20 protest songs plus 20 organisations you can support with donations. Help them in their fight against the new POTUS.
So, former reality TV/game show host Donald John Trump is President of the United States of America. Let that sink in for a minute. A television personality, with a sideline in real estate, is President. Of the most powerful country on the face of the planet. As Philip Roth, author of The Plot Against America, told the New Yorker recently, “Trump is just a con artist. (He is) ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.” This is the most powerful person in the world.
There’s going to be a lot of frustration and protests in the next four years so here are twenty modern protest songs that will help you get through the chaos.
Along with each protest song is a link to an organisation you can support in the fight against Donald Trump.
1Father John Misty – ‘Pure Comedy’
This here is the song that inspired this list. The title track, and first song, to be released from Father John Misty’s upcoming album, the track is an exploration of the irony of humanity. As Joshua Tillman, who writes under the pseudonym Father John Misty, says, “These ironies are designed to help cope with the species’ loathsome vulnerability and to try and reconcile how disproportionate their imagination is to the monotony of their existence.”
With lyrics like “And they get terribly upset / When you question their sacred texts / Written by woman-hating epileptics” and “Where did they find these goons they elected to rule them? What makes these clowns they idolize so remarkable?”, the track is a blunt and disgusted look at humankind.
Musically, the track takes a form akin to a piano ballad in the style of Elton John or John Lennon, creating an atmosphere that nearly laments the deficiencies in humanity that could lead to our extinction. In turn, this allows the lyrics to resonate and linger in the listener’s consciousness long after the song has ended.
2Kendrick Lamar – ‘Alright’
This track, taken from Lamar’s stellar third album To Pimp A Butterfly, is fast becoming associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. The hook, “Nigga, we gon’ be alright”, has been chanted by activists across the United States in protests against police brutality. The track sends a message of hope that despite the pain and suffering in life, African Americans will survive in solidarity.
Full of references to dissatisfaction with consumerism and the vices that distract and numb Lamar from the complications of life, he asserts that he will persevere until he is right with God. A complicated and nuanced track, ultimately the overriding message is one of positivity and determination to survive and thrive. A message that everyone can do with at this dark time in human history.
3Kate Tempest – ‘Europe Is Lost’
London based performance poet/rapper/novelist Kate Tempest is a singular talent. Her direct words and passionate performances are spellbinding and rare, and regularly focused on the ills of society and the difficulties of urban life. ‘Europe is Lost’, taken from her 2016 album Let Them Eat Chaos, explores a whole cavalcade of various topics: social media, apathy, the corruption of the political class, consumerism, nationalism, ignorance, and depression are all broached with equal levels of disdain.
Take this passage as an example: “Politico cash in an envelope / Caught sniffing lines off a prostitutes prosthetic tits / And it’s back to the house of lords with slapped wrists / They abduct kids and fuck the heads of dead pigs /But him in a hoodie with a couple of spliffs / Jail him, he’s the criminal”. Better yet, watch her spite this lines of invective above.
4Raye Zaragoza – ‘In The River’
A stripped down track simply consisting of a gently strummed electric guitar and the New York based singer songwriter’s soulful vocals, ‘In The River’ was written to directly protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. A heartfelt and beautful ode to nature and the importance of its protection, the song is simple but extremely effective. Sometimes, less is more.
“What inspired me most was listening to different testimonials of the Standing Rock Sioux people,” explains Raye. “Hearing them speak of their concern for their children and the generations to come. The more and more I read about what is happening in North Dakota, the more it breaks my heart. I am Native myself, Pima, and will do whatever I can to support the Standing Rock Sioux. Any threat to water is a threat to all of us. I wanted to see what I could do to help, and this video is a start.”
5Perfume Genius – ‘Queen’
This track, by Seattle based singer/songwriter Perfume Genius (aka Mike Hadreas), has one of my favourite choruses of 2014. “No family is safe / When I sashay”. For me it perfectly ridicules the irrational and illogical conservative fear of homosexuality and queer culture. It is also a gloriously majestic celebration of sexuality, and diversity.
