Over the years, art and music have always been a reflection of what is occurring within society. We are all too aware of the various movements being pushed in society right now, but what I want to ask is: is the revolution simply becoming fashionable?
In the wake of several controversial songs and performances being released, I feel maybe it’s as good a time as any to really question the nature of the groundswell and support (or, indeed, lack of) for this music. Let us take the most recent event in mind: Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance. This performance undoubtedly transcended the boundaries of simply being a music performance, taking on quite a theatrical edge.
- Kendrick shuffled onto stage, in a chain gang prisoner formation with several other black men, in prison fatigues and some in cages, then proceeded to launch into his controversial song from T.P.A.B, The Blacker The Berry. Kendrick stood in prison clothes, handcuffed, and performed a song that contains the lyrics, “You hate me don’t you, you hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture, you know you evil, I want you to recognise that I’m a proud monkey”.
- He featured two dance styles in the performance, Krump and African to which the song Alright was performed; a prominent new “black power” anthem that was sung at a police brutality/#BlackLivesMatter Rally by protesters in response to police presence.
- He performed his 3rd track in the “Untitled” series which deals with the topic of black youths dying as a result of police brutality and highlights the effect of this on the rest of the community.
In a nutshell, he stood there at an event historically known for a lack of representation of ethnic minorities in art and essentially held his middle finger up. This same event had also given him 11 nominations of which he won 5. He obviously had a point to make.
Controversial rapper Macklemore also recently released the musical sequel to his 2005 song, White Privilege. entitled White Privilege 2. In this song, Macklemore broke down his reasoning for wanting to stand with #BlackLivesMatter protesters. Wondering if he, as a white man (and a white man who profits from what is originally a typically black form of expression) has the right to stand in this line. Macklemore has always been known as a socially-conscious artist: even the song which brought him mainstream appeal, Thrift Shop, was a stand against materialism and vanity.
However just as Macklemore has been praised as a white man for addressing matters such as police brutality, white supremacy, cultural appropriation and the irony of him being viewed as a safe hip-hop option for middle America, he has also been vilified by many, with people accusing him of using the struggles of others for his own profit.
My last example, though not as recent as the first two, is J. Cole’s performance of his song Be Free on David Letterman. While doing a TV appearance, instead of promoting his new album, Cole chose to perform his song Be Free, a song he wrote about black people wanting to break out of the chains of white supremacy and police brutality. This had a profound effect on many because the audience of Letterman is, again, known to be primarily middle America. Yet again he had a point to make.
The Revolution Will Be Televised
These are all examples of songs and events that were shared many, many times on social media with captions of pride, outrage and hastags of #revolution, #policebrutality #blackpride and #whiteprivelege. But here’s my question: why so many shares? Yes, I know it’s an important message and it needed to be shared. I shared it myself, but my point is how many of us are really down for the cause or really back the idea of a revolution? Just as we are quick to share the latest Kendrick or Cole track about injustice, how quick are we to still be in the club dancing to Hot N*gga? How quick are we to notice other injustices? Did we share Macklemore’s Same Love in support of gay rights so readily? Did we share Cole’s Crooked Smile in support of women acknowledging their beauty in spite of what they’re constantly told via the media with as much zeal?
Whilst we were throwing our fists up for the revolution via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, were we paying attention to the plight of immigrants unfairly treated right here at home in the UK? Were we studying the history of America when we jumped on the bandwagon of Thanksgiving and hashtagged it all over our non-American profiles? Did we realise that same celebration was indirectly celebrating the genocide of the native Americans when they helped feed, shelter and clothe the pilgrims when they first journeyed to America ironically to escape persecution themselves? While in some cases we claimed “Well America’s messing up with all this police brutality” did we perhaps forget or overlook the deaths of others at the hands of police in the UK?
Maybe some of us feel like this wave of consciousness in music is new but it’s not. Everything Kendrick Lamar is speaking about now was spoken about 20 years earlier by KRS-1 as part of the “Stop The Violence” Movement. Even earlier in 1939, Billie Holiday was singing about lynchings with Strange Fruit. This is not simply a trend occurring in our generation, yet it is only now in this generation of social media and everyone being so connected online that I begin to question who actually stands behind the conviction of a post rather than just mindlessly and thoughtlessly following suit.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves why we are doing this? If you’re not socially and politically aware and active, that’s fine; such things may not interest you. But if that’s the case, don’t act otherwise. Why protest on Facebook if you won’t protest in real life? Why claim to support certain movements like #BlackLivesMatter but not support all other movements against other forms of discrimination? My point is: if we claim to be against oppression but only express that when it’s being paraded as something that’s ‘in fashion’, and even then only when it’s something that could directly affect us or our specific culture, race or beliefs, we are missing the entire point. Think about that next time you share song lyrics filled with provocative hashtags and then go out with your friends to enact that same stereotype your
Think about that next time you share song lyrics filled with provocative hashtags and then go out with your friends to enact that same stereotype your Facebook posts claim you’re so against.