The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Exploring the growth of political expression in music

4 min read
By ALICEN HACKNEY Staff Writer In the midst of the controversial Trump administration, music is getting more political.

Rolling Stones


Staff Writer

In the midst of the controversial Trump administration, music is getting more political.

Punk and rock bands have always been known for satire and brash political commentary within their songs, but now they’re taking on a more educational and motivational tome.

After the 2016 election, bands in these genres, and many others incorporated some new political discourse into their performances, speaking mostly about their disdain for the president or their disapproval of governmental decisions. This continues on two years later, but in recent months these musicians have taken to social media and the press to encourage civic participation in fields like voting, rallying, and petitioning.

“Political activism has always been part of the punk scene, of course, but in the last several years punk musicians have become more vocal about the issues within the scene itself, like sexual abuse, in addition to rallying people to political causes,” said sophomore Grace Brecht, who said she gets her music news mainly from music magazines’ websites.

“Outside of punk, more mainstream musicians have started making statements about their own political beliefs and urging people to register to vote. What’s interesting is that this includes up-and-coming artists, which suggests that it’s less of a career killer to be outspoken about political beliefs nowadays.”

Source: Rolling Stones | The members of SWMRS.

Musicians who have been in the punk scene for upwards of 30 years do continue to take part in pushing their younger audience to participate in political activism, but recent years have given rise to a younger group of punk musicians with fire in their bellies.

Bands like SWMRS and The Regrettes have been spreading voter registration and participation information, as well as support for the women’s rights movement and information on how to contact your representatives through their band’s Instagram account and on each musician’s personal account.

 “I’ve been motivated to further examine ingrained societal values and their place in today’s world, by the activism and discussion I’ve seen amongst the musicians I follow,” said junior Mary Foster who primarily listens to pop and pop/punk music.

“I’ve also been further prompted to participate in democratic processes, and re-examined my own opinions on controversial topics, boosted by the anecdotes, statistics, and histories they have shared. Their own examination of value, opinion, and self has only further driven me to review and explore my own actions and systems of belief.”

 Musicians’ influence reaches beyond the music itself. As public figures, they have a responsibility to inform their audience and be honest about their morals.

 “I do think that musicians have a responsibility to use their positions as people with an audience to make sure that their audience isn’t tuned out. Most of the time musicians will talk about issues that are important to them onstage or in interviews, and from what I’ve seen, for the most part, it’s done responsibly. The important thing is to not talk over or silence people who have more experience with a certain issue,” said Brecht.

 In the punk community, the importance of being well informed is particularly stressed. Musicians like Cole Becker, SWMRS’ vocalist, and guitarist, post not only information about voter registration and contact information for government officials but also informational outlets for voters to use to get informed about candidates and representatives.

 “I feel that those in any position of influence, regardless of a career, have a responsibility to be aware of their audience and the knowledge that their voice carries power and influence. They may speak for themselves, but they are not the only ones hearing what they have to say.

I feel that there are a few examples where such an influence has been used to reach corrupt means, but more recently, such influence has mainly been used to communicate opinion paired with the equalizer of neutral fact and call to form one’s own opinion and system of belief,” said Foster.

 While it is becoming fairly commonplace to voice opinions and information about political issues in the punk and rock music genre, in some other genres it isn’t so widely accepted or visible.

  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of the people I follow post about activism on their part or in general. My social media accounts for classical musicians seem to be more like portfolios, but I think that they should start using it more for activism. I’d definitely like to see them do more with it since they have such a big following,” said freshman Ivy Sanders, who primarily listens to classical and orchestral music.

 In some fields, engaging in political activism has caused public figures to be widely criticized and lose some of their following. This is often seen in genres that are primarily appreciated by an older crowd or by a crowd with a generally consistent political affiliation. While in the punk genre it is widely acceptable to voice political opinions and always has been, in some genres this is considered controversial and can deeply affect a person’s career.

 “I feel like being responsibly active is tricky. I think the most quote-unquote ‘responsible’ way to go about activism is holding no biases, which is extremely hard on a public platform that has the purpose of encouraging the moderator to share their own voice and opinions. However, I personally feel like it’s responsible to say, ‘This topic/issue exists. Here are my views, you [the reader] should look into it.’ As long as they don’t criticize others or talk them down, I think it’s okay,” said Sanders.

 With this rise of political discourse within the punk and rock genres, there may be an influx of fans headed to the voting booth. The influence of these musicians cannot be discounted.