“Sometimes I see faces of blank fear when I walk by,” Perfume Genius explained in a press release. “If these fucking people want to give me some power—if they see me as some sea witch with penis tentacles that are always prodding and poking and seeking to convert the muggles—well, here she comes.”
Plus, the video, directed by Cody Critcheloe, and song are rather fabulous.
6G.L.O.S.S. – ‘G.L.O.S.S. (We’re From The Future)’
Now sadly defunct, Olympia, Washington’s G.L.O.S.S. (Girls Living Outside Society’s Shit) certainly made an impact with their explosively political hardcore punk during their short existence. ‘G.L.O.S.S. (We’re From The Future)’ was pretty much their theme song. In a one and half minute blast, the song forcefully asserts that future belongs to ‘faggots’ and ‘femmes’ and that “trendy mutant skinheads can jerk themselves off”. This all takes place over throat ripping screams and near thrash metal riffs and drum beats.
7IDLES – ‘Divide & Conquer’
We’ve heard the upcoming debut album, aptly entitled Brutalism, from polemic post punks IDLES, and we’re confident that it will be one of the best of 2017. ‘Divide & Conquer’ is a highlight. Sporting jagged, angular guitar, a rumbling and intimidating bass-line and scathing lyrics focused at the the near destruction of the NHS in the UK by the Tories, the track doesn’t shy away from accusing those responsible. Witness the refrain: “A loved one perished at the hand of the baron-hearted right”. For much of the song it is coiled and restrained. There’s a constant, underlying tension though. Which eventually explodes into guitar freak outs, and hellish background screams.
“It was written at a time where I watched my mother deteriorate in a hospital that was itself dying, “explains the band. “The song was an observation on how simple financial cuts and the mere action of writing a cross in a box can cut someone’s life short. Today the Tories have started the campaign to sell what ever is left of our NHS or the Sustainability and Transformation Plan as they’ve put it. Fuck off.”
8Sleaford Mods – ‘Jobseeker’
I had never heard anything remotely like rap/post-punk duo Sleaford Mods before I actually heard then. It’s rare to say that in 2017. Most bands, even if they are really quite excellent, are not exactly breaking ground musically right now. Sleaford Mods are. With their simplistic minimal beats and Jason Williamson’s irate and acerbic explorations of austerity-era Britain, and British culture, they are a unique and confrontational proposition.
‘Jobseeker’, taken from the Mods’ second album The Mekon, is a scathing and no holds barred depiction of life on welfare/the dole/the giro or whatever you wish to label it. It shows how people on the dole are dehumanised, and how the mundanity of being a cog in the machine can affect an individual’s mental health. As one supporter on Bandcamp put it, “Like PiL filtered thru a gritty Northern housing scheme with the D.T. shakes and raging intellect!”
As Williamson himself told the Guardian, “There really is no future for a lot of people out there, so some of them, they fuck it up by getting into drugs or crime, but most people manage to keep it together. They work shit jobs all their life and take the piss out of each other to get by. And it’s that experience I want to articulate and that humour I hold close to myself. Besides, who else is writing and singing about that?”
9The Spook School – ‘Burn Masculinity’
The Spook School are a DIY pop punk quartet from Edinburgh and are signed to Fortuna POP! That should tell you plenty about the band. They are also a group that explore gender, sexuality and queer issues such as the lack of binary identity in gender and gender fluidity.
‘Burn Masculinity’, taken from their second album I Try To Be Hopeful, is a short blast of vulnerable defiance which points out the flaws in gender stereotypes (“And I’ll never be as strong as my mother”)(“And I’ll never be as sensitive as my brother”) and the ridiculousness of a man apologising to a woman’s boyfriend when they should apologising to her (“It made you think that you could go on insulting her / and then apologise when her boyfriend walks in”). As a result, the song advocates getting rid of masculinity altogether.
With Trump in power they have a good point.
