Outside of the comfort of our beloved student bubble, the real world is looking pretty bleak right now. We are in the midst of a seemingly never-ending recession, an unpopular government, a miserable job market, and an unsure future for our young people. For the first time in seemingly living memory, the omnipresent three party system is being threatened by rising forces, with UKIP having defied expectation and stormed the European elections in an unprecedented manner. The times are in fact a-changing. From where I’m standing, graduation is looking pretty scary. What are we going to do?
Music has traditionally helped to represent social discontent. The protest song has always been a huge part of popular music. Music has helped battle homophobia, racism, sexism and be a great mechanism of social change. Looking back on history, it seems that popular music has been inextricable from politics. Some of the best music that the UK has ever produced has come from criticising its politics of the day. From Punk to Britpop this relationship has stayed firmly intact. In the 1970s bands like the Sex Pistols and the Clash made their entire careers from lampooning the status quo. It produced some great music as well. The protest music of the 50s and 60s, from the likes of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie spawned some of the most iconic songs of the whole era.
“Politicians have been screwing up for thousands of years, that’s what they are there for.”
Where are all the songs poking fun at Nigel Farage or David Cameron? Is it still a relationship that is in effect today? The bestselling albums and most critically acclaimed albums of recent times seem to be about escaping the world, not making us look any closer at it. Though artists like Pussy Riot have managed to raise attention to the injustices of the Putin regime, an undoubtedly brilliant achievement in music is not synonymous with protest as it once was.
Looking back, did all these classic songs ever end up making a lasting change? The hippies challenged the establishment of the day, but did they really change anything significant? That baby boomer generation of the 1960s with their ideals of peace and love ultimately became the establishment that rules over us today. Its key figures like Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney that have retired to their country piles.
“These rebels have become fully integrated into a new establishment.”
In the end, as horrible and as cynical as it sounds, all of these music-based movements ended up failing anyway. Free love never happened. Politicians are still fake, and we’re still getting lied too. The whole idea of music changing the world seems a bit quaint nowadays. Considering how things turned out in the past, escapism seems as much of a logical reaction to the way the world is as anything else. LAOFO dreck as it may be at least shows our disenfranchisement with the system. But is this all a bad thing? Does music actually stand up for things? In a way, I find it pretty hard to get behind a generation of musicians that aren’t supporting any wider ideas other than just providing entertainment for people.
Perhaps this separation of music from the political sphere is a blessing in disguise. Music is perfectly justifiable as escapism and nothing more, the last thing that the world needs is more Bonos, more self-righteousness for the sake of self-righteousness. Maybe ignoring politics is a political statement in and of itself, and a strong one. Just as young people today choose to spoil their votes, in a defiance of the way things are going, maybe the music we’re all making is following suit. Maybe songwriters today aren’t ignoring what’s going on because they are idle or ignorant – but because they know better. Young people, believe it or not, are more knowledgeable than ever before, and we have computers and mobile phones forced into our hands almost as soon as we can walk. Students have one of the lowest voting rates of any demographic, with many choosing to follow the example of Russell Brand and spoil their votes. Maybe this generation of young people are intelligently opting out in their song writing just like they did in their vote casting.
I think I’ve realised that, at the end of the day, it’s the music that’s important. Though we’re not living in a loving wonderland, the music of the 1960s is still brilliant, punk is still incendiary and if nothing else RATM is fun to mosh too. The Vietnam war is long gone, but the songs it created are proving timeless.
Nothing has really changed. But more people remember Jane Austen than they do the class system which it criticised. Songs inevitably last longer than policies. People have been dancing for a millennium, before anyone ever thought to pick up a pen and write down a constitution. Music was always the best part of protest music. It’s had its day and it was great while it lasted. Maybe music can’t change the world, but that’s okay.