Arts & Entertainment Editor
For centuries now music has been one of the most universal forms of expression. It can give people a look into your mind, and help them understand how you think or feel. Most importantly, it can be shared and assist in coming up with a common idea or voice.
Music has become a kind of timeless artifact for future generations to see what society was like in the past. It’s a way to understand the viewpoints and political climates of those that came before us.
Musicians will often find their inspiration by looking at the world around them. During the Vietnam War, dozens of artists such as The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Aretha Franklin, released songs expressing their position on the war.
Likewise, similar concepts came out of other controversial periods of time for example the civil rights movement.
One of the most famous time periods of change in not only the country but in music was the Psychedelia and the Psychedelic movement. The movement is considered to have lasted from 1960-1975.
According to an article written by The Guidance stating the top 50 albums that changed music, 18 out of 50 of the albums came from that 15 year span of time.
The height of the music during the Psychedelic movement is considered to be 1967, otherwise known as The Summer of Love.
The Summer of Love give us albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and also debuted music from Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, and the Grateful Dead.
The Summer of Love symbolized a large counterculture movement where the youth of America began to regret the ideals of their parents and the norms of the 1950s.
By listening to the music emerging from this time period, we are able to get a better understand of how the youth of America may have felt rather than just reading about it in a textbook.
With that in mind, it raises the question how does current music reflect our culture and how will people look back on it?
We are currently living in a strange period in time. By looking at the results of the 2016 Presidential election, we are able to see the polarization in American especially concerning politics.
The vote was essentially split with Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote, but having the electoral college turn on those that voted democrat and elect Donald Trump.
This means that the country has a president that majority of those that voted didn’t want.
Because of this there has been a rise identity group politics, meaning people expect you to be completely faithful to your political party.
Both parties are now moving further in the specified direction, creating intense disagreement in policy and conflict in America.
As Amy Chua writes in her book, Political Tribes, “The Left believes that right-wing tribalism—bigotry, racism—is tearing the country apart. The Right believes that left-wing tribalism—identity politics, political correctness—is tearing the country apart. They are both right.”
Looking at this from the perspective of music, there are two school of thought. Those that want to use their musical platform to speak out against what they believe is wrong, and those that feel catch in the middle and are looking for an escape.
Back in May of 2018, Childish Gambino, as knowns as Donald Glover, released the music video for his song, “This is America”.
In an analysis of the video done by NPR, NPR Music hip-hop journalist Rodney Carmichael said, “The South African melodies suddenly give way to this really dark Southern American trap music. The rest of the video is this barrage of symbolism and chaos.”
According to the article, the video contains “Jim Crow imagery, dancing schoolchildren toting firearms and a black gospel choir. Glover opens fire on the choir, a seeming reference to the Charleston church mass shooting of 2015.”
Glover has not made any comment about the symbolism in the video, which leaves it open to interpretation of the viewer.
However, with the title of the song and the imaginy seen in the video it is clearly calling out the issues in current American culture, primarily concerning racism.
As Carmichael puts it, “I think with Glover, he wants to be putting out the concerns of black folk, of folks who are voiceless in this world. And I think he wants to present it in a way where it’s as challenging to his audience as it is to those outside on a mass scale.”
Another artist that used their music video as a platform to call out issues with our society was Father John Mister, also known as Josh Tillman.
Not receiving as much attention as “This is America”, Tillman released a song in 2017 titled “Pure Comedy.” The song addresses issues of death, injustice, human vanity and politics. Things that Tillman does not see right with our country.
The artist specifically attacks Trump with the lyric, “Where did they find these goons they elected to rule them?” showing images of him in the music video.
While some artists chose to talk the issues we are facing, others have created an escapist lifestyle. An example of this is the artist Lil Pump and his song “Gucci Gang.” Lil Pump got his start on the online streaming app, Soundcloud in 2016.
He was later signed to a record label and released his song “Gucci Gang.” While the song is in a sense mindless, it creates an escape from everyday life and lets the listener imagine the life they wish they had.
The song is about everything he can afford now that he has made it big.
This structures the idea that anyone can make it on Soundcloud, YouTube, or any other social media platform.
Our society right now is instantaneous, which is reflected in our music and who is popular.
What will people see looking back at the music of the 2010s? Will they see people that were trying to strive for political and social change?
Or will they see people that were trying to tune it out, and look the other way?
Erin McNemar can be contacted at