10Regina Spektor – ‘Ballad of a Politician’
Regina Spektor has an interesting background. Born in Moscow in the former Soviet Union in 1980, she began classical music training at the age of six before her family moved to the United States in 1989. She then began writing songs in her teens. I would wager that by growing up in America to Russian parents she has a rather unique perspective on politics.
Her track ‘Ballad of a Politician’ has little respect for our ‘public servants’. She depicts them as those that will do anything to get ahead (“Shake it, shake it baby / Shake your ass out in that street”). Shameless and conniving shysters who manipulate and lie (“You love so deep, so tender / Your people and your land / You love ’em ’til they can’t recall / Who they are again.”) Her background combined with these lyrics suggest that politicians are much the same the world over.
11Jack O’Rourke – ‘Silence’
This track by Cork, Ireland singer/songwriter Jack O’Rourke became the anthem for the Marraige Equality movement in Ireland in 2015. The piano ballad tells the story of a boy who spends much of his youth pretending to be something he’s not. He bragged about his girlfriends, blue tacked football posters on his wall, threw away the kitchen set he got for Christmas, and “strengthened up his wrist”. He ‘passed’ as straight much like how Irene Redfield passes as white in Nella Larsen’s seminal Harlem Renaissance novel Passing.
A delicate and reflective song, it explores issues of sexuality but also the fluidity of gender. As anyone who felt less then 100% masculine is bound to identify in some manner with the track. As Jack himself told us, “I tried to be a jock in school. I played football and had girlfriends. You can sometimes almost become a caricature of what you’re supposed to be. It (‘Silence’) is very autobiographical, but it is also universal too as it is about oppression and even beyond sexuality.”
12ANOHNI – ‘Drone Bomb Me’
When this song premiered on BBC Radio, ANOHNI (Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons) said, “It’s a love song from the perspective of a girl in Afghanistan, say a 9-year-old girl whose family’s been killed by a drone bomb. She is kind of looking up at the sky and she’s gotten herself to a place where she just wants to be killed by a drone bomb too.” In the West, we don’t really care who dies ‘over there’ as long as there are no body bags coming home. Our governments seem to have figured this out and are taking full advantage of the fact.
20% of those killed by drone attacks between 2004 and 2011 were civilians. A completely unacceptable percentage. According to Pakastani sources, the rate is even worse. They claim that drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 14 terrorist leaders, but also killed 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians per leader. As Jimmy Carter has said about drones, “”We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks … This would have been unthinkable in previous times.”
I guess out of sight, out of mind.
13Bad Breeding – ‘Burn This Flag’
On this short blast of polemic punk, Stevenage group Bad Breeding rail against extreme nationalism and those that represent the UK politically. Bleak and cynical, theirs is a sound that focus on discordance and chaos to make its point.
“Somehow we’ve ended up suffering and are being made scapegoats for a supposed economic and societal decline: we’re the benefits cheats, the overweight scroungers and crisis-loan gobblers who are to blame; not the Tory-backed bankers who got greedy, gambled our livelihoods and futures and have now left us scrambling for the minimal scraps left.”
It’s fair to say they’re not Theresa May fans.
14The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing – ‘Doing It For The Whigs’
Unashamedly anti Tory, the first line of this political steampunk track goes, “This country is going to the dogs / Tory rule has gone on far too long”. Again, no Theresa May fans over here. Describing themselves as “Crusty punk meets cockney sing-songs meets grindcore in the 1880s”, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing have written a song as if they are living in the 19th Century. As is their wont.
The refrain, “Here we go / We’re doing it for the Whigs” refers to the name of the liberal party in England at that time. The conceit serves to show that how much things change, they stay the same.
15She Drew The Gun – ‘Poem’
Psych pop trio decry unchecked capitalism and the effects of an unregulated free market on society on their minimal and striking track ‘Poem’. The song decries our tendency to ignore the ills of the world in favour of trinkets and distractions. It attacks the Brave New World-esque society we have become. “We’ve got to stop enjoying ourselves the whole time and try to change things, or it’ll be too late”, says Louisa Roach (singer/songwriter).
