Why Music and Politics Don’t Mix Anymore

Music, Politics, Aerosmith, and Obama
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Music, Politics, Aerosmith, and Obama
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Credit: Aerosmith Twitter Post

The 60s was a long time ago. Do politics really make sense for musicians anymore?

If you’ve read our guide, 17 Ways to Kill an Artist Career, well, ‘being overly political’ might be number 18.  Here’s why…

It was an amazing moment.  Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith had a chance meeting with Obama in Orlando.  Their jet from South America was landing on the same tarmac as Air Force One.

Maybe it was all carefully arranged.  Who knows.  But Steven and Joe posed with the President, and even sat on the steps of Air Force One.

Joe admitted that he’s conservative, but still thought it was ‘amazing’ to meet the Commander-in-Chief.  Classy and cool, deftly playing to all sides.  We’re all Americans!  Well played, Aerosmith.

But then something strange happened.  Aerosmith’s drummer, Joey Kramer, deleted the pics from the band’s Twitter account.  WTF?  Turns out he doesn’t like Obama, and decided to start a political war within the band.  “This is not representative of Aerosmith,” Kramer blasted.

Earlier, Tyler demanded that Donald Trump stop playing ‘Dream On’ at political rallies.  But I guess Kramer likes Trump.  Or something like that.  Which means people are going to take sides, and dislike Aerosmith for reasons that have nothing to do with their music.  In fact, both Trump and Clinton supporters now have something to hate.

All of which means the following for Aerosmith: fewer fans and less money!

It’s about the music, not the politics.  And if you need any more evidence of that, take a lesson from Beyonce.  Sure, what happened after Beyonce performance at the Country Music Awards last Wednesday night was sad.  Sad because there are still flat-out racists in this country.  They hate black people.  And they trolled CMA’s social media accounts and created a crisis.

+ Racists Win: Country Music Awards Deletes ALL Beyonce Footage

But the blowback against Beyonce playing at the CMAs was a lot more complicated than that.  It wasn’t just blatant racism.  There was another layer, one focused on complicated issues like Black Lives Matter, police brutality, and other racial debates.

Forget about where you stand on these issues.  Or what Beyonce thinks about them.  There are lots of different opinions, these are complex issues.  And a lot of these country music fans now hate this artist because they disagree with her politics.  Not because of her music or performances.

That doesn’t mean they’re right, but it does mean they disagree.  Some of these people are simply racists, but most aren’t.  A lot of them can logically and coherently disagree with Beyonce’s positions.  And a big chunk of these people will never support Beyonce, ever again.

And that could shorten Beyonce’s career.

Is that worth it?

It makes me wonder whether it makes sense for artists like Beyonce to take strong political positions.  This isn’t the ‘us-versus-them’ 60s.  It’s not the anti-corporate grunge 90s.  It’s a brawl, everyone’s fighting and disagreeing, the volume is now cranked to 111.  And the channels for information, opinion, and debate are hundreds of thousands of times larger than they were fifty years ago.  Or even twenty years ago.

It’s not just your uncle that has an asshole — I mean opinion — anymore.  It’s millions of people blasting their opinions across thousands of different channels, every second.

The world isn’t Walter Cronkite and the Sandusky Register anymore.  The opinions aren’t vetted and one-way.  It’s 24-hour CNN, FOX, CNBC, Huffington Post, Drudge… TMZ.  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, podcasts, and thousands of other information sources.  The trickle is now a non-stop avalanche, and everyone’s asshole opinion is out there.

Do we need another one from our musicians?

We’re overloaded.  Beyonce passionately supports Black Lives Matter.  A$AP Rocky and M.I.A. passionately support All Lives Matter.  Lil Wayne says racism doesn’t exist.   And so on.

But what does Coldplay think?

I have no idea!  And that’s the point.  I just went to see them play a packed Rose Bowl in Pasadena.  They sold out two nights.  It was a big, giant American tent.  Chris Martin even tied a bandana of the American flag around his guitar.  Who’s gonna disagree with that!?

Every cross-section was there: older people, younger people, gay, straight, red state, blue state, foreigners, couples.  They wanted to be entertained by hits, lots of them, and a charming frontman.

And they didn’t care about Chris Martin’s politics!  

But they were more than willing to pay $75 a seat, $14 a beer, and $22 for parking.  And they left happy.  They sold out both nights!  And barring disaster, Coldplay will be the next Rolling Stones, playing the same packed arenas ten, twenty, even thirty years from now.

Will Beyonce sell out both nights at the Rose Bowl in ten years?

Maybe, maybe not.

Now go vote.


15 Responses

  1. Remi Swierczek

    Music is subject to GOOGLE CANCER! Unfortunate for music democratic or republican federal government has to be married with Google for foreseeable future.

    The only hope for music is to convince Larry Page, the MOONSHOT seeker and at the moment also the biggest MONK of digital medieval to double his Google on music by 2020. Easy task with their current position in Earthly Universe.

