Music has always had a close relationship with protest and progressivism. Whether Marvin Gaye’s soul classic What’s Going On? or Nina Simone’s iconic commentary in Strange Fruit, recently named the greatest protest song by Time Out magazine, artists have used their music to communicate a sense of injustice for as long as music has existed. In the 21st century, a new and potent movement is being pushed forward by musical artists to embrace a new way of progressivism and ethical consumerism.
The gun control debate
Perhaps the most pressing current cause in the music movement concerns gun control. Gun control has been a controversial subject in popular culture, especially in art. Music has sought to open up the debate, and inspiration has come from some surprising viewpoints. In January, Eminem’s Darkness divided opinion as people weighed up whether it was glorifying or decrying gun violence. However, the overriding message of the song was a belief that gun control needed to be looked at again. The impetus of music in these types of debates can be powerful. Increasingly, those looking to make investments are finding ethical options easier to see. As people in positions of authority are widely heard, it becomes easier for consumers to make more ethical choices, whether that be in how they invest or simply in terms of what they buy.
Positivity and mental wellness
Linking in with the message of progressivism in terms of specific causes, like gun control, is a wider move towards positivity in music. British band IDLES have made waves and gained a huge following by pairing aggressive and fast music with a message lauding positivity, comfort with your own self, and fighting back against the influence of mass media as it plays on hopes and fears. Rather than being mass-produced music that appeals to what will sell, and plays on the wants of listeners, this new wave of positive-oriented artists is hoping to inspire and provide strength to a whole new generation of listeners. This can only be a positive thing, and has a link to what artists are trying to achieve.
The artist’s sense of fairness
What do artists receive in exchange for taking a social stand? Increasingly, artists are using their platform to raise issues of fairness within the music industry. This is largely aimed at benefiting smaller artists – currently, the pay-per-stream allowance given is a pittance, with only the largest artists able to wager for their own produce, according to Rolling Stone. By showing that they can be a force for social good, artists are helping to foster a sense of community with consumers and listeners; in the long-term, this can help to benefit both artists and wider society.
Music has always been political and progressive. In good times, music tends to be plainer; in potentially hard times, such as today, it can be more controversial. This is being seen with music playing a key role in helping out notable causes, and in the process helping to raise its own problems and its own profile.