Music Matters During Times of Crisis

Music is a potent form of activism and resistance – even during times when entertainment seems trivial

musicians against trump

Illustration by Dan Redding

The first six weeks of Trump’s Presidency have been a tumultuous shitshow: we’ve endured the botched Muslim ban, the President’s relentless attempts to delegitimize the press, the Michael Flynn scandal, the hiring of Betsy DeVos, the scaling back of transgender rights, and much more. For those of us who write and podcast about music, it’s easy to feel as though the arts don’t matter during a time when the American public is thoroughly focused on politics. But the arts do matter, and music has an important place in activism and in our daily lives. Here are some concrete reasons why.

Music is Activism

Music has been translating directly into activism around the country. The digital music service Bandcamp raised over $1,000,000 in its ACLU fundraising drive. Many bands and record labels have been donating Bandcamp proceeds, merch profits, and ticket sales to charity. The New Jersey indie band Pinegrove raised over $21K for Planned Parenthood. The Boston record label Run for Cover is hosting a monthly charity concert in its office (including performances by members of The Hotelier, Pinegrove, and Speedy Ortiz). These are just a few examples of many artists who are supporting charitable causes.

Musicians are also using their platform to raise awareness for crucial issues. One example was a recent Brooklyn concert benefitting CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Cameron Boucher of Sorority Noise was among the show’s performers; Cam told Culture Creature that event organizers planned to have CAIR representatives speak onstage. “We’re going to have some people talking throughout the show,” Cam explained. “I think it’s important to boost the voices around you, so that people have a better understanding of what’s actually going on.”

Music is a Megaphone for Resistance

In the wake of Trump’s election, people searching for a silver lining started suggesting that our collective outrage would ‘make punk great again.’ The truth is that musicians across all genres have been responding to Trump throughout his rise. Rock, rap, and folk are already roiling with resistance anthems, anti-Trump screeds, and poignant political manifestos. Here are a few examples:

United Nations, ‘Stairway To Mar-a-Lago’

United Nations’ ‘Stairway to Mar-a-Lago’ is a banshee’s wail of apocalyptic fury. The lyrics ooze with corrosive outrage regarding the victory of the racist far right: “It blows my mind how these Nazis took the stage and pandered to your deepest fears.”

Body Count, ‘No Lives Matter’

Ice-T’s punk/rap-metal band Body Count caused an uproar in 1992 with the song ‘Cop Killer.’ The band’s 2017 track ‘No Lives Matter’ is a defiant battle cry about racism and wealth inequality. Ice-T announces at the top of the video, “When you say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and then you say ‘All Lives Matter’ … You’re diluting what I’m saying. You’re diluting the issue.”

YG & Nipsey Hussle, ‘Fuck Donald Trump’

YG & Nipsey Hussle’s ‘Fuck Donald Trump’ was released in early 2016 – and the song has matured into an enduring anthem. In February 2017, hackers hijacked the airwaves of various radio stations (many of them Southern religious stations) to play the song, in which YG rhymes, “I’m bout to turn Black Panther / Don’t let Trump win, that nigga cancer.”

When President Trump was struggling to find performers for his January inauguration party, YG took to Twitter and wrote, “I’ll perform Fuck Donald Trump at his inauguration for $4,000,000.”

Tim Heidecker, ‘Trump Talkin’ Nukes’

Comedian Tim Heidecker has been having a field day with Trump. Last year, Heidecker wrote the song ‘Trump’s Private Pilot,’ in which he imagined a pilot taking Trump’s plane down intentionally (that song was also covered by Father John Misty). This year, Heidecker released ‘Trump Talkin’ Nukes,’ in which Heidecker mulls over Trump’s inflammatory nuclear rhetoric, singing, “But you can’t put the genie back/In fact, it’s a miracle that it hasn’t happened yet/Crazy how it only takes a maniac.”

Disengaging from Politics is Healthy and Essential

There have been patches of time (the weeks following Trump’s election win, the week of the so-called Muslim ban) where it’s easy to freak out and feel anxious around the clock. That’s when this happens:

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed during times of crisis – and that’s why taking care of your own health is essential for those who are engaged in politics and activism. It’s okay to take ‘self-care’ time, relax, and recharge. Entertainment that’s purely fun or escapist can be perfect for that. So take some time off, crank up your favorite guilty pleasure album of frivolous rock, and prepare to get back to work.


The last few months have been tumultuous and disorienting for many Americans. The very idea of entertainment can seem trivial when people are fighting for basic human rights. But music and art are essential parts of human life. So if you’re a musician, an artist, or a creative person – use your creative tools for change. Like Ian MacKaye said in our recent interview, “Whatever your discipline is, use that for good. Just do good. That’s all.”

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