WMSC Music Picks: Gen Z Political Music

Written by on April 17, 2024

WMSC’s music team explores alternative rock songs that explore political topics. Read below for some politically motivated favorites made by, or enjoyed by Generation Z as part of Montclair State University’s School of Communication and Media Spring 2024 #FOCUS project!

“Don’t Wait” – Neck Deep (ft. Sam Carter)

Review by Amber Bintliff

Featuring vocals from the Architects’ Sam Carter, “Don’t Wait” explores a heavier sound for Neck Deep, as well as a message to be aware of what is happening in the world around you. Lead singer Ben Barlow conveys that it is important to pay attention to the actions and intentions of politicians. The chorus urges the listener to think for themselves and take action with lyrics detailing, “Don’t wait for anyone / Say it for you / Say it for yourself / What if God was the beggar in disguise / Would it make any difference? Would you open your eyes?” Neck Deep have always been outspoken about politics throughout their career and this song is one of many that has resonated with their audience, especially those in Gen Z.

“The Wounded World” – AS IT IS

Review by Amber Bintliff

On their third album The Great Depression, AS IT IS has taken a darker approach with an album theme that consists of critiquing different societal, psychological, and political issues. The lead single, “The Wounded World,” focuses on the current troubling status of the world around us, and how there’s no one to blame but ourselves for what’s happening. My favorite line of the entire song remains the spoken part during the bridge. Here, lead singer Patty Walters states, “I know this isn’t something you’re going to like to hear / Which is exactly why you need to hear this / Because we have failed our ancestors, ourselves, and the future inhabitants of the wounded world.” This song’s main message is that we need to turn things around and take action before it becomes too late to fix the issues seen in our society.

“The Hand That Feeds” – Nine Inch Nails 

Review by G.S. Alvarez

Now the second most popular Nine Inch Nails song of all time (only second to The Downward Spiral’s infamous “Closer”), “The Hand That Feeds” was released on March 28th 2005, three months after the reinauguration of George W. Bush. While Nine Inch Nails has never been one to shy away from politics, this is their most overtly political song and was written in response to foreign policy decisions made by the Bush administration after 9/11. When performing this song live around its time of release, the band tended to project an image of George W. Bush behind them.

This practice resulted in them being forced to pull out of their performance at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards–frontman Trent Reznor made a post on his website afterwards that stated, “Apparently, the image of our President is as offensive to MTV as it is to me.” MTV responded that their denial was because of a reluctance to allow “partisan politician statements” to be the center of a performance. Nine Inch Nails continued to play the song, which lyrically encourages listeners to “bite the hand that feeds,” with the image of George W Bush behind them–later performances around 2008 replaced the image with that of John McCain. This track is a staple in any 2000s hard rock playlist, and still serves as an accessible entry into musical political rebellion today. 

“Ashes of the Wake” – Lamb of God 

Review by G.S. Alvarez

One of the most explicitly anti-war metal albums of the early 2000s, Lamb of God’s fourth studio album Ashes of the Wake still holds up today with tracks condemning the United States’ entrance into Iraq in 2003. Several songs strongly allude to an opposition to the war, including “Now You’ve Got Something to Die For,” “The Faded Line,” and “Omerta.” None is more direct, however, than the title track “Ashes of the Wake.”

The only words in this track are a sample from an interview of former Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey, in which he details war crimes allegedly committed by Marines in Baghdad during his tenure there (The truth of Massey’s claims have been debated).

The final lines of this mostly instrumental track – which features solos from Alex Skolnick of Testament and Chris Poland of Megadeth – reiterate that both Massey and Lamb of God condemn the war. The album, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2024, seems more relevant than ever as we continue through the 2020s, and despite being explicitly against the Iraq War, bears extensive similarities to the conflicts in both Ukraine and Palestine.

“The News” – Paramore 

Review by Alyssa Arroyo

Throughout countless decades, artists have created songs commenting on the political climate of the world they were living in at the moment. One of the most powerful songs as of late that does exactly this is the track “The News” by the band Paramore. Their sixth studio album, This Is Why, proved to be such a diverse and influential record that commented on several different topics. “The News” in particular tackles the subjects people tend to ignore. Lead singer Hayley Williams starts the song with the word “War,” immediately providing a sense of what the rest of the song is going to tackle.

Throughout the track, Williams shouts at the listeners to pay attention to the world around us, desire education, and notice the pain we have become so normalized to. She lists the words, “Exploitative / Performative / Informative” and “Rhetorical / Deplorable / Historical” as a commentary on the news itself. Paramore has always been consistently outright with their opinions on political issues throughout their career. One example is how the band spoke on climate change, partnered with the group “Support and Feed,” and promoted their collaborative video before their shows while on tour in 2023.

