Powerful songs that tackle social issues in their videos and lyrics.
by Portia Ladrido
Social ills are not the easiest topics to communicate to the public. Talking about big, challenging issues such as poverty, hunger, mental health, and human trafficking can be daunting, as the magnitude and depth of these problems can sometimes be hard to digest. This then makes these topics more abstract or conceptual rather than real and tangible.
In the development sector across the world, discussing these things is close to ordinary. After all, it is the thrust and ethos of any organisation to be exposed, day in and day out, to these problems so as to improve the systems that these challenges fall under. However, for the everyman who may be living their lives far removed from these challenges, those whose passions or jobs do not directly intersect with social responses, talking about these social issues may not be one they encounter or experience often.
But then there have been ways in which people — whose passions or jobs may not coincide exactly with how development sectors respond to social justice — created things that could still, in one way or another, talk about social issues in a much relatable manner. An example is music. Many singers and songwriters have gone to dive into stringing words together that can spark dialogues — from the protest folk songs of the 60s to the politically charged rap music of today.
Here are some protest songs from across the world that have, somehow, helped bring social issues to the forefront for discussion.
Borders by M.I.A
With the refugee crisis still unsolved, British rapper M.I.A made sure to tackle this global issue in her music video. The entire video shows the realities of refugees who escape their war-torn countries — how they climb over barbed-wire fences or how they try to survive perilous boat rides. With its detailed representation of how these refugees lead their lives, any viewer would be left to reassess how they can be of help to these people who do not have a place to call home.
Testify by Rage Against the Machine
Michael Moore, best known as a documentary filmmaker who challenges capitalist ideologies, directed this video by Rage Against the Machine. Naturally, the concepts that revolved around this video included the world’s affinity to oil, fraudulent politicians that regaled their empty promises, and essentially everything that may be the root cause of all the problems that the world is having.
Brenda’s Got A Baby by Tupac Shakur
One of the best-selling artists of all time, Tupac had always been known for rap lyrics that speak for a community. This track sheds light on the challenges of teenage pregnancy, the difficulties of living in poor urban areas, and the day-to-day hardship of having to scramble for resources without help from the government.
I Tried by Melanie Fiona
In the UK, two women die every week because of domestic violence. Melanie Fiona, a Grammy Award winner, exposes the very real, heart-wrenching pain of the difficulty of leaving an abusive relationship. As domestic violence is a social issue that happens behind closed doors, help can be very hard to get. In the video, the singer, who is bruised, tries to break a glass wall that seems indestructible. Fiona said in an interview: “I hope this visual sparks emotion, thought, dialogue, reflection, and ultimately, positive change.”
All I Want for Christmas by Macy Gray
All I Want for Christmas is widely known to be an upbeat song about romance and love. But soul singer Macy Gray added her own twist to it: instead of saying “you, baby,” she mentions better gun control, free health care, and a strong collective desire to address global warming. Kids’ voices are also included in the video, where they say they want homes for the homeless and world peace this holiday season.
Portia Ladrido is a multimedia journalist specialising in social justice, culture, and the arts. She is a human rights journalism fellow at the Philippine Human Rights Information Center and the Metro Manila hub coordinator of the Solutions Journalism Network. She currently writes speeches for the Philippines’ first female socialist senator. Previously, she worked as an editor and writer at CNN Philippines.