Photo by Lindsey Byrnes


Is Music Inherently Political? Four Artists Sound Off

Let’s talk about it

Music brings the people together. It can be a rallying cry, a protest, and a movement. Even the poppiest of songs carry with them an air of politics because the personal is always political and we project the personal on what we listen to.

For its third year, The Ally Coalition partnered with Jack Antonoff for its winter Talent Show fundraiser, which mixed good music and a welcoming atmosphere with politics. The event raised more than $100,000 for New York City's New Alternatives, an organization dedicated to helping homeless LGBTQIA youth. It was a star-studded event, with a surprise performance by Lorde. But people weren't there for the celebrities and stars. The charged atmosphere we've been walking around following the presidential election was buzzing inside Webster Hall, but it felt like it carried with it what felt like a real promise of hope, something many of us haven't experienced in a while. It highlighted the inherently political nature of music, something we were lucky enough to talk about with a few of the night's guests before the show kicked off. Here's what they had to say.

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Jack Antonoff

Do you believe a person in the public eye must make a statement on political or social issues?

What we just saw with the election is that there are basically two trains leaving the station. One's going left, and the other's going to the right. I don't mean that literally, left and right, but I guess you can take it that way; and you gotta get on one. Unlike in the previous administration, where it felt like everything was slowly moving towards the right place and we had to usher it along, there's now a real divide there. Now, it's everyone's duty to stand on what side of history they believe is right, because it's more challenging than ever. That's important whether you're blasting it out to a million people online or three of your friends. I think some of the greatest change comes from a human/friend level, people talking about things at the dinner table or online, whatever it is.

Would you say that music is inherently political?

I think music is very political. The best music always exists a little bit farther than where the times are currently at. With music, you're supposed to draw a line and freak people out because you're on the other side of that line and you have to slowly pull them with you. We've heard this about so many artists, so many great songs, so many Elvis performances, and that's no different with politics. You want your politics to not represent the mainstream because the mainstream wouldn't be oppressed—because they're the mainstream. So, you want your politics to represent people who are the next generation. Right now, that's trans people; we have a lot of issues with class and race, and a lot of the people that are making the decisions are a relic of a different time. Music is the same thing. If you're someone who cares about pushing music forward, you should be someone that cares about pushing the world forward.

How does your personal politics influence your music and what you've put out into the world?

It influences it in the sense that I believe I'm speaking to smart people. I believe people are smart, everyone; and when you give them content that is smart, they react. When you give them content that isn't smart, you're keeping people down. That's fascism, right? You want to keep people dumb. That's fully what I believe Trump appealed to. Politically, musically, all of it. I don't go into things, whether I'm doing an interview like this or writing a song and say, “Oh fuck. People are dumb. I better dumb this down.” You look towards the future, and you sing it and you talk about it in that way. I think if we all did that, we could arrive at the future a little quicker, which is really the biggest thing. We all know where this is headed. Are we still going to have issues with trans rights in 50 years? Are we still going to be trying to ignore the fact that people of different races are treated completely differently? No, at some point, we'll figure it out. So for those of us who know that, it can be very tiring to have to push and wait. But, that's all you can do.

Do you think that we're about to enter, not a Golden Age of music and art, but something that's really exciting and provocative?

I think one of the only good things you can say about what's going on is that the time period is sort of on fire. People, who are brilliant and see a future that I would want to live in, are louder than ever. I can hang onto that.

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Lauren Mayberry

What do you believe music's role is during times of political turmoil?

I was talking about this with the other guys in the band today, and we were saying that we feel like when times are strange and distressing, people want something that they can connect with. Not necessarily to make them feel better, but to resonate with what they're feeling as well. I also think that in those kinds of times, people want art that has substance, that is actually standing for something and saying something. It's nice to know that the ultimate purpose of music, and art, and film, and all these things is to give people an escape and somewhere to go.

Do you believe a person in the public eye must make a statement on political or social issues?

Different people will approach it differently. For me, it would be difficult to separate the two things. I don't think I would be able to wake up in the morning and put aside my personal, social, and political opinions, and then go to work and do things that juxtapose with that. I think it would make me very uncomfortable. The reason why people do that is because it makes you more successful or it makes you more money; it makes you less controversial to people, but I think it would make me quite miserable because it's not a genuine way of existing. A lot of the time working in music and entertainment, there's so much bullshit flying around, and I think if I were adding to that bullshit, it would not be very good for my brain. It just makes it easier to get up and know that you're not having to put on a front, that what you're doing is genuinely what you think and what you agree with. Otherwise, you'd be second guessing yourself all the time, and I don't think that would lead to a lot of contentment in your soul.

