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 Tamsin

Over the last few days, half of England burned. The other half talked witless bollocks about it.

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Here are the main arguments you hear against mixing pop and politics:

  • Pop songs can’t change anything. (Maybe not, but culture should reflect the times, and bit by bit, shards of culture, can, if not bring about dramatic change overnight, help to create an atmosphere conducive to change.)
  • Sixth form poetry, worthy, ill-informed spoutings. “We are the world, we are the children.” (Yes, often, but not always.)
  • Why should pop singers have to talk about politics? Art for art’s sake, let’s just create beauty. (I don’t want them all to, but I’d like some to. And the most beautiful and devastating art is rooted in reality, stick your unicorns up your arse.)
  • Some musicians are political without writing political songs, Beth Ditto for instance. (OK, but most aren’t.)
  • Indiepop is not the place for polemic, art forms like rap are better suited to it. (Balls, that’s a coward’s argument.)
  • The Redskins and Billy Bragg, say no more. (This is the sniggering, stock response to any mention of politics in pop, I’ve never actually listened to The Redskins, and the derision they seem to provoke makes me too scared to, but, actually I quite like Billy Bragg so fuck you.)

[You so SHOULD hear The Redskins! Inspirational band. Quick. Here’s a video – Ed]

Yes, politics in pop music can be laughably self-righteous, but for all the bad examples there’s a plenty of good ones. Dexys! Poison Girls! Television Personalities! Bikini Kill! Stereolab! Dead Kennedys! Anne Clark!

About a year ago, I reviewed a shoegaze/chillwave album for another blog – it was the latest offering in a long line of blissed-out, listless, ‘just OK’ records they gave me, all insubstantial retreats into comas of candy-coated cosiness. I’m going to quote part of the review here, because quite frankly it was wasted on that blog:

“What the world needs now is energy not enervation, insurrection not introspection, heroes not hipsters. But instead we gaze at our shoes because to gaze outward is terrifying.”

Is that it? What’s going on is just so damn scary that to even try to address it in a pop song is a dead end? Or is it that a musical form as rooted in retro as indiepop is, can’t hope to address today’s issues and can only act as aural chloroform to take our minds off it all?

Of course this is not the full story, other musical sub-genres are starting to reflect a sense of trauma and disquiet, although as yet, in a muffled, indistinct way. Chillwave’s evil sister witchhouse (or hauntology or whatever you want to call it) at least acknowledges there’s a problem. Nothing is clearly articulated, but the music vibrates with a nameless dread. It’s a start. And then there’s (my preferred option at the moment), plenty of noisy punk bands who specialise in unfocussed screaming. No idea what the lyrics are, but they sound angry, and that’s refreshing. Furthermore, interestingly, the only good examples I can think of political songs in recent years are from mainstream pop music – Ms Dynamite, MIA, Lily Allen.

Politics in pop doesn’t have to mean Levellers style crusty pontificating (practised in the modern day by Frank Turner) or pompous Bono-isms. Think micro not macro, tell stories, explore the personal becoming political. If you think the political situation, locally and globally is bad now, hold tight, it’s going to get a lot worse. And we will need everything we can in our arsenal to come out of it the other side as human beings who can look into the eyes of somebody who scares us and see another human being. Pop music, your humans need you.

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