The short answer to this is: yes.
Here’s the longer answer. As public figures, celebrities and artists have a responsibility to be transparent in their affiliations. There are multiple reasons for this. One of which is that they can ignite a political interest in younger people, and show them ways to become interested and involved in politics. Another reason is that we as consumers ought to know, within reason, what we are investing in.
Okay, so maybe it’s none of our business whether a specific singer or guitarist voted Labour or Conservative. But I want to know if a musician I admire voted for a party dogged by racism, for instance, because knowing if a person is actively and deliberately racist or not determines, in part, whether or not I want to be associated with them in any way.
I think it is absolutely essential to know where musicians (and actors and models etc) stand on matters of moral and ethical interest. I don’t want to be bopping along to a track, knowing that it’s informed by a support of sexism or homophobia. I don’t want to buy concert tickets or merchandise from a person who believes in white supremacy or thinks the pay gap is okay. Furthermore, who do you think has the loudest voice? Who is going to reach the largest audience?
When Taylor Swift made her high profile entry into political discourse in 2018, she created a stir, to put it lightly. For years, Swift had remained fairly silent on the subject of politics, and, when she publicly endorsed Democrats in US midterm elections, critics argued that her opinion was unwanted.
There is a good reason why Taylor Swift was praised in the most part for coming out against Trump, and it’s because she has the power to set a good example to thousands of future voters. In an Instagram post at the time, the singer wrote: “In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions. I feel very differently about that now. I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country. I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG.”
“I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.”
Recently, we wrote about rapper Killer Mike’s heartfelt speech to citizens of Atlanta, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police officers, an incident which sparked marches around the world, and pushed many people with a large platform to speak out against systemic racism.
This is all before we have even begun to discuss the fact that political music, and thus musicians’ involvement in politics, is hardly a new idea. From The Specials ‘Ghost Town’, to Oasis’ support for former UK prime minister Tony Blair, to MIA’s Paper Planes. Music as a force for political awareness, change and activism has been going on forever.
Think about the music associated with the Civil Rights Movement; music which is still being made today: John Legend and Common won an Oscar for their song ‘Glory’ in 2015. Lots of folk musicians have traditionally included political messages in their music, but politics is present in rock and pop music too. And I for one am glad of it.
And then we get to politics with a small p. No matter how apolitical a person might try to be, the fact is that the choices they make, the friends they have, the clothes they wear, the food they eat even is a political choice and is impacted by politics. Musicians are real people too with real voting rights and they should be allowed to participate in the running of their country. They should be allowed to talk about and promote what they believe is right.
Musicians have to think about politics, because they have to think about the way they present themselves to their audiences of hundreds, or millions, and while they might make the decision to appear uninvolved with politics, that decision is itself very political.
So, yes, musicians should be involved in politics. As we all should be.
Leah is a literature graduate from Bristol. Likes: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, My So Called Life, Goodfellas, and Ally McBeal.