Pop Music and Politics

Pop music has long had an intricate relationship with politics. From providing the soundtrack for political protests to being subjected to censorship laws, pop music has long been used as a form of activism and as an agent of social change.

From Kesha’s self-care anthem to Jennifer Lopez’s stadium Super Bowl set-up, artists seem to have an obligation to address social issues through art – yet how can this be accomplished effectively?

Protest songs

Pop music and politics have always had a complex relationship; from protesting political policies, being subject to political censorship, being used by politicians as an instrument for their causes or electoral success and delegitimizing and subverting existing power structures; studying these aspects is vital in understanding our complex culture.

Though no longer the trend, many musicians have used music to express political ideas and concerns through musical compositions. Examples include Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s use of song to address racism; punk rock bands Crass and Conflict’s music being used against colonialism; post-punk group Gang of Four’s music being used against it and contemporary indie rock groups like Architects and Enter Shikari using it against their agenda of racism/specisism/colonialism etc… Although many songs may be controversial yet have an immensely powerful impactful way of engaging their listeners with issues related to such subjects as racism/racism/specism/colonialism… and while songs may cause tension within peoples lives these songs can have powerful impacts that help transform people’s lives while simultaneously having negative impacts upon them!

Politically aware lyrics were the hallmark of Latin America’s nueva cancion (New Song) musical movement in the late 50s and early 1960s. This musical genre addressed marginalized communities while challenging dominant class hegemony. According to Julyssa Lopez of Remezcla magazine, Nueva Cancion inspired indigenous women to develop their own form of pop music which enabled them to voice their struggle against colonization effectively through song.

Studies of music and politics span decades, with researchers discovering that certain political themes are more prevalent in certain genres than others. For instance, racial identity and pride was only mentioned two times out of 100 songs in the 1980s, yet by 2000s nearly six percent were discussing such subjects. There remains much discussion as to whether music should ever explore political topics at all; some believe pop music shouldn’t address controversial subjects while others assert it makes their work more entertaining.

Politicians around the globe seek to incorporate various genres of music into their campaigns in order to spread particular points of view and strengthen support among their supporters. Unfortunately, this process can sometimes go off course; musicians and politicians sometimes clash over their differing perspectives.

Social movements

Social movements have an undeniable effect on popular music and politics. Social movements frequently employ art, music, drama and other creative endeavors to communicate their messages and rally support for their cause. Such endeavors can help build strong bonds within a movement while working toward its goals – this tactic can prove particularly useful when confronting powerful opponents with deep pockets; however these creative endeavours can sometimes backfire; the Civil Rights Movement relied heavily on musician’s works during its campaign for equal rights.

These songs were used to rally support and pressure the government, as well as at rallies and protests, such as sit-ins. Perhaps most famous among them is “We Shall Overcome”, though many other artists incorporated political themes into their music as well; Marvin Gaye famously used “What’s Going On?” as a call for social reflection and change with this track.

Pop musicians have taken full advantage of popular culture to use popular music as a vehicle to express their ideals and values, leading to the emergence of various genres including folk, rock, and punk music. Punk has long been associated with political lyrics; bands such as Crass, Conflict, Sex Pistols and The Clash have utilized punk rock lyrics as political weapons against establishment. Furthermore, punk rock artists often address issues related to war, capitalism and racism within their lyrics.

Many artists go beyond political activism to address environmental concerns as well. One musical genre known as Nueva Cancion stands as an excellent example, as it blends Latin American music with environmental concerns – which has had a profound influence on artists like Violeta Parra and Victor Jara’s works.

There have been many studies on the relationship between pop music and politics; most are written from either a musicological or critical perspective; however, a few works explore this subject from a sociological angle.

Mixing Pop and Politics explores various topics related to neoliberalism, feminism, gender and sexuality issues and environmentalism. Yvette Lok Yee Wong examines Hong Kong social movements’ creative discontents while Saesha Senger examines postfeminist/anti-victim ideologies behind Wilson Philip’s 1990s pop hits Hold On and Release Me.


Politics have always been an integral part of popular music, yet musicians who use their platform to criticize particular politicians can be subjected to censorship for using it as an avenue for expression. Neil Young, Dropkick Murphys and Explosions in the Sky all took issue with various politicians via musical choices that provoked censorship – something which may silence artists attempting to voice their opinions or even damage their careers as musicians who take stands on controversial matters.

Scholars and practitioners alike are beginning to investigate how pop music intersects with politics. Mixing Pop and Politics presents essays which examine everything from gender effects on musicians’ ability to speak out on matters related to politics to the role social media can play in this relationship – making this collection essential reading for anyone curious about these intersections between pop music and politics.

Rock musicians have long utilized their platform to make political statements since the 1960s. Popular bands, such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Bruce Springsteen; Manic Street Preachers have used music as an expression of political views and opinions. More recently pop musicians have used their popularity to raise awareness of human rights abuses while encouraging activism.

Though some critics have accused musicians of pandering to their audiences, most music listeners agree with the political messages expressed through their favorite songs. It has been estimated that approximately 90% of American listeners support these beliefs reflected in songs they love – though there may be those unwilling to listen to something which doesn’t align with their personal politics.

Beyonce made headlines for her Super Bowl performance in 2016 when dancers donned black Panther-style berets and raised their fists resembling Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ iconic gesture from 1968 Olympics. Although some may find this act offensive, political expression should always remain part of pop culture.

Identity politics

Popular music has an extensive history of political associations. It has served as the backdrop for protests, been targeted for censorship and been courted by politicians; yet its role as an expression and challenge of identity politics has received less consideration. This collection explores this potential by investigating ways popular music can express and challenge these politics.

Authors in this collection examine various aspects of pop music’s relationship to politics, from its use in protest movements to identity activism and its message delivery; specifically they explore the impact that political messages can have on an audience’s motivation or aesthetic needs; additionally they analyze how these political messages create new social structures or alter public discourse.

Identity politics can be an effective means for social justice; however, its effectiveness as a political movement has been called into question. Critics accuse identity politics of being founded on notions of sameness and over-identifying with artifactual wounds; moreover it may result in marginalizing subgroups by forcing its vision of identity on them.

Though identity politics have drawn much criticism, many social movements have used identity politics to achieve their goals – including the Civil Rights movement and Black Lives Matter. Recently however, musicians like Neil Young have begun shifting away from using it as an identity politics tool; for example he spoke out against President Trump while bands such as Dropkick Murphys advocate against neoliberalism while others such as TVU use music to inform audiences of injustices they experience in real life.

While most articles in this collection focus on issues of gender and sexuality, researchers from various parts of the world have contributed articles. This has expanded its scope while challenging Eurocentric frameworks common to popular music studies.

This collection showcases the importance of exploring the intersection between popular music and politics. This means reimagining popular music studies beyond its predominantly white mainstream canon, by including research from places such as Sweden and New Zealand; such an approach will foster global popular music studies.