Pop culture gets political

In a world where all 2 Chainz wants for his birthday is a big booty hoe, our mainstream music artists don’t always use their power for good. Their words are broadcast for the world to hear, but are they worth hearing?
Recently, more mainstream musicians are making it worth it. Artists are speaking out about current issues that matter and using their power to send a message.
One of those artists is rapper Kid Cudi. He’s fed up with the current hip-hop culture and pleading for change.
“I think the braggadocio money cash hoes thing needs to be dead,” he said in an interview with talk show host Arsenio Hall last month. “I feel like that’s holding us back as a culture, as black people … That doesn’t advance us in any way shape or form. It’s been like, what, four decades of the same old shit?”
Cudi says the purpose of his music is to show kids they aren’t alone and prevent kids from committing suicide. He feels as though he, and all mainstream artists, have a responsibility to puts something meaningful into the world
This isn’t the first time musicians are fighting for causes they believe in. The ’60s were filled with artists using their power to make a change.
“I grew up in an era where this is what music was all about,” said Castleton music professor Glenn Giles, citing artists like Tom Lehrer, Arlo Guthrie and Simon and Garfunkel.
Giles mentioned Guthrie’s song, “Alice’s Restaurant,” which protested the draft for the Vietnam War and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” by Simon and Garfunkel, which is about the generation gap.
However, once the ’70s and ’80s rolled around, we started to lose the political protest songs.
It was all about disco and dance at that time, Giles said.
“Maybe we were fat and lazy,” he said.
The issues were there, but the country was in a good place so people didn’t want to hear about problems, he said.  
Since then, the industry hasn’t seen many political messages from its billboard artists – until now.
One of the most obvious examples is Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s song “Same Love.” The song advocates for marriage equality and reached number 11 on Billboard Hot 100.
A portion of Macklemore’s lyrics read, “When everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless/Rather than fighting for humans that have had their rights stolen/I might not be the same, but that’s not important/No freedom ’til we’re equal. Damn right I support it.”
“The first time I heard the song I almost started crying to be honest,” said Castleton student Maggie Rodgers. “I think that it must be really encouraging to people who still aren’t comfortable with the sexuality to hear something like that on the radio, where it’s normal. Even 10 years ago, five years ago, if something like that came out there would have been a crisis.”
Macklemore, a straight, white rapper raised Catholic in Seattle, shares Cudi’s view that the rap game needs to change, citing misogyny and homophobia as its two biggest problems.
“Those are the two acceptable means of oppression in hip-hop culture,” he said in an interview with Kurt Andersen, host of public radio program Studio360. “It’s 2012. There needs to be some accountability.”
While other rappers brag about their designer clothes and expensive cars, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s chart topping hit “Thrift Shop” made spending 99 cents on a secondhand t-shirt cool.
The band FUN. is also taking a stand for equality. The three members are the creators of The Ally Coalition, an organization that raises awareness and funds in support of LGBTQ equality. The band took home the Grammy for best new artists in 2013.
Some of our most prominent artists you might least expect are even sneaking in socially aware messages. In December, MSNBC released a list of 2013’s top ten political songs. Making the cut were megastars such as Beyoncé, Lil Wayne and Kanye West, tackling the topics of feminism, the military, racism and materialism.
Socially conscious artists have always been present, but their music has typically been more underground. But these artists are chart-topping Grammy winners with sold out arena tours whose songs are being heard all over the world, but they couldn’t have done it alone. Their fans make them who they are.
So what does this all say about us college students, or our generation as a whole, that this is the music we are making popular?
“I think the fact that we are choosing to listen to this kind of music shows that our generation is maturing and realizing what’s really important. We are becoming more concerned with how media and music is affecting our peers,” said Castleton student, Mason Brown.
Rich Clark, professor of political science at Castleton, had some insight into why this music is becoming popular.
“When the public is restless and unhappy, we’re receptive to these types of messages,” he said. “There’s always the question of whether media is reflecting society or leading it.”
In this case, Clark thinks this music is reflecting society.
“Recently, polling has showed great changes in the attitudes around same sex marriage,” Clark said.
It’s not only the famous musicians who are realizing that they have a responsibility to make a change; it’s also their listeners.
“This is a very exciting time for music,” said Giles. “There might be some hope for this nation, if there continues to be a market for this music.”
Kid Cudi said it best.
“The power of music is something so special, and to be able to do it on this magnitude, where you reach millions of people … why not use that for good? Why not tell kids something that they can connect with and use in their lives?”

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