Throughout American history, there have always been songs written to make bold statements about the social and political issues surrounding that given time period. The 20th century had more that its fair share of politically charged songs from John Lennon and Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty. The trend continues today and remains relevant after a particularly heated election season. Check out these major political anthems of the 21st century.
American Idiot – Green Day (2004)
Green Day‘s 2004 rock opera album American Idiot is drenched in politically charged songs that pack a punch, including the hit single “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” It is the album’s title track, however, that makes the biggest statement with the lyrics “Don’t want to be an American Idiot / one nation controlled by the media / information age of hysteria is calling out to idiot America.”
Angel Down – Lady Gaga (2016)
This hauntingly beautiful song from Lady Gaga’s latest album Joanne was inspired by the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Gaga uses “Angel Down” to criticize the age of social media, politicians, and those who remain silent about current social issues.
Waiting on the World to Change – John Mayer (2006)
John Mayer’s Grammy-winning song focuses on the struggle to make the world a better place when many believe they don’t have the power to do so. Mayer criticizes times of war and the media as “we keep on waiting, waiting on the world to change.” It is a tune with a message that transcends time.
Where is the Love? – Black Eyed Peas (2003)
In 2003, the Black Eyed Peas teamed up with Justin Timberlake to question the hatred that so many around the world seemed to hold. The song’s values and mission have remained relevant today, so much so that the group produced an updated version of the hit, titled #WHERESTHELOVE.
Formation – Beyonce (2016)
Beyonce’s lead single off her acclaimed album Lemonade has been described as the catalyst of ushering in a new, politically focused Beyonce. The song and its music video earned a divisive response due to its focus on race relations and police brutality, though Beyonce has gone on to say that it is not anti-police.
Not Ready to Make Nice – Dixie Chicks (2006)
This Dixie Chicks song is rooted in politics more so in its background, rather than its lyrics. The song was written in response to the controversy surrounding the band after lead singer Natalie Maines made negative comments about President George W. Bush and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The song has since been associated with political protest and went on to be one of the Dixie Chicks’ biggest successes.
American Skin (41 Shots) – Bruce Springsteen (2001)
Bruce Springsteen is no stranger to political songs, but “American Skin (41 Shots)” is one of his most emotional. The song references the police shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed immigrant who was shot at 41 times by police who believed he was dangerous. The subject matter remained relevant over a decade after it was written, and The Boss re-released it on his 2014 album High Hopes.
Leaving Beirut – Roger Waters (2004)
The former Pink Floyd bassist made a big statement with this piece that condemns the Iraq war and George W. Bush’s presidency. Roger Waters sympathizes with the civilians of the war-ridden Middle East, asking listeners, “Are these the people that we should bomb? Are we so sure they mean us harm?”
Change for the World – Charles Bradley (2016)
Funk singer Charles Bradley warns the world to focus on love rather than hate in order to avoid reliving the turmoil from past periods in history, particularly regarding racial issues and civil rights.