Biden rumoured to be partnering with Rage Against the Machine: How music can evoke social change

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Rumours have been circulating on Twitter concerning the popular 1990s metal band Rage Against the Machine partnering with US president-elect Joe Biden and his transition team to encourage youth to follow government COVID-19 mandates of mask-wearing and physical distancing. 

While Rage fans gave the band flak for partnering “alongside the machine,” the band’s guitarist Tom Morello tweeted, “Fake News. Trust me, if u wanna sneeze your Covid into your MAGA grandpas mouth I 100% support your kick ass freedom to do so. #NaturalSelectionBro.”

These rumours have yet to be confirmed by either the Democratic Party or Rage Against the Machine, but the confirmation of this partnership may not be best for the band’s publicity. 

Notable for singing about the corrupt elite and human rights, such as the police brutality in the 1991 case of Rodney King in ‘Killing in the Name,’ the band’s partnership with a political party could be perceived as hypocritical and unfaithful to the messages they’ve expressed in the past.

Rage Against the Machine is just one example of how artists want to disassociate themselves from politics as evidenced by various artists like Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, and The Rolling Stones being opposed to their songs being played at Trump rallies. One notable case is the severely pissed off Neil Young filing a lawsuit against Trump’s use of ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ during the 2016 presidential campaign, and again in 2020. 

However, some musicians will overtly support a politician and allow their music to be used for the politician’s campaign. In the 2020 election, Taylor Swift, Madonna, and Cardi B encouraged their audiences to vote for Biden, and Eminem was the first rapper to authorize his music to be used in a political ad. 

Campaign songs have been a tradition in U.S. politics since George Washington’s campaign changed “God Save the King” to “God Save Great Washington.” John F. Kennedy used Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes,” and Ronald Reagan used Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” despite the song being a criticism of the American government’s treatment of Vietnam War veterans.

Having said this, the relationship between music and politics goes both ways. While the context of the song brings meaning to its audiences, it is also the song itself that can invoke meaning and societal change.

Historical examples include Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’’ leading the 1960s anti-establishment movement, and John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance” as the anthem for the countercultural movement at the end of the decade. Both artists and their songs acted as a voice for the masses, helping the public call for equality and societal change.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there were groups like N.W.A. calling out systemic racism and the prejudicial policing system while bands like Rage Against the Machine were criticizing the U.S. government and standing against its authoritarian system.

Today, we have a variety of popular and upcoming artists who sing in protest for justice and societal change. 

From Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” to Sunny War’s “Orange Man,” current American protest music largely targets systemic racism in the U.S., not only because of its deep historical roots but also because of the large resurgence in white supremacy and the increase in documenting the brutal murders of African Americans. 

Music’s influence on politics has even gone so far as to have musicians run for office. While we all know Kanye West’s 2020 campaign, there have been musicians in politics before like famous R&B singer Martha Reeves who ran and won the 2005 election of Detroit City Council. 

While Biden’s partnership with Rage Against the Machine is merely a Twitter rumour, the rumour alone carries a lot of weight as music is a major influence on the framing of politics and the outcomes in politics.

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