The 10 Best Political Protest Songs of the 2000s
When the President talks to God, will Paper Planes go Boom?
With the events of 9/11 a new chapter of the protest movement was written. Just as protests singers in the past targeted Vietnam & the Nixon administration, during the 2000s, the Iraq war and the Bush administration became the new targets of choice. Also, just as with past protests songs civil rights continues to be a commonly addressed subject as well.
Here is a list of the top 10 protests songs of the 2000s protest movement. Feel free to protest the list and let me know which songs you feel were unjustly excluded.
10: Somalia -- K'naan
This is from the Somalian-Canadian rapper's 2009 album, Troubadour. This is one of the songs which I had to make a judgment call between protest song or just a socially conscious song. But whatever you want to call it, the song effectively shines a spotlight on the real life plight that is taking place in Somalia.
Because of K'naan's personal experience, fleeing Somalia as a youth in 1991, during the outbreak of the civil war, there is a sense of heartfelt realism to the song. "Somalia" is just one example of why K'naan is one of the most articulate and socially conscious hip hop artists of the 2000s. His protest poetry makes him an important part of the 2000s protest movement.
Somalia by K'naan (Video)
#9: Boom! -- System of a Down
"Boom!" is from SOAD's 2002 album, Steal This Album! System's Serj Tankian is no stranger to politically charged lyrics, but this may be one of the band's most direct songs.
"Boom!" strongly links corporate greed with weapon manufacturing ("manufacturing consent is the name of the game/the bottom line is money"), to the determent of society ("4000 hungry children leave us per hour from starvation/while millions are spent on bombs/creating death showers"). This protest song is one of the more potent contributions to the protest movement.
Boom! by System of a Down (Video)
#8: The Revolution Starts Now -- Steve Earle
This is the title track from maverick country rocker Earle's 2004 album The Revolution Starts Now. Earle is no stranger to political activism. Back in the 70s he protested the Vietnam War, and in recent times he protested the war on Iraq, played anti-landmine concerts & has been heavily involved in the anti-death penalty protest movement.
Earle intentionally released the album,The Revolution Starts Now, to coincide with the 2004 election, in hopes of encouraging votes for John Kerry. The protest song "The Revolution Starts Now" has been used to promote the Micheal Moore directed, anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.
The Revolution Starts Now by Steve Earle (Video)
#7: Minority -- Green Day
When considering a Green Day song for this list, I was originally leaning towards selecting something from the American Idiot album. Instead I opted for "Minority" off of their 2000 album, Warning. This song was an important precursor to the more political direction their music was about to take.
"Minority" is an anti-conformity protest song. The song also alludes to the Moral Majority, a defunct conservative Christian political lobby group. Billie Joe Armstrong made the following statement concerning the intent of the song: "The song is about being an individual and how you have to drift through the darkness to find where you belong."
I also love the jig feel of the song. It is very infectious & empowering.
Minority by Green Day (Video)
#6: Nation of Heat - Joe Pug
"Nation of Heat" is the title track of Pug's 2008 EP of the same name. In many ways, Pug is a throwback to the 60s socially conscious folk singer. You can see where the Bob Dylan comparisons are inevitable.
As a protest song it is very broad in scope. It draws on the failure to learn from history ("The spirits pay rent to the basements they haunt"), poverty ("I've seen skeleton mothers and hungry folks/Across the street from the kitchen that cooks dinner the most") immigration policies & racism ("Blocking borders with smiles our immigrant sons/We measure loneliness in miles and misery in tons/There's a straw hatted man going away from the shore/He said it's a shame they don't let you have slaves here anymore"). Pug adds a compelling new voice to the protest movement.
Nation of Heat by Joe Pug (Video)
#5: Paper Planes - M.I.A.
"Paper Planes" is from M.I.A's 2007 album, Kala. This protest song denounces violence & the stereotypical view of immigrants. The song was born from M.I.A.'s frustrations of trying to secure a US work Visa (according to M.I.A. the paper planes in the song refers to the Visa). As a British artist with Sri Lankan Tamil descent, she viewed herself as a victim of racial profiling. In connection with her Visa problems, back in 2006, she was placed on the Department of Homeland Security risk list because of the political content of her lyrics.