The band also produced a song titled, “Big Mand, Little Dignity” off of This Is Why, which serves as a commentary on problematic politicians and their abuse of power. The band is extremely proactive in advocating for the voiceless and standing up for those who need it. To Hayley, Taylor, and Zac, I’m sure I speak for a great number of people when I simply say, thank you.

“Born This Way” – Lady Gaga

Review by Rebekkah Dayon

One song that shaped Gen Z growing up is “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. Gaga has always been an activist for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, something that’s apparent in her music and performances. Gaga stated that she wanted to make a song that directly addressed the issues the LGBTQ+ community faced during the early 2010s, rather than a song that is drowned in poetry or metaphors where the message could get lost. This is something that makes this song so special. It was on the radio every day growing up and you completely, without a doubt, understood what the song was addressing. “Born This Way” is such an empowering piece for a community that was still battling for basic same-sex marriage rights, and gave recognition to a community that was swept under the rug for far too long which is the transgender community.

One of the most iconic songs of the early 2010s, “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga will forever hold a special place in Gen Z culture as it opened up a door, allowing people to truly be who they are without fear, and to lift up one another. It’s an anthem that will always be loved and used to express allyship and support for the LGBTQ+ community.

“Rise Up” – Andra Day

Review by Mia Savidge

I grew up with the song “Rise Up” by Andra Day, and remember constantly hearing it at school, on the radio, and in choir. It’s an uplifting song that urges the listener to take action in whatever form that is applicable. Because of this, “Rise Up” is a perfect inspiration for people to make a change, such as casting their vote in the election. The lyrics showcase how even when you feel like you can’t go on, there will always be someone there to lift you up and inspire you to make your impact. The song features words and phrases such as “unafraid,” “moving mountains,” and “in spite of the ache.” Overall, this song is one that many in Gen Z have heard and grown up with, and that can greatly influence us and our desire to take charge.

“I Know A Place” – MUNA

Review by Manda Martinez

MUNA is an American pop band formed in 2013, consisting of members Katie Gavin, Naomi McPherson, and Josette Maskin. The group has grown rapidly in popularity since 2019 with hits like “Silk Chiffon” and “One That Got Away.” All members of the band are openly queer and frequently express their sexuality in their music. Their 2017 debut album About U features a track titled “I Know A Place,” a powerful song written by the group for the queer community.

Initially written in June of 2015, just days after the Supreme Court ruled that state-level bans on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional in the United States, they were challenged by the reality that although such a great step had been taken, there was still so much work to be done for the LGBTQ+ community. Lead singer Katie Gavin said, “We knew that if we were to make a song that truly spoke to the American LGBTQ community in 2015, it would need to address both victory and violence.”

It is a song that remains relevant to this day, with anti-transgender bills being proposed constantly. When the band performs “I Know A Place” live, they often mention how their concerts are safe spaces for LGBTQ+ and people of color. It is a beautiful song that serves as a reminder that there is a place that exists where we can all live in peace, we just have to keep fighting for it.

“Blood // Water” – grandson

Review by Emily McCormack

“Blood // Water” was my first introduction to the politically motivated rock artist grandson. The term Blood Water, as I interpret it, is the concept of something pure, like water, being polluted by an outside force, like blood. Releasing this hazard into something necessary to life puts the masses in danger, something grandson criticizes the government for doing. He calls out politicians for their corrupt ways, lack of concern for public safety, blatant greed, and cowardly escapes when they place the blame on others. 

In the second verse, grandson sings “I am the violence / I am the sickness / Won’t accept your silence / Beg me for forgiveness” – Commenting on how we the people can make a real change if the public rises, demands a change from those in power, and stop accepting poor conditions simply because that’s “just the way things are.”

In the bridge, he sings “When the last tree’s fallen / The animal can’t hide / Money won’t solve it,” referring to pushing the people to their limit, where they have no choice but to act in animalistic ways to get what they need. Money isn’t a solution to all things when lives are in danger, and it’s important to stand against corruption when it impacts your everyday way of living. grandson provides the simple question – What are you gonna do when there’s blood in the water?

“Feels Like Summer” – Childish Gambino

Review by Gurleen Kaur

“Feels Like Summer” by Childish Gambino came out in July of 2018, released by Wolf & Rothstein, Liberator Music, and RCA Records. The song itself is about how hot the summers have become over the years, getting into extreme temperatures. This comments on how everyone on earth has contributed in one way or another towards global warming. It also brings up the concern that some people don’t recognize the rapid negative effects humans have caused, and blindly hope the issues resolve themselves, and quickly.

Childish Gambino is known for using his musical talent to articulate issues that are affecting society as a whole. In this song, he brings to light this current issue of global warming through his creative outlet. His music has been heard by millions of people across the globe, who can then inspire others to start a chain of positive change in the world.

When connecting this song to our upcoming election, it’s important to understand candidates’ values and consider if they align with those of voters. This may make you consider whether or not certain candidates stand up for environmental rights and consistently support what you value yourself.


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