Since Barack Obama was elected November 4 on a platform of “change,” I began to think about how the stark change in the political atmosphere will affect American pop-culture – including popular music.
President Elect Obama has even predicted a transformation.
“What I have seen is a shift in attitudes of young people wanting to be more engaged and more involved, and you’re going to start seeing that increasingly reflected in music as well,” Obama told Rolling Stone Magazine.
Some may believe that Obama’s margin of victory was too minute to reveal any sort of large cultural movement toward the left that would be reflected in popular music. If the eight million more Obama supporters than McCain supporters in this country haven’t convinced you that there is a major shift in attitudes as Obama said, then check out The New York Times’ Web site – their “voting shift” map – at http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/results/president/map.html.
There is a lot of blue. A majority of the territory that voted Republican in the 2004 election has turned more in favor of Democrats. It’s a tangible response to eight years of disastrous policies and decision making on part of the Bush administration.
Al Sharpton told McClatchy-Tribune Business News after Obama’s victory Tuesday that this cultural movement has elevated the standards for black artists.
“You can’t be using the ‘b’ word, the ‘n’ word, the ‘h’ word when you have Barack Obama redefining overnight the image that black people want to have,” Sharpton said. “Here’s the greatest political victory in the history of black America, and the thug rappers can’t come near it. They will have to change or become irrelevant.”
There’s evidence that the Obama-effect that Sharpton described as already impacted the music industry. Many gangster rappers are now competing with more lyrically-based and politically aware rappers such as Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Common, and Talib Kweli.
David West, a 62-year-old from Massachusetts who owns over 3,500 records and has befriended the likes of The Talking Heads, says that the nature of music is to rebel and, considering that most artists are left-leaning, music under the Obama administration would not produce as much political material as was the case under the Bush administration.
“Music as an art form – it seems to me that it’s more comfortable in protesting,” West said. “I can’t think of any good celebratory political music. Either music is rejecting the cultural conventions or the political conventions or a combination of both.”
Take, for example, the numerous anti-George W. Bush albums and songs that have been released since he took office in 2001: Green Day’s “American Idiot,” Neil Young’s “Living with War,” and “Dear Mr. President” by P!nk. And don’t forget “A Future Soundtrack for America,” an anti-Bush album that featured songs by Blink 182, Death Cab for Cutie, R.E.M., and a dozen other famous artists.
With Bush leaving office, the production of anti-Bush songs has ceased, and “celebratory” music has already hit record stores. ”Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas has released two new songs, “It’s a New Day,” “Yes We Can Song” – both of which praise President-Elect Barack Obama.
One thing is for certain, hip hop will have support from the next administration.
“The potential for [rappers] to deliver a message of extraordinary power that gets people thinking [is there]. Obama said in an interview with BET. “The thing about hip hop today is it’s smart, it’s insightful. The way they can communicate a complex message in a very short space is remarkable.”