The song samples The Clash's "Straight To Hell" (which made my list of one of the best protest songs of the 80s). That sample alone could be viewed as a statement of intent. M.I.A. is the very embodiment of the rebellious punk spirit of The Clash. Even though there may be genre & cultural differences, the objective of the music really wasn't that different. The sound of the gun shot and cash register adds potency to the message. Concerning this M.I.A. made the following statement: "You can either apply it on a street level and go, oh, you’re talking about somebody robbing you and saying I’m going to take your money. But, really, it could be a much bigger idea: someone's selling you guns and making money. Selling weapons and the companies that manufacture guns – that's probably the biggest moneymaker in the world."
Who says that the revolution can't have a beat that you can dance to?
Paper Planes by M.I.A. (Video)
#4: Intervention -- Arcade Fire
"Intervention" was released as a charity single in December, 2006 and was featured on Arcade Fire's 2007 album, Neon Bible. The album as a whole was a subtle protest on the effects of media consumption, focusing specifically on commercialism, religious fanaticism & overall paranoia.
"Intervention" carries on those themes, while also broadening the scope. It makes statements concerning the war in Iraq ("Don't want to fight, don't want to die,") while linking war with religious hypocrisy ("Working for the church while your life falls apart/Singing Hallelujah with the fear in your heart"). Arcade Fire is one of the more important socially conscious indie rock bands of the 2000s.
Intervention by Arcade Fire (Video)
#3: Radio Baghdad -- Patti Smith
This is from the legendary punk poetess 2004 album, Trampin'. Patti Smith is no stranger to socially conscious lyrics. She has been actively involved with the protest movement for over three decades.
"Radio Baghdad" is an over 12 minute epic of a protest song. It has an extremely intense build up and features thought provoking stream of conscious poetry. Smith links the historic importance of Baghdad, with the current war torn strife that is taking place. It strongly denounces Western greed as a source of the conflict ("The face of Eve turning/ What sky did she see/What garden beneath her feet/ The one you drill/You drill pulling the blood of the earth"). The song ends with a plea for a healing ("Suffer not the paralysis of your neighbor/Suffer not but extend your hand").
Radio Baghdad by Patti Smith (Video)
#2: (Tie) Girl In The War & Thin Blue Flame -- Josh Ritter
I had a tough time choosing between Josh Ritter's "Girl In The War" & "Thin Blue Flame", so I choose both. Both songs are from Ritter's exceptional 2006 album, The Animals Years. Both are protest songs against the war in Iraq, but both deal with the subject from different angles.
Girl In The War
"Girl In the War" is deceptively sweet. It is partly a love song with the war being used as a backdrop. But it is clearly an indictment on the war and it contains all sorts of righteous indignation ("The angels fly around in there, but we can't see them/I got a girl in the war, Paul I know that they can hear me yell/If they can't find a way to help her they can go to Hell.").
Girl In The War by Josh Ritter (Video)
Thin Blue Flame
"Thin Blue Flame" is nearly ten minutes long and is absolutely epic. In many ways its dramatic use of visuals is like a modern day "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" by Bob Dylan. The song combines all sorts of Biblical illusions. Not only does it attack the Bush administration, but it deals with religious hypocrisy & how wars are done in the name of God ("Borders soft with refugees/Streets swimming with amputees/It's a Bible or a bullet they put over your heart/It's getting harder and harder to tell them apart.").
Josh Ritter was part of a revival of socially conscious folk singers that took place in the 2000s. Unfortunately many of these artists maintain a lower profile than they deserve.
Thin Blue Flame by Josh Ritter (Video)
#1: When the President Talks to God -- Bright Eyes
Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes was another key figure in the socially conscious folk singer revival. "When the President Talks to God" was originally released in 2005, as a free iTunes download. It has since been released as a 7" vinyl promo single. In many ways it is a throwback to the protest songs of the 60s protest movement.
As far as protest songs go, it doesn't get much more direct. There is no questioning Oberst's intent. The song is a scathing attack on then President George W. Bush, his policies and his claims that God tells him what to do.
Even though Conor Oberst never liked to be called the next Bob Dylan, and even though those comparisons may not be entirely fair, it is hard not to compare "When the President Talks to God" to Dylan's 1964 classic "With God On Your Side". For those who get all nostalgic, and say they don't write songs like that anymore, Oberst did.
"When the president talks to God
Are the conversations brief or long?
Does he ask to rape our women’s rights
And send poor farm kids off to die?
Does God suggest an oil hike
When the president talks to God?"
When the President Talks to God by Bright Eyes (Video)
© 2012 CJ Baker
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