May 5, 2016


Rage Against The Machine: How Donald Trump Has Inspired The Music World’s Anger

Joey Foley/WireImage
Joey Foley/WireImage

On Tuesday (May 3)—the same day that Donald Trump won the Indiana primary, effectively becoming the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party as Ted Cruz concurrently bowed out of the race—Radiohead released a new video. 

In the stop-motion visual for new single “Burn The Witch,” smiling characters welcome an outsider into a seemingly idyllic but actually deranged community. A noose is proudly displayed, strange rituals are committed by masked men, and the eventually, the outsider is burned to death in an ending that directly recalls The Wicker Man; the rest of the community waves happily as it happens, unaware of their insanity.

Following the video release, animator Virpi Kettu, who also worked with Radiohead on the 2003 video for “There There,” told Billboard, "They wanted the video to contrast with what they're playing and to wake people up a bit." Kettu added that Radiohead wanted the song and video to raise awareness about the "blaming of different people... the blaming of Muslims and the negativity" that could lead to the titular phrase. Radiohead perhaps wasn’t specifically invoking Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the United States—Kettu says that the song is more focused on the refugee crisis within Europe—but it’s worth noting that the stop-motion video is an homage to a classic British children’s show titled… wait for it… The Trumptonshire Trilogy, set in the fictional county of Trumpton.

And even if “Burn The Witch,” Radiohead's most politically charged piece of music since 2003's Hail to the Thief, isn’t about the explicit xenophobia that Trump has ignited within the Republican Party, there are enough moments in recent popular music that take aim at Trump without hesitation or the need for subtext. 

In late March, while Trump was cruising through the post-Super Tuesday primaries, YG and Nipsey Hussle dropped a song called “FDT,” an acronym that stands for for “Fuck Donald Trump.” On the song “OLA/Foreign Friend,” M.I.A. (never one to mince political words) lampooned Trump’s call for a Mexican border wall (“When I jump that fence, I’m gon’ get a Benz”). Last month, Tyler, The Creator unveiled a Golf Wang t-shirt featuring Trump adorned with a Hitler moustache, and before that, Mac Miller called him a "racist fuckwad." As for musical artists who have spoken out against Trump on social media… well, there are practically too many to count.

As Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party has transformed from an elaborate joke to an unstoppable streak, pop culture at large has swiveled from laughing at his campaign to condemning it, with an increased urgency that’s befitting of Trump’s unpopularity. In other words: Tons of artists are pissed, in a way we’ve never seen before. 

Protest songs against specific politicians have existed for decades, from “Born In The U.S.A.” to “American Idiot,” but were never this openly caustic. Imagine four years ago if a “FMR (Fuck Mitt Romney)” song had been released; even the staunchest liberals would likely label the title too extreme. Now that a Trump-led party is a reality, the reactions to his rhetoric have gone to a furious, profanity-filled place.

It took a while to get here. Last October, Blur performed at New York’s Madison Square Garden and ended the song “Tender” with the impromptu refrain, “Don’t fall for Donald Trump/because he’s a chump.” The rhyme inspired cheers and laughter from the arena crowd. Fifteen days after the performance, Trump hosted Saturday Night Live on Nov. 7, where he introduced Sia and danced to Drake’s “Hotline Bling” to uproarious laughter.

Flash forward six months, and now no entertainers are laughing along with Trump. At one of Pearl Jam’s Madison Square Garden concerts this week, Eddie Vedder jammed phrases like “Fuck Donald Trump” and “All you young voters, it’s time you were heard” into “Wishlist,” his seriousness presented with no uncertain terms. Meanwhile, the idea of Trump returning to SNL—perhaps for the season finale later this month?—could cause enough outrage for Twitter to combust.

With the primaries largely over, the 2016 election is going to quickly shift into a two-person race, and the discourse between popular artists and undecided voters is going to enhance. If and when Bernie Sanders drops out, a majority of his famous backers will swivel to Hillary Clinton—if not for any “I’m With Her” passion, then out of necessity for stopping Trump. Meanwhile, Trump will have his artistic supporters (huge shout-out to Ted Nugent), but he’ll likely have more artists telling him to stop using their music (as the Rolling Stones just did). Maybe there will be another artist-led movement to increase youth voter turnout. If there was ever an election where Vote or Die was applicable, some would argue, it’s one with Donald Trump involved.

Expect more protest songs to come out in the coming months, and for those songs to contain some of the most hostile language we’ve ever heard in the history of political music. As Trump’s candidacy is unprecedented, so will the creative community’s reaction be to this particular conservative figurehead. 

“N—a am I tripping? Let me know/I thought all that Donald Trump bullshit was a joke,” Nipsey raps on “Fuck Donald Trump.” The next six months will likely be infused with musical vitriol, now that this bullshit is no longer a joke.