If You Think Taylor Swift Is the Only Artist Making Protest Songs, You're Just Not Listening

Taylor Swift is no stranger to making waves in the music industry. She is the only woman who has six albums that sold more than 500,000 units in the first week, with her newest release, Lover, joining this elite club with over 860,000 album units sold in its first week in the U.S. alone.

The singer is less well known as a prominent voice on political issues. But nestled amid the energetic pop hits and melodic love ballads on Lover is a track called “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince,” which uses a fictional high school world as an allegory for the current state of American politics. Swift explains in her album notes that “this song is about disillusionment with our crazy world of politics and inequality, set in a metaphorical high school.” She sings, “My team is losing / Battered and bruising / I see the high-fives / Between the bad guys / Leave with my head hung,” recounting the despair she feels. Fans are taking to social media praising the song, creating threads on Reddit, and discussing the political nuances that Swift may have hidden in the lyrics. One Reddit user even called the song “blatantly political,” wondering how anyone could miss Swift’s disenchantment with the current administration.

Among the praise and lyric dissection came an op-ed piece in Variety, which called “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” the “great protest song of our time,” claiming that Taylor Swift is creating a dialogue about the political climate “more effectively than her traditionally political elders have” by releasing a song that has the perfect elements of becoming a protest anthem.

All of this praise for the white pop star’s political commentary provides a glaring reminder of how differently the public often responds toward inherently political songs by black artists.

Pop princess Lana Del Rey received similar accolades for her recent track “Looking for America” — a metaphorical tune about her search for a safe space within a country that has been tainted by mass shootings and violence. Some even compared the track to historical protest tunes recorded in the ’60s during the civil rights movement, such as Bob Dylan’s “A Pawn in Their Game” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” Asked about music as a form of protest in a recent interview with the New York Times, Del Rey said that under former president Obama’s administration, artists could “focus on the arts” and they did not have to “talk about certain things” but that is no longer the case. Under the current administration, according to Del Rey, the country is in dire need of protest music.

Black artists are likely wondering what took them so long.

There’s a long, rich history of black artists writing and using protest music. This dates back to the era of slavery, continues through the civil rights movement, and is now prevalent in the era of Black Lives Matter. One notable example is Beyoncé’s Lemonade, a visual album released in 2016. The video for her first single off the album, “Formation,” highlighted many key issues facing the black community. Beyoncé addressed police brutality with imagery of scenes from Ferguson, Missouri, where black teenager Michael Brown was killed, and the government’s neglect toward black Americans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The video also put a spotlight on black women, a group that is often overlooked in women’s movements. Beyoncé performed “Formation” at the 2016 Super Bowl, and her backup dancers were dressed similarly to members of the Black Panther Party, making her political message crystal clear. Some politicians and conservative commentators called the performance “outrageous” and an “attack” on police..”

Source: Beyonce

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