Did 2013 rock?
Musically, this was the year that Robin Thicke blurred the lines of decency (and copyright infringement), Miley Cyrus brought twerking to the dictionary, and Yeezus walked among us. But behind the beat this year there are a few songs that raised social awareness, so just as we did last year, here are the top 10 political songs of 2013.
Beyoncé - “Flawless”
- Throwing everyone’s year end lists into crisis mode, the release of Beyonce’s unannounced fifth album left America’s collective head spinning. If there were not already enough reasons to admire Queen B, here’s one more: her new song “Flawless” features the voice of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivering a speech from her 2012 TED Talk, “We Should All be Feminists.” Check it out here.
Lil Wayne – “God Bless Amerika”
- 2013 was a difficult year for Weezy. After coming back from reportedly life threatening seizures early in the year, Tunechi released the critically-panned I Am Not a Human Being II. Buried in the uneven release was a thoughtful gem, “God Bless Amerika,” where we find the Young Money label head waxing on the American condition as only he can, “Damn, military minded / lost and can’t find it / The stars on the flag are never shining / Uh, I saw a butterfly in hell today / Will I die or go to jail today?”
Kanye West – “New Slaves”
- From his usual outspokenness, to the birth of his daughter, to his epic arena tour, Kanye is stunting on all of us again, as usual. At the heart of the Ye-mpire was his electronic opus Yeezus. It was launched in a coordinated multi-city projection of his single “New Slaves,” a vitriolic outburst addressing slavery, racism, materialism, and even going so far as to call out the Drug Enforcement Agency and the private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America by name.
Against Me! - “True Trans Soul Rebel”
- Was 2013 the year of the transgender? The world was blessed by the amazing Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black and Alaska Thunderfudge [sic] on RuPaul’s Drag Race; in the world of music we saw the new face of the punk rock outfit Against Me! In 2012, the band’s lead singer Tom Gabel came out as transgender and changed her name to Laura Jane Grace. This year Against Me! released their sixth album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, featuring the poignant acoustic number, “True Trans Soul Rebel.”
GoldieBlox - “Girls”
- The politics behind this song and music video spilled off the YouTube page and into the courts. Silicon Valley startup GoldieBlox - a toy company engaged in, “building games for girls to inspire future engineers - rewrote the words to the Beastie Boys 1987 single “Girls.” The GoldieBlox version replaces original lyrics, “Girls to do the dishes / Girls to clean up my room / Girls to do the laundry / Girls and in the bathroom,” with the more empowering message of, ”Girls to build a spaceship / Girls to code the new app / Girls to grow up knowing / That they can engineer that.” However the Beasties have a strict policy of not allowing their music in advertisement, based on late member Adam Yauch’s dying wishes. GoldieBlox filed a defensive lawsuit claiming that their version is a parody, and therefore “fair use.” The Beastie Boys then countersued, claiming that the use of their music, “directly resulted in a massive increase in the sales,” and “condones and encourages stealing from others.” Not all fun and games it would seem. GoldieBlox has already removed the music from the video, but you can still see the original version here.
Chance the Rapper – “Pusha Man /Paranoia”
- Chicago gun violence was among the most devastating issues the country faced this year. Among the young artists who have responded to the epidemic of gang warfare is Chance the Rapper, a charismatic wordsmith who effortlessly weaves concern for his fellow Chicagoans in between brags and boasts. This year, Chance dropped a rap-epic by the name of “Pusha Man / Paranoia” where he lays out the situation of his city pretty clearly, “They be shooting whether it’s dark or not, I mean the days is pretty dark a lot / Down here it’s easier to find a gun than it is to find a f***ing parking spot / No love for the opposition, specifically a cop position / Cause they’ve never been in our position / Getting violations for the nation, correlating, you dry snitching.”
Sarah Cahill, “Be Kind to One Another (Rag)”
- The pianist Sarah Cahill released an album inspired by protest music featuring a rendition of the Terry Riley composition, “Be Kind to One Another,” a peaceful piano ballad. The composer writes of the piece, “[It] is a statement for peace… it does not aim for dramatic content, but strives instead to enforce a feeling of balanced equilibrium and compassion.”
Cecile McLorin Salvant - “You Bring Out the Savage in Me”
- This 23 year old chanteuse has a voice beyond her years and a keen sense of satire to boot. “Savage,” is a 1930’s absurdist romp with openly racist lyrics like, “You bring out the savage in me / You can be my ape man.” Upon hearing it Salvant, an African-American, told NPR, “I just immediately wanted to sing it, because it was so completely absurd and outrageous. And I wanted to be able to laugh about it, too.”
Ted Nugent – Black Power Tour 2013
- This one isn’t just a song, but an entire 40+ city cross-country rock and roll tour. The controversial guitar slinger opted to honor his musical African-American musical heroes such as Cuck Berry, Little Richard, and James Brown by naming is 2013 tour, “Black Power 2013.” Unfortunately, the tour wound up spending less time honoring black musicians, with the Motor City Madman opting instead to attack the, “lying racist in the White House,” and opine on New York gun laws with the comment, “If you try to limit us to seven bullets in Texas, we’ll shoot you eight times.” Our friends at Media Matters rounded up the worst of the worst from Mr. Cat Scratch Fever’s 2013 antics here.
Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood - “Obamacare by Morning”
- This year’s annual Country Music Association Award Show was watched by 16.6 million people, and many more tuned in on YouTube to see the admittedly hilarious skit/song with two of the genre’s biggest stars having a good laugh over the troubles with the new federal website.
Listen to some of the music featured in this post in the Top Political Songs of 2013 Spotify Playlist: