FEATURE: Role Models: The Artists Who Are Inspiring Change - and Why We All Need Their Voices in These Hard Times



Role Models

IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé and JAY-Z in 2018/PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of The Cut 

The Artists Who Are Inspiring Change - and Why We All Need Their Voices in These Hard Times


I wanted to tie this in with a piece I am going to write...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @carlheyerdahl/Unsplash

concerning the thirtieth anniversary of the Internet. I will cover that tomorrow but, in that spirit, I wonder whether we have come forward or backwards when it comes to using the Internet for good. It is interesting to see all the developments: how we can all communication with one another and share the latest news at the click of a button. On the other side, there is the toxic side: people being inflammatory and attacking others; the swell and wave of abuse people suffer on a daily basis. It is a delicate balance but, more often than not, we are seeing negativity reign and something quite depressing emerge – the good-news stories are rare and where do we go when we want a positive blast?! Although it is not directly linked to the Internet, I am always gladdened when I hear about something positive in the music industry. I read this article that shone the spotlight on Beyoncé and Jay-Z: the pair are to be honoured because of their work supporting the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community:

According to Deadline, GLAAD has announced that it will be presenting the Vanguard Award at the upcoming GLAAD Media Awards to certified vanguards Beyoncé and JAY-Z. Deadline says the award is for “allies who have made a significant difference in promoting acceptance of LGBTQ people,” with previous winners including Britney Spears, Cher, Kerry Washington, Patricia Arquette, Janet Jackson, Charlize Theron, and Jennifer Aniston....


IN THIS PHOTO: Britney Spears (a previous winner of the Vanguard Award, presented by GLAAD)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

As for JAY-Z and Beyoncé, a statement from GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis notes that they’re “global icons and passionate defenders of human rights and acceptance for all people,” adding that “the world becomes inspired” when they speak and that their “voices of acceptance have been heard loud and clear” by the LGBTQ community.

Beyoncé has been a longtime advocate for LGBTQ issues, but this will actually be JAY-Z’s second year in a row getting award by the GLAAD Media Awards. Last year, he received a Special Recognition Award for the song “Smile” from his album 4:44, which was based around the revelation that his mother is a lesbian. The GLAAD Media Awards will be handed out a pair of ceremonies, starting on March 28 in Los Angeles and then May 4 in New York”.

It is no surprise that Beyoncé is being honoured and acknowledged. She has, through her career, always spoken for the L.G.B.T.Q.A.+ community and has been fierce when it comes to having her voice heard regarding politics, sexism and injustices. This is a piece of good news that, in a hard couple of weeks, provides a bit of relief and positivity. It has been a bit of a busy time for Jay-Z too. This Guardian article explains how Jay-Z has become this civil rights activist of note. A rather shocking case that has come up in America moved Jay-Z to take action:

On an early Monday morning in February, 11-year-old Jabari Talbot, who is African American, decided not to stand for the pledge of allegiance in his classroom at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy. Another classmate, who is not African American, joined him, a civil rights complaint obtained by the Guardian claims, but the child was not questioned by the substitute teacher...


IN THIS PHOTO: Jay-Z and Meek Mill attend the launch of The Reform Alliance at John Jay College on 23rd January, 2019 in New York City/PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Reform Alliance 

Equality in this country is not fair ... black people are not treated fairly,” he answered the teacher when asked why he would not stand, adding, “[and] police don’t treat black people fairly”.

Within a month, the sixth-grader has had the help of not only his local legal counsel in Florida, the attorney Roderick Ford, but also the rapper Jay-Z; Team Roc, the philanthropic arm of Jay-Z’s organization Roc Nation; and one of his famed attorneys, Alex Spiro, who has worked on dozens of civil rights and social justice-related cases at the request of the hip-hop mogul.

“I do think there is a common thread to [Jay-Z’s] work and to ensure that all people are treated equally,” said Spiro, the 36-year-old New York-based attorney for a number of celebrities, who, at the request of Team Roc, stepped in to assist the sixth grader. “If we can get involved in a young person’s life early before someone is convicted, before they are sidetracked by the criminal justice system or detained, you have a better chance to affect change or create progress,” Spiro added.

Many of the cases Jay-Z has been involved with, with the help of Spiro, have mirrored the issues plaguing America in recent years: the debate around the former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance – and as a result, no longer playing professionally; the absence of accountability for police actions; and the ever-expanding, albeit inherited, system of immigrant detention under the Trump administration...


IN THIS PHOTO: U.S. attorney Alex Spiro/PHOTO CREDIT: An Rong Xu  

“You always want to be on the right side of the issue,” Spiro explained, discussing why he has worked with Jay-Z on many of these cases in recent years. For example, right before Jay-Z rushed in to help Jabari, he was advocating for the release of the Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage after he was detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) and threatened with deportation back to the UK on Super Bowl Sunday this year”.

