Modern Protest Songs
By: Daniel F.
With the nation in political turmoil again, music has once again been used as a form of protest. Protest songs were common in the Vietnam era, protesting the war effectively. Now, protest songs have come full circle with the current political climate and anger over the government. Here are fourteen modern protest songs that have come out.
“Kissability” by Sonic Youth
Released in 1988, “Kissability” manages to capture the feel of the #MeToo Movement before it even began. With Kim Gordon singing as a sleazy man in entertainment, the song tackles how women are taken advantage of in the industry for their looks and their “kissability.”
“Sleep Now in the Fire” by Rage Against the Machine
Mixing the ferocity of punk and metal, the beats of funk, and Zach de la Rocha’s rapping skills, Rage Against the Machine proved to be one of the biggest bands of the Nineties. “Sleep Now in the Fire” features a Stooges-style riff (“T.V. Eye”) and de la Rocha rapping about greed and the atrocities committed by the United States during war. The music video also features a man holding a sign that says, “Donald J. Trump for President.”
“Idioteque” by Radiohead
Radiohead already proved they could tackle mainstream issues with their 1997 album “OK Computer.” Then they went in a different direction musically and made the electronic “Idioteque.” Featuring cut-up lyrics, the song talked about climate change with “Ice age coming” and frequent use of phones with “Mobiles skwerking/Mobiles chirping.”
“Young Men Dead” by The Black Angels
Mixing psychedelic rock and blues, The Black Angels take subtle shots at politics. “Young Men Dead” tacked war with the lines “With a drop of blood/You will take them out for me” and “Fire from the hills, pick up speed and let’s go/Fire for real, yeah, shoot to kill with no aim.”
“Icky Thump” by The White Stripes
Tackling immigration issues, Jack White made a statement with 2007’s “Icky Thump.” Featuring the lyrics “White Americans, what/Nothing better to do/Why don’t you kick yourself out/You’re an immigrant too.” White also used the lyrics to tackle Trump’s views on immigration and made a shirt with the words “Icky Trump” and the lyrics on it.
“Uprising” by Muse
Mixing synths that sound like they come out of “Doctor Who,” Muse made this anthem that is reminiscent of “1984.” With lyrics that include rising against a Big Brother type figure and a catchy chorus that has the lines “They will not force us/They will stop degrading us/They will not control us/We will be victorious,” the song is a great pump up for a protest.
“21st Century Breakdown” by Green Day
Green Day already showed the power of punk with 2004’s “American Idiot” but “21st Century Breakdown” encompasses the anxieties of the new millennium. With lyrics that focus on how the people started to distrust the government during the Vietnam War, Green Day says that the past has dictated the scorn people now have for the government today.
“Higgs Boson Blues” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have been around since the eighties and have produced interesting and menacing songs on a variety of topics. Cave is a poet first and a musician second. With the stream-of-consciousness style lyrics of “Higgs Boson Blues,” Cave talks about the start of blues and rock with Robert Johnson and moves on to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel. He then tackles how celebrities like Miley Cyrus say they will help out the poor when they stay comfortable in their mansions.
“Lampshades on Fire” by Modest Mouse
Known for their metaphorical lyrics and interesting sounds, Modest Mouse tackle issues under lyrics that sound like they make no sense. “Lampshades on Fire” tackles global warming with the lyrics “Pack up again, head to the next place/Where we’ll make the same mistakes” and “Well, we’re the human race/We’re gonna party out of this place/And then move on/Tough love.”
“Bored in the USA” by Father John Misty
Father John Misty references an iconic protest song (Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”) with the title. With lyrics that tackle debt, drug use, and racism, the song manages to capture Americans today. The lines “Can I get my money back?,” “Save me, white Jesus,” and “Keep my prescriptions filled,” tackle how Americans feel today.
“Burn the Witch” by Radiohead
Radiohead once again made a sound change with the plucking of a string orchestra in the fraught, nervous “Burn the Witch.” Tackling paranoia like only Radiohead can with the lyrics “This is a round-up/This is a low flying panic attack” and “Abandon all reason/Avoid all eye contact/Do not react.” The music video is also an homage to the 1973 horror classic “The Wicker Man.”
“Smell the Roses” by Roger Waters
Roger Waters has always been protesting through his music as seen in the Pink Floyd albums “The Dark Side of the Moon,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Animals,” and “The Wall.” His first album in twenty-five years has him tackling greed and the new Trump era especially with the lines “Throw a photo on the funeral pyre/Yeah, now we can forget the threat she poses/Girl you know you couldn’t get much higher.”
“American Soul” by U2
U2 has always been putting out protest songs with “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day,” and “Bullet the Blue Sky.” With an opening narration by rapper Kendrick Lamar, the song is led by Edge’s distorted guitar riffs and Bono’s singing. The song takes on the refugee crisis with the lines “Let it be unity, let it be community/For refugees like you and me/A country to receive us/Will you be our sanctuary.”
“This Is America” by Childish Gambino
The music video for “This Is America” is the most shocking part of it. Gambino dances his way through the video and proceeds to shoot someone in the head and a church choir. This references the racism and treatment African-Americans by police officers throughout the country. It also tackles America’s unwillingness for gun control with all the recent mass shootings.
“Kissability” from LashedPorpoise on YouTube.
“Sleep Now in the Fire” from RATMVEVO on YouTube.
“Idioteque” from Sunny V. Willow on YouTube.
“Young Men Dead” from jamesblonde1324 on YouTube
“Icky Thump” from Dylan E. on YouTube.
“Uprising” from LilyRoseMedley1 on YouTube.
“21st Century Breakdown” from Green Day on YouTube.
“Higgs Boson Blues” from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds on YouTube.
“Lampshades on Fire” from MODESTMOUSE on YouTube.
“Bored in the USA” from Sub Pop on YouTube.
“Burn the Witch” from Radiohead on YouTube.
“Smell the Roses” from rogerwatersVEVO on YouTube.
“American Soul” from U2 on YouTube.
“This Is America” from Donald Glover on YouTube.