In times of crisis, music isn't just entertainment – it's inherently political. Music both shapes and is shaped by sociopolitical occurrences, whether it is to mark events that have already occurred or to inspire people to action.
These days, we hear a lot of talk about musicians needing to “stay in their lane,” “mind their own business,” or “stick to entertaining.” But what some of these naysayers forget is that musicians are not just entertainers; they are people. Musicians are citizens, taxpayers, voters. They are students, parents, teachers, businesspeople, and so much more. And since so much of our public identities are linked with what we believe politically, it stands to reason that music and politics are inextricably linked.
This isn't a new tradition. We have music hundreds of years old that speaks on political issues and occurrences, from lays sung of great battles to bawdy songs about the misdoings of kings and queens. And it does not stop there – plays, books, epic poems, paintings, and every other art form has served as political commentary or as a call to action. For this reason, in times of political crisis, the arts have sometimes been strictly censored – even to the point of executing artists for what they produced.
And yet the arts have served to call attention to important events and people that the citizenry may not have been aware of, or a perspective that they may not have previously considered. The arts have great power; they are both a hallmark and cornerstone of civilization. The arts have made and unseated rulers, have incited rebellions against injustice, and comforted the oppressed. They have irritated and even incensed the powerful, and infused the people with strength and determination.
For all these reasons, musicians – and all artists – should feel free to ignore statements that they should not use their art to call attention to political issues, whether in their own nations or in countries abroad. Nightwish's “Creek Mary's Blood” was written about the oppression and genocide of the Native American peoples, in spite of the fact that the band is Finnish. Serj Tankian's “Yes, It's Genocide” was written about the Armenian genocide by the Turkish, also referred to as “The Great Wrong” and rarely taught in American schools. Music connects peoples worldwide – in both shared suffering and shared power.
Music as a political force cannot be denied. So musicians, the next time someone tells you to “stay in your lane,” remind them that you're not only in your lane – you're participating in a millennia-old tradition of helping to shape and inform history.