I am always pleased when musicians make a stand and we see something good coming out. Jay-Z and Beyoncé are just examples of musicians backing a cause and not standing for injustice; making sure those without a voice have one and standing against intolerance. Jay-Z and Beyoncé are role models, not only for the black and L.G.B.T.Q.+ communities, but the world as a whole. You do not have to be a mega-famous musician to get people interested and make people take notice. I feel like, at a time when there is so much anxiety and negativity, it is hard to see a light and find those who are striking out. I have always said music and musicians have the power to change things and make the world better. Maybe it is not drastic in the case of Beyoncé and Jay-Z but it is news I wanted to share. I do feel that a lot of artists either do not have time to get involved with other organisations and areas outside of music or they are a bit nervous about commercial ramifications.

 PHOTO CREDIT: @andrewleu/Unsplash

What are the consequences of a big artist talking about something like race and the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community? What happens if they are political and take a stance? I feel it is important that artists, mainstream or not, are as active as possible fighting for causes and getting involved. There is a feeling that, gradually, artists are getting more involved with politics. A lot of Folk and Bluegrass acts are speaking up and putting politics into their music. Maybe it is easier to be a role model and inspiring when it comes to areas like sexism, racism and sexuality. Politics, in many ways, can be more divisive and it is hard to take a stand and keep all your fans happy. Taylor Swift is an example of a Pop artist who has spoken about politics before but, with such a huge fanbase and reputation, it can be damaging talking about politics – even if everything you are saying is right and morally-just. Now, with the 2020 elections in the U.S. not a million miles away, she has vowed to get more involved:

Taylor Swift has vowed to become more active in politics ahead of the 2020 US presidential election, saying she feels it is her responsibility to speak out against “disgusting rhetoric”.

“Invoking racism and provoking fear through thinly veiled messaging is not what I want from our leaders, and I realized that it actually is my responsibility to use my influence against that disgusting rhetoric,” the pop singer wrote in an essay in Elle magazine in which she lays out 30 things she learned before turning 30 years old...

IN THIS PHOTO: Taylor Swift photoed in 2016/PHOTO CREDIT: Danny Moloshok/Reuters  

“I’m going to do more to help. We have a big race coming up next year,” she added.

Swift broke a years-long silence on political issues in 2018, when she endorsed two Tennessee Democrats in November’s midterm elections. A spike in voter registrations followed her Instagram post encouraging fans to register”.

There are more musicians making their voices heard regarding politics and not be silenced. I mentioned how grassroots Folk bands of the moment are particularly keen. This article featured a few great examples and showed that how tackling difficult subjects, if done right, can be very powerful and effective. It is an illuminating piece but among the most vociferous of the Folk troupes taking on big issues is Lankum:

That subject has particular resonance for Lankum, a band who weave politics subtly through their bible-black, poetic songs. An original song of theirs, The Granite Gaze, references the women who had to “sneak away across the foam” to Britain for terminations before the referendum in the Irish Republic last year; they played it at a protest when the pope visited Dublin in August 2018. They also did so outside the city’s last Magdalene Laundry, one of Ireland’s notorious houses of confinement for “fallen women”. “It only closed in 1996,” Peat points out, her eyes looking cold at the thought. “It felt very special singing it there. And after the referendum…” She smiles. “I love singing that line now.”...

Of all modern folk bands, Lankum are the most full-throttle, jaw-dropping bunch. Signed to indie titans Rough Trade in 2017, where they are the favourite band of label-mates Sleaford Mods, they mix stunning versions of traditional songs with modern originals about poverty and injustice – as well as more raucous jigs about drunkenness and strange old men.

I do feel like politicians are letting us down and, when it comes to doing good and making positive steps, I wonder whether they are doing as much as they should. There are artists all over the spectrum that are becoming active regarding the political debate and creating hugely moving and wonderful work. From Post-Punk bands to Folk groups; to Pop artists discussing racism and discrimination in the world through to those who have spent their careers championing those who get overlooked. I feel that, the more we become anxious and unsure of what is happening around us, the bigger opportunity music has to lead and heal. Not only can the music itself help balm and give us all guidance but those who use their voice and platform to affect change and discussion deserve praise. It can be risky taking political sides and changing your lyrical narrative. I do think more musicians should use what they perform to talk about big topics and, where possible, use their voice to help make the world better.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lisa O’Neill (an Irish musician who tackles difficult subjects through her songs)PHOTO CREDIT: Katherine Anne Rose/The Observer

Maybe the examples I have shown are not radical in any sense but it shows that many artists are passionate about change. There are essays that suggests musicians should act as role models to our youth and, at a time when there is so much need for inspiration, I can agree with that. I understand that it might be harder for established acts to use their voice to help bring about movement because there is that commercial aspect and whether they risk offending or dividing their fans. It almost comes down to this battle as to whether you want to take that risk or remain quiet. I do think it is always worth taking a chance and, if you are passionate about a cause, not being afraid to do something – easy enough for me to say! I do truly believe musicians are more influential than politicians and they hold so much power. Whether they are inspiring, like many political acts, through their music or getting out into communities and using their platform to do good it is always wonderful to see. I think we can all do with some wins and good news so I was keen to share the report concerning Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s acknowledgement. They will surely compel others to follow in their lead and I know there are artists all around the world who are shaping up to be terrific role models. So many people look to artists for wisdom and inspiration and, if they can open our minds and hearts through their music or conversations then it can compel us all to...

PHOTO CREDIT: @nicholaskampouris/Unsplash

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