Has Donald Trump Revived the Protest Song?

In a nutshell, the answer is a resounding yes. Donald Trump is without question the most polemic POTUS in recent history. And when you spout polemic, divisive rhetoric, people are bound to respond with the same vitriolic energy. Even artists whose discographies are devoid of overtly political meanings have lent their creative energies to clapping back against Trump.

Last year, Drake went on a now-famous rant during the London leg of his “Boy Meets World” tour. Speaking to his huge audience, Drake voiced out his feelings on Trump’s explicitly racist remarks, and how he believed that music could overcome hate: “If you take a look around in this room, you’ll see people from all races and all places and all we did tonight was come inside this building, show love, celebrate life, more life, and more music.” That’s just the tail end of the Canadian rapper’s rant, and it’s not exactly the only time an internationally famous musician took to the stage/studio to voice out Trump-related dissent.

“Trump thinks Putin is a very strong leader / Just like him a fascist bottom-feeder,” is just one line in Le Tigre’s electro-bop I’m With Her, a pro-Hillary Clinton track that also reveals a lot about how the feminist band regards Trump. You can also check out Franz Ferdinand’s Demagogue for some of vocalist Alex Kapranos’ hard-hitting lyrics on the President. And of course, any list that tackles rhythmic anti-Trump rhetoric would be remiss without including hip-hop duo Run the Jewels, who pulls off a surgical, lyrical hit-and-run in their DJ Shadow collaboration Nobody Speak. Perhaps NME’s Gary Ryan describes the situation best when he wrote that “The perverse upshot of having a walking Trigger Warning as a President is that it’s inspired a surfeit of protest tracks.”

There’s no doubt that Donald Trump’s words and policies have resulted in a modern protest song boom. For better or for worst, he’s turned himself into a figure that artists and activists of differing political leanings can rally against. Music critic Dorian Lynskey offers a historical perspective on what’s going on: pop music today has become as political as it had been back in the 60s. This current outpouring of rage is the latest political musical renaissance in the western world’s long history of musical dissent.

Since the 20th century, protest songs have always been an integral aspect of the development of modern music. In fact, political expression is the reason why some of the most powerful and influential songs exist today. An extensive list by Lottoland on some of the most influential protest songs in the history of rock includes Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name Of, which tackled institutional racism in America, U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, which shone the international spotlight on police violence in Northern Ireland, and Edwin Starr’s War that openly protested against the then-ongoing Vietnam War. That’s just the tip of the iceberg that is the history of protest music – an iceberg that continues to burgeon today thanks to Donald Trump.

As long as there is dissatisfaction, there will be dissent, and people will always find creative ways to express it. You gotta hand it to the guy – he did say that he was going to make America great again.


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