With the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency coming to a close, Ekatherina Gillen takes a look at how musicians have expressed their political views.
On September 5th, PopFront published an article titled ‘Swiftly to the alt-right: Taylor subtly gets the lower case kkk in formation.’ In it, writer Meghan Herning examines how Swift has been embraced as a pop icon by many of the alt-right. Herning highlights lyrics and imagery from Swift’s recent hit ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ as potential symbolic references to white supremacy. On October 25th, Swift’s legal team sent a cease and desist order to Herning. In response, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has stepped up to defend Herning’s freedom of speech.
Swift has been frequently cited as a prominent musician who largely stays silent on political issues.
The alleged references to white supremacy in ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ are open to interpretation, and likely most readers would find them rather tenuous. However, the choice to send a cease and desist letter rather than denouncing white supremacy is notable. Swift has been frequently cited as a prominent musician who largely stays silent on political issues. In her article, Herning says that Swift “… needs to state her beliefs out loud for the world – no matter what fan-base she might lose, because in America 2017, silence in the face of injustice means support for the oppressor.” This seems to be a view many other artists have taken.
In 2016, the world saw many public figures, including major artists and music industry figures, take sides and endorse candidates during the American presidential election. Musicians also addressed prominent issues like police brutality in America, as seen in Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade, for example.
Last year, Swift did not express her support for Hillary Clinton until election day, and even then only cryptically, prompting speculation about her political stance. In 2017 too, Swift has remained very quiet, giving no interviews and making very few public appearances before the release of Reputation. Her legal victory in her sexual assault case, which preceded the recent Hollywood scandals, is certainly significant, but it is far from the direct and engaged political involvement we have seen from other artists.
Tellingly, the day after the inauguration, artists like Cher, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Lin-Manuel Miranda, John Legend, and Halsey were all in attendance at the Women’s March.
Right off the bat, many musicians have made their political stances clear on the new president. In January, the Trump administration struggled to recruit artists to perform at the presidential inauguration, eventually booking acts such as 3 Doors Down, Toby Keith, and Chrisette Michele. Michele has since expressed regret over her choice to perform. Tellingly, the day after the inauguration, artists like Cher, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Lin-Manuel Miranda, John Legend, and Halsey were all in attendance, among many others, at the Women’s March, which was largely intended as a protest against President Trump.
In late January, as a response to Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’ Sia promised to match fans’ donations to the ACLU up to $100,000, in order to support their work for immigrant and LGBT+ rights. Musicians such as Jack Antonoff followed suit with sizeable donations. Grimes did the same for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. International Women’s Day on March 8th, saw the Day Without a Woman strike take place, drawing support from Adele, Alicia Keys, Pharrell Williams, Yoko Ono, Christina Perri, and Madonna.
In October Eminem’s BET freestyle challenged Trump and renounced some of his own fans, stating that they could not support both him and the president. In the same month Miley Cyrus delivered an emotional thank you to Hillary Clinton on the Tonight Show, calling her “an inspiration and a voice of reason in uncertain times,” thus reasserting her own stance.
Kanye West caused controversy late last year when he announced his support for President-elect Trump and met with him “to discuss multicultural issues.
There has not been much notable support for President Trump among musicians. Kanye West caused controversy late last year when he announced his support for President-elect Trump and met with him “to discuss multicultural issues.” West talked about the meeting in a series of tweets, which he notably deleted in February 2017. This action may have signified West withdrawing, or at the very least questioning his support for Trump; however, he has remained strikingly quiet on the matter this year.
Gene Simmons of Kiss had voiced some support for Trump in 2016, although he refused to say publicly whether he would be voting for him. This year, his position has largely been the same, stating in a September interview with SiriusXM: “I don’t care what anyone thinks about it because he was duly elected by the electoral college… that’s just the way it is.” The same month, on The Strombo Show in Canada, he defended some of the president’s remarks and commented that in Trump he admired that “What you see is what you get.” Again however, he seemed reluctant to endorse the president outright.
The decision to express a political opinion remains with the artist. In today’s political climate, it is becoming increasingly hard to justify silence, such as Swift’s, when political uncertainty is rising and voices supporting exclusionist and oppressive policies are growing louder. Any individual, especially one with a significant audience, has the opportunity to change the conversation for the better. Thankfully, plenty of musicians in 2017 have been recognising their place in the fight for change.