FEATURE: The New Music Expression: Unifying Guidance or Futile Rebellion?



The New Music Expression


IN THIS PHOTO: Anne-Marie/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Unifying Guidance or Futile Rebellion?


SOME might say there has been little…



in the way of political progress and musical rebellion since the 1960s. We all associate singers like Bob Dylan with politics and his cutting commentary. The songwriter himself claimed not to be political with regards some of his most famous songs. That seems extraordinary when you consider the lyrics – that speak of war, oppression and deceit – but maybe he does not want to be labelled and tied to those (rather weak) Folk artists who felt strumming strings was as effective as genuine protest and activation. The world has seen political distress and social divisions for centuries but, given the role of the Internet and how easily we can spread music; should there be a better drive towards getting artists to shift from love to politics? That might be a simplification but there are too many songwriters relying on staple and cliché for their inspiration. I raise the point because Pop mainstay Anne-Marie has revealed a new song – a demo, albeit it – that castigates President Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May. The song contains the lines “Dear Mrs. Prime Minister/We’re not one bit similar/So how’re you supposed to know a thing about us?”;“I don’t believe a word you say” it continues…“And as for Mr. President/It’s like World War III/And he don’t give a fuck”. The song then explores other issues: “So much drama, people dying/Police shooting, children crying/You know? No, you don’t”.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The song ends with a definite promise: the people will not keep quiet and sit by. The lyrics are not up to the standard of Bob Dylan’s early work but they are least convey a distinct political anger – Anne-Marie is definitely not going to refute that claim. Another artist, Stomrzy, has been embroiled in a bit of a dispute with our (unpopular) Prime Minister. She has, somewhat inadvertently, claimed he is an artist who promotes drug-taking and is glamorising that form of abuse. I have written about drugs and how the seeming romance of substance abuse and drug-taking has led to a poisonous and dangerous culture. Stomrzy, of course, retaliated and is not solely responsible for any controversy. His Grime music is part of a scene where the subject of drugs has always been a component. He referred to May as a “paigon” whilst collecting a GQ awards – handed to him by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn! It is clear there is a dissatisfied and disaffected sector of music that is unwilling to support the Prime Minister and the way she is leading the nation. If Anne-Marie’s song, Dear Mrs. Prime Minister, is an attack on the detached and middle-class values of May – and the way she is clueless regarding the public desire – then one has to wonder whether these (kinds of) songs can make a difference.



Stormzy’s declaration and attack is on the money but leaving it there seems rather hollow and anticlimactic. His comments gained a lot of press and were seen as the start of a possible revolt. The Grime community is among those who see through the Prime Minister and know the score. I wonder whether enough is being done and (whether) artists feel political music will gain traction and support. I touched on this late last year and wondered whether the role of ‘political singer’ is a false concept and an oxymoron. If the likes of Bob Dylan were never, as he states, politically-minded; then can we expect the modern popular to take a stand? I would say Anne-Marie’s song is a flavour of what is to come. Many might turn their noses. She is a Pop singer and is going to collaborate with Ed Sheeran on her next album. That combination might seem as scary and potent as a night out with your grandmother: hardly Public Enemy at the peak of their powers! Times have changed and we have not got the same might and muscle in Hip-Hop and Rap. Maybe we never did in the U.K. but the same could be said of the U.S. Aside from artists like Kendrick Lamar and a few others in Hip-Hop; how many other popular artists are tearing into the administration? It does not matter what genre you play in: now is a time when many are confused and looking for direction.


