Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sing and Don't Shut Up

It's another blog about politics. Sorry.


The person holding that 'Mad as Hell' sign in the above photo is Welsh singer Charlotte Church, who took the streets of Cardiff last Saturday to protest against the recently re-elected Conservative government. As you'd probably expect, a lot of people had opinions about this:


I've never heard of a book called Shut Up and Sing, but whether or not Theodore knew it, he was also referencing a documentary about the Dixie Chicks, three more female musicians who were criticised for making political statements:


Back in 2003, Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines stated during a gig in London that the band were "ashamed" to share their home state with then-President George W. Bush. The (largely right-wing) country music fandom responded angrily, burning the Chicks' CDs and picketing their concerts.

It's a rather bizarre line of thinking to which the Chicks and now Charlotte Church have fallen prey: for some reason, a lot of people seem to think that pop musicians aren't allowed to express - or perhaps even have - political opinions. People like Theodore seem to be of the opinion that, since the main job of a singer is to entertain, that singer isn't allowed to have any thoughts outside of their performances.

But when the hell did we start thinking like this? Politics has always had its place in popular music, particularly within the folk culture (think Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, etc.) but also in more commercial genres like rock and pop and what have you. Heck, the 1980s were some of the most commercialised years in music history, and there were loads of political songs coming out back then.


We now live in an era of political strife comparable to the Thatcher years, and yet - as Dorian Lynskey points out in 33 Revolutions Per Minute - this is a real dry period for protest songs. Why, when there are so many things to protest about, is nobody writing political songs any more?

Perhaps because of people like Theodore telling artists to "shut up and sing". Personally, I'd love to hear more political outspokenness from my favourite artists - there are plenty of post-millennial political anger albums on my CD rack, but most of them (At War with the Mystics by The Flaming Lips is a good example) hide their messages behind layers of imagery and cryptic lyricism. What we need is a Radiohead song called Fuck Off David Cameron or something like that.

Oh, and as for the people calling Charlotte Church a 'champagne socialist' - why should having money preclude someone from caring about those who don't?

Charlotte Church recently responded to her critics with an article in the Guardian. Read it here.

1 comment:

  1. It's really interesting that Owen Jones was Paloma Faith's support act too (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/01/paloma-faith-support-act-music-struggle). Whilst not directly fitting in to the whole protest singer scenario, it is reminiscent of people like Phil Jupitus supporting Billy Bragg in the 80s and before that Norman Lovett supporting the Clash. In a way, it's really inspiring that an artist as accessible as Paloma Faith is looking to share ideas and thinking that isn't intrinsically linked with her fan base.

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