When your songs are used for politics whether you intend them to or not 😮
This post loosely accompanies Gab & Jam, 305. When your songs are used for politics whether you intend them to or not
There are times when our songs may be used in a way that we had not originally intended them to. What do you do when folks who you don’t agree with use your songs to advance their own political purposes?
Check out the episode for the full discussion.
We know that, as an artist, your mission is BIGGER than caring about whether your songs are interpreted a certain way. People receive your songs the way they want to, which may be in DIRECT opposition to the way we intended them. They use for their own purposes and the question is what do you do as a result of this?
You don’t care…
And perhaps you don’t care, because maybe your sympathies align with those that use you. In that case, God bless you; you can be satisfied that you have fulfilled your calling. Two prime examples are “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow”—a Fleetwood Mac song—that the Clintons used for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, which the band was on-board with and did not object. However, in contrast, when Ronald Reagan’s campaign used “Born in the USA,” Bruce Springsteen did not like the fact that his song was being used to seem as if it meant “Rah Rah, USA.” Instead, it was meant to call attention to the inattention given to war veterans. So, by seemingly using it out of context, Springsteen felt like the intended message was getting lost.
Cultural Context Matters
Some topics can be coopted by the cultural and political climate that it emerges in. What we mean is that a similar song—from a different time period—may NOT raise eyebrows, but in a new, highly charged political climate, it can spark all kinds of controversy. Take, for instance, Jason Aldean’s “Try This in a Small Town” has been championed by the right-wing supporters as an “us” versus “them” type of proposition—which also has some racist undertones. –He shot it on the grounds of the local courthouse, which had been known to be the place for public lynchings, which didn’t help either. –Whereas, John Mellencamp’s “Small Town,” was about how small towns had a different ethos than large cities and it embraced whites and blacks under its message, as long as you were from a small town. Needless to say, no one took umbrage to how Mellencamp meant “small town,” but then, again, his images didn’t help support the idea that this was a racially divisive idea. –Also, at the time that Mellencamp released this song, Farm Aid was trying to save farmers—black and white—so, it was assumed that he was trying to call attention to these ideas and movements, since that was the political climate of the 80s.
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It’s possible to be revered and rejected by the same side
Once a political side coops you, you can move from THAT side—one of reverence—to being reviled by them shortly thereafter. Our case in point is J.K. Rowling. She was applauded by the left for making Dumbledore gay—which the right HATED—but when she said that a trans woman is NOT a woman, she became the darling of the right and reviled by the left. –A sista can’t win, right?! 🙄
True to you
As an artist, you have to figure out how to be true to yourself, no matter what. It doesn’t serve you to be trying to appease or occupy positions that you do not agree with just to gain a few fans. Those fans will be the FIRST to leave you, the minute you don’t line up with the NEW “correct” political position. It is NOT worth sacrificing what you TRULY believe in to get fans who are NOT folks who actually care for you. The best long-term strategy is to just be yourself and let those who vibe with you come and those that don’t find someone else to hang out with. –At least, THAT’S our position and the philosophy we live by.
What about you? When have you noticed songs being used to advance a political agenda? Leave them in the comments below.
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