Ever since Ludwig van Beethoven first declared that “music can change the world,” artists from all walks of life have fought to see these changes take effect. Through their songs, musicians like Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, and countless more have helped provide a voice to those who feel like they don’t have one. But that's not enough.
Protest songs might draw attention to important issues that affect us all, but if we’re to make the kind of changes that socially conscious artists like 2Pac have fought for, then we need to add our own voices to the conversation as well.
Election Day is almost upon us and while this vote isn’t a Presidential one, that doesn’t mean it’s not important – quite the opposite. As the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference,” so just remember that by voting, you will have a genuine impact on the future and send out a message to those who do support hate.
In case you need more inspiration, we here at Highsnobiety have compiled some protest songs for you that are more relevant than ever before in the era of Trump. No more walls. No more prejudice. No more pussy grabbing. Listen to every single one of these inspirational songs while you head out to to vote and make a difference. Please head here to find out your polling location and go exercise your freedom!
YG – “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)” ft. Nipsey Hussle
Once an aspirational icon of wealth name-checked by most of your favorite rappers, Donald Trump has since become an object of hate for most hip-hop artists following his ascent to the presidency. Few have attacked America’s leader quite like YG though, delivering a catchy yet savage mantra that gets straight to the point like no other. Whether it’s true or not that the Secret Service threatened to censor the song upon release is beside the point, what you can’t deny is how YG so successfully tapped into the collective rage that minorities across the States felt on the day that Trump came into power.
Most Important Lyrics: “We the youth. We the people of this country. We got a voice too. We will be seen, and we will be heard.”
Janelle Monáe – “Americans”
Through the futuristic story of Cindi Mayweather, Janelle Monáe has long fought for equality in her music. However, it wasn’t until the release of her latest album, Dirty Computer, that the Electric Lady finally ripped open her circuitry to reveal the beating heart that lies underneath. Pushing metaphor aside, Monáe relentlessly calls for the marginalized people of America to resist oppression, and nowhere does she do this better than on “Americans,” which also serves as a powerful culmination of everything that she’s achieved in her career to date.
Most Important Lyrics: “Until women can get equal pay for equal work, This is not my America. Until same-gender loving people can be who they are, This is not my America. Until black people can come home from a police stop without being shot in the head, This is not my America, huh! Until poor whites can get a shot at being successful, This is not my America.”
Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
Although Janelle Monáe claimed that this is not her America, Childish Gambino argued that this is, nonetheless, still America, forcing us to take a look at what this nation has become in the process. The song itself only tells half the story though, and it’s not until you hear the lyrics in combination with the symbolic video that the true power of Gambino’s political intent becomes clear. Like it or not, the gun violence and police brutality that Gambino exposes here via his seemingly carefree dance moves are more representative of America right now than perhaps any other protest song released to date. Don’t like it? Do something about it.
Most Important Lyrics: “You just a black man in this world. You just a barcode, ayy. You just a black man in this world, Drivin' expensive foreigns, ayy.”
Mona Haydar – “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab)”
Despite the wealth of information that’s now available at our fingertips, ignorance has been weaponized by those in power to breed mistrust and intolerance towards various minority groups in today’s America. That’s why protest songs like “Hijabi” are more vital than ever, educating people about the everyday lives of those who might be different to you. In this case, the Syrian-American rapper Mona Haydar reveals the micro-aggressions that she’s forced to deal with on a daily basis simply because of her Muslim values, proudly explaining why she wears her hijab as a symbol of power and religious freedom that everyone deserves.
Most Important Lyrics: “All around the world. Love women every shading. Power run deep so even if you hate it, I still wrap my hijab.”
Arcade Fire – “I Give You Power” ft. Mavis Staples
With the help of gospel legend Mavis Staples, Arcade Fire returned from a two year hiatus in 2016 to release this song as Trump rose to power. Like many Americans who didn’t like the way that politics were heading that year, the title of the song also feels rather helpless, but as with most of the band’s music, there’s a message of hope attached here too. Sure, we’re the ones who give politicians their power, but that means we’re also the ones who can take it away too.
Most Important Lyrics: “Who gives you power? Where do you think it all comes from? I give you power.”
M.I.A. – "Borders"
Although “Paper Planes” samples an iconic protest song first performed by The Clash, it’s M.I.A.’s more recent meditation on the borders that we place between both nations and ourselves that feels more timely than ever. Taking aim at both Europe’s refugee crisis and wider concerns on immigration worldwide, the often divisive artist forces us to question every aspect of our lives, from current political events and shallow internet slang to the institutions that form the very foundations of our society. Whether you celebrate M.I.A. for highlighting the refugee plight or whether you condemn her for pulling focus in the accompanying video, it’s vital nevertheless that we question our own values too before we make our vote count.
Most Important Lyrics: “We representing peeps, they don't play us on the FM. We talkin' in our sleep, they still listen on a system.”
Bob Dylan - "The Times They Are A-Changin'”
Just as relevant now as it was when it was first recorded in 1964, Bob Dylan’s signature song calls on people from all walks of life to embrace change. Although it was released just a few months before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, Dylan avoided specifying the changes that were needed in order to create a more universal message that simply strives to make the world a better place. While most protest songs outline the problems that society faces, “The Times They Are A-Changin'” remains a refreshingly hopeful and optimistic source of inspiration in this often bleak year that we call 2018.
Most Important Lyrics: “The battle outside ragin' will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times they are a-changin.”
Fiona Apple – “Tiny Hands”
Just days before the 2017 Women's March took place, New York songwriter Fiona Apple recorded a minute long anthem on her phone which addressed not only Trump’s own misogyny, but also the wider threat that he represents to women’s reproductive rights on a national scale. Aside from a sample of Trump’s pussy-grabbing recording, the entire song consists of one hilarious line repeated over and over, yet its blunt impact has more reach than those tiny hands ever will.
Most Important Lyrics: “We don’t want your tiny hands anywhere near our underpants.”
Rage Against the Machine - “Killing in the Name”
Released in the wake of the Rodney King riots, Rage Against the Machine’s debut single fused together rap and rock to create a devastatingly furious anthem that fought back against the establishment. By comparing the police brutality of the early '90s to the actions of the Klu Klux Klan, “Killing in the Name” tapped into the collective anger that many Americans felt back then and continue to feel even now thanks to a political system that still favors those in power over the disenfranchised.
Most Important Lyrics: “Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!”
Billie Holiday - "Strange Fruit"
At high personal risk to herself, Billie Holiday regularly performed what would become the first great protest song to stunned crowds of people. Although she didn’t write “Strange Fruit” herself, the eerie intensity of her voice on this track proved that music really can change the world, motivating countless other artists to speak up on the ills of society too. Nina Simone famously covered “Strange Fruit” a few years later after describing it as “the ugliest song I have ever heard” and sure, her version tears at the soul too, but no one else brought the horrors of lynching to life quite like Holiday. Let’s do what we can to make sure that songs like this are no longer needed.
Most Important Lyrics: “Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”
Once again, if you're not sure of your polling location, please check here. Happy voting!