk about Strictly Come Dancing.

To the best of my knowledge, none of these singers has uttered much in the way of public criticism of Trump since his election. Indeed, the only effect his impending presidency seems to have had on music is to force a rethink by U2 over whether their new album reflects the current world political situation sufficiently. Make of that what you will.

Aside from the inimitable Anohni, here in the UK the most ‘political’ lyrics are mostly found in grime. But these normally takes the form of poignant social commentary rather than hard politics.

Indie guitar hopefuls Cabbage managed to stir themselves against The Sun recently, calling the newspaper ‘odious’. But why aren’t more bands and artists doing the musical equivalent of Gary Lineker and standing up refugees and migrants against the relentless bile spewed out by the like of the Sun and Daily Mail?

Are musicians being silenced by their record labels, their publicists, or by their own apathy?

No point in looking back

In honesty, twas ever thus. Yes, The Specials made it to number one with Ghost Town, the closest thing there was to grime in 1981. But their 2-Tone soulmates The Beat were banned from the radio for inviting Margaret (Thatcher) to ‘stand down’.

And the late 1970s were not as politicised musically as you might think. You have more chance of hearing The Clash on daytime radio today than you did back in 1977, although fortunately there is less chance nowadays of hearing Boney M or Olivia Newton John.

As for the sixties? Well, Joni Mitchell recently described 1960s protest singers as impotent for the way that they criticised conscripted soldiers rather than the politicians behind the Vietnam War and other controversies of the day. Not so sure on that. Best ask somebody who can remember the sixties.

Back to the present. ‘Give Us Something Worth Voting For’ sang UK punk band The Tuts last year. In most respects, the band hit the nail on the head. But the absence of credible politicians who are worth our vote doesn’t mean there is an absence of issues to get angry about, through music or any other medium.

 

 

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