Far too often, critics will tell the creatives of the world to "stay out of politics." But any artist worth their salt knows that art is one of the best ways to convey social issues of the day, and music no exception. But what about the songs you either forgot or never knew were about politics or social justice?
1. "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen
Springsteen's 1984 classic sounds, on the surface, like a rock ode to all things 'Merica, and that feeling has turned it into a classic Fourth of July anthem. But then you examine things a bit closer and realize that it's about the shameful mistreatment of Vietnam War veterans. Not exactly patriotic.
2. "YMCA" by The Village PeopleGiphy
You thought this was just a silly dance song for weddings and bar mitzvahs? Wrong! According to producer Jacques Morali, the group was designed specifically to appeal to gay men in the disco scene and that included making a song "for young men to enjoy," if you catch my drift. While that isn't so controversial now, The Village People were definitely pushing the envelope of gay acceptance back in their heyday.
3. "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
If you grew up when I did, you probably associate this song with a dancing CGI penguin. Little did we all know that this was actually about the plight of African Americans in the 80s. Between the crack epidemic and high crime rates, the Reagan Years were not the best time to be a Black person living in the big city. While it's seen as a fun dance song these days, Grandmaster Flash's hit was actually a tale of the plight of America's urban centers, places that 80s politics pushed close to the edge.
4. "Tubthumping" by ChumbawumbaGiphy
That's right, this infamous drinking song is actually about politics, the farthest left politics possible in fact. Most people don't know this, but Chumbawumba was a radical anarchist collective as much if not more than they were a music group. As such many interpret their biggest hit as being about the struggles of the working class, a class of people that aristocrats knock down, but that get up again.
5. "Not Ready to Make Nice" by Dixie Chicks
Because country is, on the whole, a conservative genre, it's not too fond of big political statements. The Dixie Chicks found that out the hard way when they publicly criticized then-President George W. Bush and saw their careers nearly collapse as a result. Their response? Give country music the finger and double down on that criticism! These women put it best in this very song when saying that punishment of free speech made them "mad as Hell."
This is just a small sample of music that touches on politics. Songs dealing with political problems can be found across time, place, and genre. While some people insist that artists just "shut up and sing," social justice and protest remain key to popular music staying relevant, and most fans wouldn't have it any other way.