PHOTO CREDIT: Walid BERRAZEG @bazingraphy/https://www.instagram.com/bazingraphy/

I am impressed Anne-Marie took the decision to record a song that strays from what we know her for. Regardless of your opinions about her music and ethos; can you deny the fact a mainstream star attacking the world’s most powerful leaders is a sign of young artists taking a stand? I am not sure a single artist – or most of her peers – bandying together in protest cannot change the ways of the government and lead to social change. Rather than see it as a ‘revolution’ maybe we can see it as a necessary change and tide. Many are speculating as to how Pop will change this year – many are tipping a turn from commercial sounds to young artists speaking about things more substantial and relevant. There will still be a large proportion of love songs and concentrating on the self. My hope and suspicion is there will be a drive towards social/political-minded discussions and using a (privileged) platform to speak to young listeners in a new way. If the likes of Anne-Marie and Stormzy are not exactly breaking new ground or causing seismic shifts: their actions and reactions will inspire other artists to follow their lead and buck form the conventional. I know Anne-Marie will go back to her usual routine and style – her collaboration with Ed Sheeran hardly suggests we are about to see an explosive political firecracker that burns into the imagination.


IN THIS PHOTO: Prime Minister Theresa May/PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Rain/EPA

That does not matter because something as simple as that one (rough) song is a risky move from someone who has a particular persona and demographic. A revolution and vanguard does not have to match the quality and genius of N.W.A. or Public Enemy; Eminem or Kendrick Lamar. Those artists come from different background and play in different genres. There is nothing insincere and inauthentic about a Popstar like Anne-Marie tackling the state of the nations(s). She is a young woman seeing what is happening around her and finding the friction and bad decisions impact on her happiness and mental-health – she has written and spoken about her anxiety issues and how they affect her daily life. Those who are brave enough to fly and take a risk will see rewards and make changes. She could have written another personal song about life or a documentation of a no-good man (the usual fare one might expect from Pop). Things have got to the point where musicians are willing to break from their social contract and speak out against our leaders. You can debate the quality and potency of Anne-Marie’s lyrics; speak about the effectiveness of Stormzy’s (unwelcomed) shout-out; whether we will see an about-shift and a revitalisation in music. 2018’s sharpest and most arresting Pop moments might take a while to bed in but I feel, in the coming weeks/months, we will see a definite change in the air.



Encouraging a climate change towards more politicised thinking and responsible songwriter is important. I am not saying there will be a complete makeover – nor will that be possible given the money, commercialism and rigidity in music – but the smallest changes and songs can make a big difference. I hope Anne-Marie works the song into something hard-beating, whip-cracking and intense: a modern Pop banger that will not only compel the listener to move and bond with the song; they will absorb the words and think more deeply about politics and what is happening in the world. It is not brain-washing or imposing a political affiliation on young audiences: it is an artist’s opinion and a reflection that many others share. I know mainstream music will not embark on radical shifts but there is optimism in the air artists who have a more prominent say in music (Pop acts) will dig deeper and, lyrically and musically, explore new territory. Some said the relatively recent exposure of Hip-Hop and Grime (many of our young hopefuls tipped for big things this time last year when tipsters were prophesising) provided a platform for something angered and observant. The likes of Skepta and Stormzy have done some good work but, this far down the line, has there been any huge difference and change?!



As we make resolutions for the year and plan ways to improve our own lives; I wonder whether music, in general, will make plans and motivation for change. A few political songs and expressions of dissatisfaction will not mobilise the public into protest but it is a big and important step in a music industry where a lot of the most dissatisfied and disgruntled artists have to work in the underground. I always regret they do not have a mainstream voice but the gradual moves and reconfigurations we are witnessing have come off the back of a turbulent, testing year. Those who voted against President Trump and Prime Minister May have had our doubts and mistrust rewarded with peerless mishandling and mistakes. One of the things we should encourage in 2018’s music – among many others things – is a slackening of commercialism/populism and a greater nurturing of something deeper and more unifying. It is possible to foster a scene that blends the mainstream ideal and new movement without seeing an exodus of fans and dismay from records labels. If Anne-Marie’s bedroom-made attack of May and Trump is not an earthquake that can get the industry exploding and galvanised – it is an indication of dissent, dismay and disgust that has always been present in young artists. There are big issues that need to be explored, tackled and verbalised in popular music and, whether it is a small step or a huge leap, it can start a domino effect that can lead all the way…



THROUGH the music industry.