Finding Their Voice: Celebrating the Best Progressive Music of 2012 [MUSIC]
The debate over whether Beyoncé lip-synched the National Anthem days after the inauguration speaks volumes about the potential impact song and music can have on the American psyche patriotically and politically.
While artists like James Taylor, who was featured at inauguration, played a role during the election cycle by hitting the campaign trail. It was even more important to the election's outcome, that musicians spoke truth to power.
So a recap of the ways progressive tunes swayed us in 2012 seems in order, even just to remind us that music—whether prerecorded or live—has the power to not only soundtrack movements, but also hold politicians accountable and inspire change.
As the hours ticked away on the eve of Election Day 2012, Bruce Springsteen took the stage in Des Moines, Iowa, to open for President Obama at the final rally of his last campaign.
Closing with “Land of Hope and Dreams” off his 2012 recession-themed Wrecking Ball album, The Boss connected with the plight of a diverse coalition of voters whose 2008 "hope" had become hardened by tough times.
“In my music I’ve been writing about the difference between the American dream and American reality,” said Springsteen, who went on to thank Obama for healthcare and financial reform. Springsteen's words symbolized an industry finally willing to tell the stories of suffering in this modern Gilded Age.
And just a few years ago musicians coalesced against the Bush Administration's foreign policy, writing powerful and beautiful songs about the Iraq War. Touched young listeners mobilized and registered to vote, paving the way for an Illinois state senator—who opposed the war—to ascend to the Democratic presidential primaries in the very next election.
Yet the celebration of historic victory gave way to inertia. Even as the economy began to collapse, the music industry moved on from politics, and corporate money and Tea Party patriots reigned in 2010.
Thus, it was critical for the progressive movement that musicians (alongside movements) were reminded of their own collective mic checking abilities
Ani DiFranco's updated version of "Which side are you on?" was an appeal "directed towards President Obama,” said Mark Kemp, former music editor of Rolling Stone and author of Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race and New Beginnings in a New South. "It’s important that our musicians are still out there questioning authority.”
Meanwhile, the ruthless rhymes of Journalist 103, Brother Ali, Public Enemy, Reks, Killer Mike and Dead Prez resurrected radical hip-hop. Rapsody emerged as a female MC with consciousness, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis even offered soul-stirring support for the LGBT community, an unusual move for popular hip-hop.
The potential for music to change society has evolved with technology. "Because of Spotify every single one of us is listening to different music, so songs like ‘Fight the Power’ don’t have the same impact," Kemp says. “But a Frank Ocean just being himself has an impact.”
And music is essential for engaging young people in the political process. Perhaps it was significant that the Obama campaign playlist featured Arcade Fire, Dierks Bentley and Raphael Saadiq, while Mitt Romney's had Hall & Oates.
Check out the songs mentioned above by listening to our Spotify Playlist!
Michael Cooper Jr. is a reporter for Campus Progress.