How does your politics and your activism inspire your music?

We've never written something trying to make it explicitly political, but I guess, to an extent, the personal is political. I always tend to write lyrics from a personal point of view—not necessarily always about personal experiences, but I suppose anything I'm writing can be informed by what's happening in my life, what I think about those things. I don't really know what we'll write about after this. I feel like we're in interesting but also terrifying times.

I'm really excited to see the kind of art that's going to come out.

Especially the people that want to align themselves with important causes and try to make a lot of tiny difference to a tiny part of the world.

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Carly Rae Jepsen

What do you believe is the role of music in times of political turmoil or discourse?

I think the role, not just of music, but of all artists and people with a passion who are getting to live a life that can sometimes come off as a quite self-indulgent, is to turn that around and instead look at how they can be using that passion for good and to help others and their community. I remember my mother telling me from a very early age, “Do whatever you want to do in life, but make sure that somehow you are looking at how you can change the world for the better.”

Considering how connected we all are via social media, do you believe a person in the public eye must make a statement on political or social issues?

I believe that's up to every artist individually. For myself, I am truly inspired by people like Jack Antonoff, who are raising awareness for really important issues and giving us a platform to come and be a part of that and help. I'm kind of on the off-cycle right now doing studio work for my album, and I wasn’t doing any shows, but once I got this one, I knew I had to make an exception and come to New York, enjoy the Christmas scene, and take part in something really positive.

How would you say your politics inspires your music?

Well, I might be not so much the Bob Dylan-type of writer. I think I use my music as a form of escape and fantasy when life is too crazy and too hard. I think you can hear that in the lyrics. They're very whimsical; they're very much about first love and the rushes. I get off on that. I hope that it gives other people release when it gets kind of rough. So, if I have anything to contribute, I hope it's that.

How can we all be better allies?

We have to keep brainstorming about. I think nights like tonight are a start. I don't think it's the end of it, though. I think we have to keep coming together in different ways to be vocal about this as a community, raise awareness about it, and show people what they can do because a lot of people want to do stuff, but you don't really know how to help or where to begin.

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

Hasan Minhaj

What is the role of comedy and writing in terms of political turmoil?

Given the current state of the country that we're living in right now, I firmly believe that it is the jobs of the comedians, artists, and the journalists to fuck shit up. And what I mean by that is we're standing on the sidelines of what's happening in the country and to say, "Hey, this is what we're seeing and this is an honest representation of what we're seeing," and to not hold back, to not coddle or apologize, and to unapologetically ask for equality. That's my mission statement and that's what I feel my job is as an artist.

Do you believe a person in the public eye must make a statement on political or social issues?

It is possible to stand on the sidelines and let the bickering and stuff happen. I feel like, just personally, if I see something that's happening, that's unjust, I have to say something. To me, it's not a partisanship issue, or a race issue, or a sexuality issue. It's moving the needle forward for good or bad. It's right or wrong, and that's what it is to me. So, when I see people being marginalized because of the color of their skin, the religion they practice, or who they choose to love, if I don't say something, then I'm not moving the needle forward for good. That's just wrong. 

How do you challenge yourself to stay woke?

I would say empathy. For me, it's always about listening and hearing another person's experience, and I felt like this growing up. I'm Muslim, and I've always felt like a mutant. I've always felt like I live in society just like in X-Men and I have these superpowers. Just like in X-Men, mutants are marginalized and they're asked to register, and they're asked to come forward and condemn other mutants that act immoral, I've always felt like this outsider, and so, I've always had an open ear and an open heart to other people who are feeling pain or struggle. Whether that's people in the LGBT community who've walked and stood with us in the Muslim community asking for our equal rights and our freedom and protection to practice our religion, or whatever it is. I think given the divisive nature of where we are as a country, I want to do everything I can to share my story, tell the truth, but then also hear other people's truths and hopefully, somewhere in the middle, I think we can find a solution where it's not like a Yankees/Red Sox rivalry anymore. We're all on one team. I really hope that our political and social rhetoric gets back to that. It becomes less about “Hey, Hasan, why are you standing for LGBTQ rights? Why are you marching with Black Lives Matter?” I hope that rhetoric gets back to “Hey, Hasan. It's cool that you're marching for American equality.” That terminology hasn't been used, man. It hasn't.

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

And now for a some more photos from the evening. First up: Charli XCX.

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes


Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

They did that!