  2. Farley Grainger

    Interesting, and thought provoking. The points make the most sense for artists who are popular for songs with little political content. Their being popular musicians does not give them political credibility, and adding a side-line of politics can be both presumptuous and a career liability, as you say. But it is a different story for musicians whose careers were built on political advocacy, like a Pete Seeger, and in a soft-core way, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Also for black artists whose songs have been advocacy. James Brown sang “I’m black and I’m proud.” That was then, but now isn’t necessarily different.

  3. MartinC

    Money and fame aren’t everything. If you believe passionately about something and your job puts you in front of thousands of people, then you have the right to tell them what you think. It might not necessarily be the best thing for your career, but better to be true to yourself than compromise.
    Many musicians refused to play Sun City in the apartheid era. Terrible for their career in South Africa. Paul Simon broke the boycot to make Gracelands and was severely criticised by many, but probably single handedly helped the promotion of African music and black South African music more than anyone else. He did what he believed.
    Coldplay didn’t say anything political – that’s fine too.
    Politics has probably helped some careers and ruined others. I used to beleive music should be completely separate from politics, but politics has a way of infiltrating all aspects of life and some things need to be said.

  4. Ignacio

    Every issue will have a thousand sides to it so advocacy is tricky business. Even saying you want to cure cancer is complicated. Why use all that money to keep older people alive when we have major poverty? Choose one and you alienate the other 50% who think differently.

  5. DJ Parker

    “Coldplay will be the next Rolling Stones, playing the same packed arenas ten, twenty, even thirty years from now……Will Beyonce sell out both nights at the Rose Bowl in ten years?”

    awesome stuff Paul!

  6. Shitty Boy

    It’s okay to be an artist and political too. The suburban white middle class never stopped buying rap records because Jay Z is backing , Hillary Clinton. Besides being an artist always should be about the reflection of who you are unless you’re getting paid to be an actor and that’s your role. Actually you can be a , Terrorist , and get paid well inside the music industry today; at the end of the day , they can sell you. They will sell you. And the bombs have been bundled. . . :: Literati X

  7. wanna race?

    Cracks me up how Beyonce’ is jiggling around yelling RACE RACE RACE – fist in sky promoting Malcom X, the Black Panthers and BLM – raging anti police screeds live etc… and when she is called out on it you call these people racist…hahahah – want some ice in your race kool-aid?

  8. Robin Baneth

    I have never purchased any Beyonce or Coldplay music but my barometer tells me Beyonce is far more relevant musically and politically in the past, now, and into the future. Beyonce will still be playing 20K arenas in 10 years and Coldplay will be playing to 400. Also, in the future we will not need whiny chick bands because chicks will have less and less to whine about as perfect equilibrium is achieved. The world will continue to need a Diva and it will be Beyonce. I think I might start a movement “Whiny Chick Bands Matter,” but do they?

  9. Anonymous

    It’s a valid choice. When you believe strongly enough in a certain cause, sometimes it’s worth potentially taking a hit to your career to express that belief. As long as artists understand the potential ramifications of their actions, they should do what they feel is right. More often than not, there will be people who agree with them.

  10. Paul Resnikoff

    I didn’t even delve into the brand sponsorship aspects here. Brands don’t like controversy. And the reason is simple: it means less cash, in general.

    Take the case of CenturyLink. They were sponsoring Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos, until he started kneeling instead of standing for the National Anthem. He even changed back to standing, citing progress on the issues, but CenturyLink didn’t come back.

  11. JoJo

    Yes, it is safe to not be political. However, there comes a time when it can be unsafe to not be political. If your core audience is non-white/white liberals and you refuse to take a stand therefore going with the opposition’s narrative, you can lose your core audience which is way stronger than your bandwagon fans. Who’s to say that by taking a stand politically you don’t strengthen your core audience?

  12. Just SOOOOO Dumb...

    November 8, 2016
    Man, I LOVE this untethered, leap:

    JoJo: ” If … you refuse to take a stand THEREFORE GOING WITH THE OPPOSITION’S NARRATIVE,…”

    Man, I want YOU on MY Jury, when I decide to take the 5th!!!


  13. Mojo Bone

    That’s excellent advice for a musician, a singer, or any sort of journeyman, and we all love that Disney and HBO money, but I think an artist has a responsibility to represent a point of view; an artist’s job is to consolidate a zeitgeist, to be a template for a life without regret.
    We have a responsibility to our people and our planet; we’re as responsible for our words as for our music. OTOH, there’s nothing inherently wrong with singing about stuff everybody can agree on, like cars, the beach, the opposite sex and dancing; the Beach Boys are revered for it, but they’re the only classic rock act that didn’t do topical/political songs. (well, maybe them, the Carpenters and the odd Osmond)
    I get it, nobody wants to get dixie-chicked, but the key is to know your audience; knowing yourself should come with the territory.

  14. jDre

    Why is it that no one take MK Ultra mind control into factoring their opinions on this matter. I think its pretty safe to say that if they weren’t brought “into the biz” through birth rite, then they sure as hell are brought to heel when the money is to be made. The only ones that matter are the ones controlled.. they have it all under their thumb, waiting for a blip on the screen. Once that target becomes too hot.. harmonic attacks are directed towards the target, and the reality of that person begins to erode away.

    Damn.. Way too much West World.