Who's Protesting in Your iPod?

Eming Piansay
November 21, 2007

This post originally appeared on YO! Youth Outlook

Editor's Note: The Vietnam War and even the Civil War had iconic protest songs. But who sings the protest songs for today's generation? Eming Piansay, 21, a content producer at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, reviews the protest songs that might be in your iPod from Pink to MC Immortal Technique.

On 9-11, I was 15 years old. I'm 21 now. For the past seven years I've lived in a war bubble. Maybe that's why I'm so cynical about everything. What I remember clinging on to most after 9-11 was my music. Instead of thinking about how horrible everything was turning out to be, I let my music blast and drown everything else out. I probably did that because music was saying something that TV wasn't. I guess that's why protests songs have been getting so big, because music might be a little more open and honest with its audience.

Protest songs have been the instruments of musical artists who use their songs as a way of getting their message across without throwing a brick through a White House window.

Protest songs from the Vietnam War and dating as far back as the Civil War have exercised the oral tradition of free speech for the benefit of those who may not be hearing anything like this on the nightly news.

Regardless of the genre or music, contemporary artists have been able to comment on the current war and the actions of the current administration. Pink, who is probably more known for her pop-friendly songs, tries to take a more political voice in her latest album, which was released in 2006. When I first heard Pink's song I was really surprised. Normally, pop stars give you a standard outline of "I Love You", "Be My Baby," "Let's Run Away on a Tractor," and so on. But in her album, I'm Not Dead, she recorded the single "Dear Mr. President," a direct message to President Bush.

Many artists like R.E.M. are already well-known for their involvement in the political sector. In 2004, R.E.M. and several other artists tried to get people to vote. The group added its own addition to the protest bucket with their song, "Final Straw."

Commentary on the current war and administration is not restricted to popular music. A free style rap by MC Immortal Technique called "911 Freestyle" is a blunt, powerful, uncensored freestyle that attacks Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. He gives his stance on 9-11, al-Qaeda. MC Immortal Technique isn't new to the lyrics political protest area. He released an album titled Revolutionary Vol. 1&2, which criticized Bush in songs like "Cause of Death."

I had a lot of fun listening to "911 Freestyle." I played it at least five times to get the full impact of the words. The great thing about being "underground" is you can say a lot of things and no one can get all strange and scary and start calling you anti-American, when all you really are is anti-administration. It is sort of like jumping into a pool of water after digging through a mud pit -- utterly refreshing.

The most familiar and radio-friendly of the batch -- Green Day's American Idiot -- is probably what made protest songs popular for this current war generation. American Idiot is a realization that the media, which can become chess pieces of propaganda for the current administration, have set the state of mind for what American citizens should be thinking, or more correctly, what they want them to think.

Other mainstream artists like the Beastie Boys have penned songs like "In A World Gone Mad," which came out in 2003 and addressed Bush's deaf ear when it comes to anti-war protestors. The lyrics are a curt warning to the dangers the United States faced by engaging in a war that may not stop once started. "First the 'War on Terror' now war on Iraq. / We're reaching the point where we can't turn back."

When it comes to popular mainstream artists like Beastie Boys and Green Day, I think it adds a little extra kick to the usually boring predictable music that comes out of the industry, even though they still incorporate the catchy beats and choruses that make them pop songs. Funny thing was, even though Green Day's album was pretty liberal, I remember an old friend of mine, who was as conservative as you can get, having it in his CD player. I guess even music that picks sides on the political divide can still manage to win over some from the other team, or maybe he was too hooked by the chorus to really figure out the rest of the lyrics.

Many other generations had their staples of popular protest songs. They had artists who knew how to talk, what to say and how to say it. Even though now our generation is more prone to getting our reality sugarcoated, it is still good to see the popular protest songs haven't completely disappeared off the face of the planet.

Dead Prez, an underground hip-hop group, has released several politically influenced songs. In their song "Know Your Enemy," Dead Prez warns that the real terrorists, or real danger to the America people, are the ones governing, including George Bush, the FBI, CIA, and so on. "You wanna stop terrorists?/ Start with the U.S. imperialists / Ain't no track record like America's/ See bin Laden was trained by the CIA/ But I guess if you are a terrorist for the U.S. then it's okay".

Artists like the Dixie Chicks, who got flak for speaking out against the Bush administration, faced a severe public backlash. However, their next album had a single that pretty much summed up their whole media clash. "Not Ready to Make Nice" was their unapologetic reply to the accusations of the "anti-patriotic" statements made by their lead singer.

Steve Earle, a country singer and American singer-song writer has been writing and singing politically infused songs from as far back as the Vietnam War. Earle has written several songs involving the war on terror, including his earlier album "Jerusalem" and his more current release "The Revolution Starts Now," a song that was featured in Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

Following Bush's second term in the White House, John Mellencamp released the album Trouble No More in 2003. The song tells the story of an election that no one kept track of, and the elected president shortly afterward started a war campaign that stretched from Washington to Baghdad.

This year Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young, who are well known for speaking out about politics via music, have both released albums.

Personally, I find it harder to relate to the songs produced by artists who come from an older demographic. Maybe I've just become another brainwashed victim of pop culture in general, but for the most part I haven't really fallen in love with any of those newer songs.

The final entry to the protest parade is NOFX , an American punk rock band that was created in Los Angeles in 1983. In 2003 the group released the album War on Errorism, which launched their musical political commentary career. The group has compiled a series of albums filled with anti-Bush songs, appropriately titled Rock Against Bush. One of their songs is titled "Idiots are Taking Over." "It's not the right time to be sober/ Now the idiots have taken over/ Spreading like a social cancer/ Is that an answer?"

Hopefully not. Hopefully not.

Eming's Top Protest Picks
1. Get Up, Stand Up --Bob Marley
2. American Idiot --Green Day
3. Strange Fruit --Billie Holiday
4. Bloody Sunday --U2
5. 911 Freestyle --MC Immortal Technique