This is clearly evident at the outset of the song as Roach laments the ‘disappearing’ of homeless people: “It’s not enough to just pretend you don’t see him / you can’t stand the sight so you have to disappear him / well I hope you feel more comfortable doing your sightseeing / taking pictures, buying fucking Union Jack magnets and keyrings”. Later she attacks the mundanity and stifling nature of the underpaid 9-5 and the distraction of social media: “If there was no unemployment tell me how would things be / Would you still feel lucky to be working 40 hours a week / Well like a caged bird and they got us by the beak / give us enough to eat, enough to sleep, enough to tweet”.
A quietly revolutionary song.
16Fucked Up – ‘Queen of Hearts’
Fucked Up’s third studio album David Comes To Life is one of the great modern rock (hardcore punk) operas. It tells the story of David, a worker at a light bulb factory in England in the 70’s or 80’s. He meets Veronica and promptly falls in love. They begin a plot to bomb the factory, but Veronica is killed in the explosion. Following this David learns from his ex-girlfriend Vivian Benson, that he is a character in a story controlled by Octavio St. Laurent. David battles for control of the plot but loses. Eventually it turns out that Octavio was responsible for Veronica’s death. Veronica’s spirit returns to David and he decides their time together was worthwhile. He chooses to relive everything again.
‘Queen of Hearts’ explores the moment that David and Veronica fell in love, and their burgeoning hate for the owners of the factory and feeling of strength together. It’s a somewhat hopeful song, with hints of foreboding. It’s basically that moment when everything feels perfect before everything goes to shit.
A tale of love and revolution. Romantic, but powerfully visceral too.
17Arcade Fire – ‘We Exist’
This song and video for the song came in for a bit of flak when they released due to the fact that Win Butler, who sings and wrote the song, is a cisgender straight guy and so is the actor who stars as the abused transgender woman in the video, Andrew Garfield. However, I can see why Andrew Garfield was chosen to star instead of a transgender actor. Simply, a video with Andrew Garfield playing a transgender woman will be more newsworthy than one with a person of lesser renown. In turn, this draws more attention to the issues that face transgender people in the world today than a video without him.
That may be pretty cynical but it is not inaccurate. This is a track by a mainstream band that is attempting to draw attention to the problems faced by a relatively ignored minority in society. That should always be lauded and not attacked. Plus, it’s a pretty damn fine song too.
18Faith No More ‘Superhero’
This Faith No More track from their unreasonably excellent comeback album Sol Invictus seems rather apt at the moment. As Mike Patton croons “Leader of men / Leader of men / Get back in your cage”, one can’t help but think, “Fuck yeah. Get back in your cage, Trump. Wind your neck in.”
Other than that, this track is not overtly political. However, it does get the blood flowing and the body moving. Which is always welcome and necessary.
19Eddie Vedder ‘Society’
Taken from the soundtrack for the Sean Penn directed Into The Wild, ‘Society’ mirrors the themes of that film and many Pearl Jam songs. It explores how we, the human race, have all that we need and yet greed leads to starvation, poverty, and death. It also explores the feelings of wanting out of this overbearing, constrictive, and suffocating society that we have created.
Reflective and mournful, the track reflects the ideas of the film’s protagonist Christopher McCandless. He was an American history and anthropology graduate who dropped out of society to become an itinerant worker, hiking his way across America. Ultimately, McCandless died in Alaska probably after eating poisonous berries. This raises the question: a safe, suffocating, and bland life or absolute freedom, which is preferable?
20Prophets of Rage ‘Prophets of Rage’
We couldn’t really have a list of protest music without a band with members of Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill now could we? Of course we know that this song is essentially a cover of the Public Enemy track which appeared on their 1988 album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, but this one has the fiery guitar assault of Tom Morello and the heavy and funky rhythm section of Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk.
This means that the song is given a new energy. A riff heavy, warning shot to the powers that be.