Every war since WWII has inspired some sort of a cultural backlash against the powers that be. Sometimes it’s a movie like W. but more often than not, these artistic expressions are protest songs. We take a look at the best protest songs of the 21st century:
10. “Let’s Impeach the President” - Neil Young (April 28, 2006)
This is the seventh track on Young’s 2006 studio album Living with War. It starts off with a trumpet playing the first six notes of Taps, then having a chorus sing about various reasons to impeach the current president of the United States George W. Bush. The song is sung to the tune of Steve Goodman’s song “The City of New Orleans,” probably a reference to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, another area of critical views. The “Godfather of Grundge” makes clear that he has no love for President Bush.
9. “Final Straw”- R.E.M. ( Oct. 4, 2004)
This is a politically-charged song, reminiscent in tone of “World Leader Pretend” on Green. The version on the album is a remix of the original version. “Final Straw” was released the week the U.S. invaded Iraq. Michael Stipe is not willing to let Bush invade Iraq without a clear reason, so he keeps asking “Why?” Well, most of us still still don’t have a clue (maybe oil).
8. ”The Day After Tomorrow”- Tom Waits (Oct. 3, 2004)
Tom Waits covered increasingly political subject matter since the advent of the Iraq war, with “The Day After Tomorrow”. In this song Waits adopts the persona of a soldier writing home that he is disillusioned with war and is thankful to be leaving. The song does not mention the Iraq war specifically, and, as Tom Moon writes, “it could be the voice of a Civil War soldier singing a lonesome late-night dirge.” Waits himself does describe the song as something of an “elliptical” protest song about the Iraqi invasion, however. Thom Jurek describes “The Day After Tomorrow” as “one of the most insightful and understated anti-war songs to have been written in decades. It contains not a hint of banality or sentiment in its folksy articulation.” Waits’ recent output has not only addressed the Iraqi war, as his Road To Peace deals explicitly with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Middle East in general.
7. “When the President Talks to God” - Bright Eyes (March 21, 2005)
This is a protest song by Bright Eyes, with a very pointed political message directed towards George W. Bush and his policies. Even the Greeks claimed that the Olympian Gods were on their side, when they tried to muster political fervor. It’s good to see that Bush’s is taking cues from ancient Greek warlords. ”When the President Talks to God,” was originally released as a free download on iTunes but has since been released as a promotional 7″ vinyl and as a B-side to “First Day of My Life.” Right away Conor Oberst stuffs the President’s “bullshit,” right back down his throat.
6. “Heard Somebody Say” - Devendra Banhart (December 20, 2005)
This soft and mellow ballad sounds sweet and calming for the average listener. However, if you stop and listen closely to the lyrics, you’ll here the resignation of a sincere and kindhearted war protester. Banhart sings “that the war ended today/ but everyone knows it’s goin’ still” This is a reference to George W. Bush’s premature declaration of victory in Iraq on June 5, 2003. Since then, more U.S. troops died than during the official “war.” Banhart succinctly sums up his message: “oh, it’s simple/ we don’t want to kill.”
5. “16 Military Wives” - The Decemberists (Nov. 21, 2005)
Ever participated in Model U.N.? Colin Meloy, the singer-songwriter of the Decemberists, got his chance to play the role of the U.S. at a Model U.N. General Assembly. Meloy has characterized the song as a “protest song” inspired by the Iraq War. However, it does attack elements of the unilateral American foreign policy under George W. Bush (the lines “Because America can/And America can’t say no/And America does/If America says it’s so/It’s so” in the chorus), “16 Military Wives” focuses primarily on the news media and popular response to the war, particularly levying criticism at infotainment and the surface-level involvement of celebrities in public affairs.
4. “World Wide Suicide” - Pearl Jam (March 14, 2006)
The lyrics depict anger against the war in Iraq, and criticize the US government in a subtle manner. Vedder has said that “World Wide Suicide” was written largely about Pat Tillman. Vedder said:”It’s about him and a bunch of the guys who didn’t get as much coverage - the guys who barely got a paragraph instead of ten pages…The thing about Tillman was, he got ten pages but they were all lies. His family is being blocked by our government from finding out what happened.”
3. “Loose Lips” - Kimya Dawson (Jan. 8, 2008)
Kimya Dawson is one-half of the band Moldy Peaches. With a name like that, it’s difficult to expect anything more than rants and raves about the produce section at the grocery store. However, since the Juno soundtrack was released, Kimya Dawson is recognized as a legitimate singer-songwriter. This song in particular focuses on love, the antithesis of war.
2. “Intervention” - Arcade Fire (December 28, 2006)
Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible contains many oblique protests against the paranoia of a contemporary America ‘under attack by terrorism’. The album also contains two more overtly political protest songs in the form of “Windowsill”, in which Win Butler sings “I don’t want to live in America no more”, and “Intervention”, which contains the line “Don’t want to fight, don’t want to die”, and criticizes religious fanaticism in general. This song is the loudest cultural cry for isolationism in this decade.
1. ”2 + 2 = 5 (The Lukewarm)” - Radiohead (Nov. 17, 2003)
The song’s title recalls the symbol of unreality from George Orwell’s novel 1984. In the book, inhabitants of an authoritarian future state are made to engage in doublethink, replacing their own conscience and beliefs with those imposed from above. At the end of the novel, the protagonist’s individuality is demolished, as he avows that two and two are, in fact, five. With lyrics like “All hail to the thief, but I’m not” and “Don’t question my authority” there have been repeated suggestions from many musical critics that the song is based on the controversial election of George W. Bush in 2000. “2 + 2 = 5″ appears on the album Hail to the Thief, a play on the American Presidential theme: Hail to the Chief.