There’s no denying the huge level of influence a celebrity can have over their respective fanbase. Most will at some point or another during their career use this power to endorse a commercial product, but a select few will use this influence to raise awareness at what they deem to be social injustice too. It used to be the majority of celebrities would be very afraid of alienating loyal followers who do not share the same views so would therefore remain quiet when it came to political, social and economic issues. But this cannot be said of every celebrity and certainly within the world of music there have long been artists unafraid to use their voice and music to speak out on issues they see in the world. Currently, with politics becoming increasingly polarising by the day, we have more and more artists who are expressing their opinion and pledging allegiance to their chosen cause.
Whilst the issues of racism, sexism, homelessness, homophobia, injustices etc. may not be the sexiest topics to sing about, some brilliant songs have been made discussing just these things and many have even been hits.
Here are some of my favourite socially conscious songs. Some you may know, others you may not, but each has its own important message.
ALL STARS – WAKE UP EVERYBODY
In 2004, Babyface produced a cover of the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes song ‘Wake Up Everybody‘ with an all star cast featuring Missy Elliott, Brandy, Mary J. Blige, Wyclef Jean, Monica and Ashanti. The song was part of a larger project created by America Coming Together – an organisation who amongst other things were encouraging people to vote in the then upcoming Presidential Election.
P!NK – DEAR MR PRESIDENT
Following on from the last song, another release that focused on politics is ‘Dear Mr President’ from P!nk’s 2006 album ‘I’m Not Dead‘. The song unapologetically took aim at George W. Bush who was President at the time.
The song directly challenged Bush on the Iraq War, the No Child Left Behind Act, his lack of support for equal marriage and many other issues.
P!nk has stated that this is one of the most important songs she has ever written.
JANET JACKSON – SHOULDA KNOWN BETTER
Although a very private person, Janet Jackson has never been afraid to speak out about social injustice. After the success of her 1986 breakout album ‘Control‘, the record label wanted her next release to adhere to the same format as its predecessor, but Janet had other ideas. When she came back in 1989 with a new project, gone were the big hair, shoulder pads and a babyfaced Janet calling boys “nasty”, instead replaced by a woman dressed head-to-toe in black military inspired costume telling the world that no matter what colour, gender or sexual orientation they were, they were a part of the Rhythm Nation. She was also emphatic in expressing the importance of a strong education on ‘The Knowledge’, and in the song ‘Living In a World (They Didn’t Make)’ she called out adults for creating a dark world that children had no choice but to grow up in.
There are many socially conscious Janet songs to choose from, but the one I have picked is ‘Shoulda Known Better’ from 2015’s ‘Unbreakable‘. The reason I chose it is because of the very last line Janet sings in the song: “I had this great epiphany, and Rhythm Nation was the dream. I guess next time I’ll know better.” Interpret that line how you will, but for me, I believe Janet is acknowledging how naive it would be to believe that music alone can cure a sick world – a belief that perhaps she once held. But while other celebrities today may pick up – and quickly drop – a political cause as a way to appear “woke”, here is Janet almost 30 years later still with a vested interest in trying to make the world a better place. She hasn’t given up, and neither should we.
*The following video is fan-made but was uploaded to Janet’s official YouTube channel after the singer saw the clip. It is an emotional tribute to those who tragically lost their lives in the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. The clip contains upsetting scenes that may be difficult for some viewers to watch.
JOSS STONE – OCEANS
Whilst tackling all the issues named in the songs above, one thing we cannot neglect is the planet we all inhabit. With this song, Joss Stone cleverly uses water as a metaphor to talk about the human race being one entity, whilst also commenting on the subsequent impact that entity has on the planet’s oceans. The jazz inspired track pulses forward with a sense of hope and optimism that builds to a stunning peak when Joss really lets her vocals soar.
It can be incredibly overwhelming to think of all the issues we face in this world can’t it? I often feel a sense of hopelessness at the things I wish I could make better but feel I have no power over. When I feel this way, I turn to music. Whether the songs make you feel empowered to do something (Wake Up), or leave you pissed off and angry (Dear Mr President), or make you assess the role you play in the fight for a better world (Shoulda Known Better), the important thing is they make you FEEL SOMETHING. Sooner or later, when enough people feel the same way they become united, and when we’re united we can achieve great things. The lyrics to the final song in this post say it perfectly:
“Just a drop of rain
That’s all I am
And we’re all the same
We have the power to make a wave
If we move together as one”