When musicians and politicians collide

In America, we are all guaranteed the right to free speech. But when musicians choose to exercise theirs in regards to politics, conflicts sometimes ensue.

The most recent incident of a musician vs. politician feud was between Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan and Rage Against the Machine (RATM) guitarist Tom Morello. According to Huffington Post, Ryan had previously stated that RATM is his favorite band. Upon hearing this, Morello, in an op-ed on Rolling Stone’s website, said Ryan was “the embodiment of the machine our band rages against.”

(CU Independent Illustration/Josh Shettler)

Morello’s distaste did not stop there. He went on to say that Ryan has plenty of “rage,” but “a rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor [and] a rage against the environment.”

This trend of criticizing a Republican leader is not new. In 2004, during a concert in London, female country group The Dixie Chicks chastised then-President George Bush and fellow Texan, saying, “We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”

Although some may say it was a mild comment, The Dixie Chicks faced much backlash after. Radio stations refused to play their music, the group’s songs disappeared from the charts and lead singer Natalie Maines received death threats. After the incident, the band went on hiatus for three years.

Students seem to have views that support the sales drop The Dixie Chicks experienced after their political remarks.

“I wouldn’t want to be preached at about something I don’t support, so I would stop listening,” said Colten Meisner, a sophomore integrated psychology major.

Since the entertainment industry is known for being leftist, it is no surprise most of musicians’ criticisms is centered against the Republican Party. To counteract this however, country musician Hank Williams Jr. has said some harsh words towards President Obama.

“We’ve got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the U.S. and we hate him!” said Williams at a concert in Iowa. As a result of his inaccurate comment, ESPN stopped playing his song as the opening for “Monday Night Football,” after a 20 year-plus run.

Rock musician Ted Nugent has said some similar remarks about Obama, saying that the president “represents everything bad about humanity,” and “if Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” Nugent was investigated by the Secret Service as a result of these comments.

Sometimes a good thing can come out of musician’s political statements, occasionally leading to jumps in their careers. One day after Kelly Clarkson declared her support for Ron Paul, sales of her album “Stronger” went up 442 percent, going from No. 38 to No. 7 on Amazon’s sale list.

Left-leaning or right-leaning, it is not always so easy to tell what kind of statement a musician is attempting to make. In her spot on friend Lil Wayne’s “Dedication 4” mixtape, hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj appeared to endorse Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney with her lyrics stating, “I’m a Republican voting for Mitt Romney/ You lazy b—hes is f—ing up the economy.”

Later, however, Minaj tweeted at Obama, claiming she was being sarcastic, “Ha! Thank you for understanding my creative humor & sarcasm Mr. President, the smart ones always do… *sends love & support*.”

Associate Professor Mike McDevitt from the CU Journalism Department commented on this current trend.

“It used to be that people, based on their religious identity, socioeconomic status and other sociodemographic identifiers, would know which party to vote for,” McDevitt said. “I think what’s happening as political parties lose their influence and have [been] replaced in a lot of ways with media, people are identifying with actors and musicians as people they see sharing their political values.”

When James Brody, Associate Professor in the CU College of Music, was asked to describe the current relationship between music and politics, he answered “strained.” He referenced a “Saturday Night Live” skit in which John McCain releases a vocal album, saying “if Streisand can make political pronouncements, then I can sing.”

“Celebrities of all sorts obviously have more visibility than us ordinary folk, so their opinions can be heard more clearly but don’t necessarily have any more inherent value,” Brody said.

While some musicians try to use their public persona for political action, in most cases these acts cause more harm than good. Their actions can lead to dropped endorsements, low album sales and sometimes even death threats.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Kelly Katz at Kelly.katz@colorado.edu.

Kelly Katz

Kelly Katz is a junior Political Science and English major at the University of Colorado. A lover a coffee and travel, when she's not writing you can usually find her watching Netflix or hiking around Boulder. Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Kelly Katz at kelly.katz@colorado.edu.

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