‘Til It Happens to You

‘Til It Happens to You

TW: The following content contains reference to rape and sexual assault.

Lady Gaga’s newest single is both a surprising and predictable move for the internationally-acclaimed star. Though strikingly different than her extravagant performances in strange costumes, this beautiful, deeply emotional PSA for sexual assault on college campuses reminds us of the social justice-focused Lady Gaga, the Lady Gaga who does not shy away from tough topics. The video, as well as the music, is heartbreaking and compelling. Lady Gaga’s powerful voice creates a sense of support and strength despite the lives falling apart in the video. The end of the video directly calls for action, stating “one in five women will be sexually assaulted this year unless something changes.” This new single reminds us of Gaga’s power and flexibility as an artist—without smoke machines or fancy costumes, she is able to create something just as deep, challenging, and powerful. I am looking forward to what Gaga will do next.

Image from DeVoe


It’s Deeper Than That

It’s Deeper Than That

Tyler, the Creator, was recently banned from the U.K. because, according to the Home Office, Tyler’s lyrics did not respect the U.K.’s “shared values.” While some may see this as a triumph—Tyler’s lyrics are often criticized for inciting violence, using homophobic words and phrases, and for degrading and demeaning women—it raises some broader questions about censorship. As Julianne Escobedo Shepherd asks, “What does it mean when performing artists are banned for art they created in the past? Is there ever a point in which a person can redeem himself? And third, what does it mean for an artist to be banned at all?” I think these are important questions when thinking about Tyler’s case in particular, but also more generally about artists whose work is seen as “offensive.” Tyler is the only artist I have heard of who was banned for his words alone, which begs the question, was it really for his words alone? Tyler himself has stated that the lyrics in question are from his “alter ego,” and that they do not represent his personal views. This seems perfectly reasonable, and had Tyler written a novel or a poem, even, perhaps people wouldn’t be questioning his motives. But there seems to be something else at work here as well.

Since the Ferguson case last year, the media has been inundated with cases of unarmed black men being targeted by white policemen. According to a Washington Post database of fatal police shootings, 24 unarmed black men have been shot and killed by the police so far this year, and black men accounted for 40% of the 60 unarmed deaths. These deaths are not new, and reflect a continuing fear of young black men. Though Tyler was not shot, his banning from the U.K. seems to reflect this societal fear of young black men and the stereotype that they are angry, violent, and uncontrollable.

Tyler’s censorship is in no way a victory. While I do not listen to his music, and do not enjoy violent or derogatory lyrics, that does not mean his music deserves to be censored or stopped. Censorship can never be empowering. As Nadine Strossen states, “Censorship always does more harm than good, including and especially to the groups that are supposedly benefiting from it…It ends up being ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst to the admirable goals of safety and equality.” In this case, I can’t help but think that censoring Tyler in no way creates a safer or more equal space—especially since most of the lyrics in question are from many years ago, and the current album has been toned down—and instead perpetuates the stereotypical image of the uncontrollable, violent, black man. One who needs to be silenced by the authorities so that he doesn’t disturb our “peaceful” societies. Tyler is rightfully unapologetic, stating that he knows it is not about the lyrics, which were from many years ago, and that “out of nowhere, the UK has a problem with me coming into their country?…I don’t know what it’s about now, it’s deeper than that.”

Image: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/09/tyler-the-creator-banned-in-uk-hip-hop-rap/403690/

Sometimes Music is the Best Medicine

Sometimes Music is the Best Medicine

One of the longest struggles for human rights in the United States is rarely talked about. Indigenous Peoples in the US (and around the world) have faced colonialism, oppression, economic and environmental injustices, and violence throughout history. Many threats to their lands and livelihoods have yet to be addressed. Frank Waln, a 25-year-old Sicangu Lakota hip-hop artist, uses music to make sense of the world and to spread awareness of the issues facing Indigenous people. He believes that music can help to spread this message because of the emotional response it creates.

 My music became political whether I wanted it to or not, just because I was talking about my life and the history of my tribe. [For example], the feeling I get when I think about what the Keystone pipeline will do to my home and the future for me. Capturing the way that it makes me feel and putting that in a song so that no matter who you are, when you hear or see the song performed live, you’ll be able to feel that same urgency. I think that’s where art comes in—and music especially— in things like resistance against the pipeline. It brings an emotional element that’s very much needed.

Though his music relates directly to his life, it also ties into universal emotions, which makes the music more relatable to a wider audience. This is part of the power of music as well, to reach audiences that are different, that see the world differently, and connect with them as well.

Frank has been featured on MTV’s Rebel Music, and continues to tour, performing and holding workshops with youth. He believes that “walking with young people is where I will have the most impact.” He is currently working on the release of his first full-length album.

Follow Frank on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fwaln/

Image: frankwaln.com

Say Their Names

Say Their Names

I have spent the last year in a constant give and take between devastation and awe. As images, news articles, and videos flood my Facebook feed, with yet another death, yet another act of violence fueled by hate and racism, I am devastated by the state of our world. I don’t even have the words to express how sad, and scared, and angry this news makes me feel.

I have spent a lot of time outside of the United States this year, and I’ve had to explain what was happening to host families, and friends. I’ve had to explain what people meant when they said “Black Lives Matter.” When I told my host family in Guatemala that people were being killed by the police because of their race, they were saddened but not surprised. They had lived through dictatorship, armed conflict, genocide. But I haven’t lived through those things, and I am shocked every time a new article appears on my Facebook feed. Another death. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked by it anymore.

I am shocked and devastated, but I am also in awe. I am in awe of how our communities have come together to protest the violence. I am in awe of the way that people continue to stand, to fight, to speak up. In many ways I have felt distant from it all. I have been unable to attend protests and marches in my homes of Chicago and Massachusetts, but every time I see pictures, or read articles, I could not be more proud to be an American.

Janelle Monáe’s protest song “Hell You Talmbout” , released last Thursday (Aug 13), spoke to how I’ve been feeling this past year. Its power comes in its simplicity. Repeating the names of some of those who have been killed, with the refrain “say his name”, reminds us that in silence we are complicit in the violence. It is only with a voice, it is only be speaking up, standing up, noticing, and remembering that we can fight violence. This song simply, and beautifully, memorializes those who have died, and incites people to action.

Perhaps Monáe said it best:

“This song is a vessel. It carries the unbearable anguish of millions. We recorded it to channel the pain, fear, and trauma caused by the ongoing slaughter of our brothers and sisters. We recorded it to challenge the indifference, disregard, and negligence of all who remain quiet about this issue. Silence is our enemy. Sound is our weapon. They say a question lives forever until it gets the answer it deserves…Won’t you say their names?”

Image: Janelle Monáe at the CCT show at the University of Iowa

Playing For Change

In the early 2000s, Playing For Change had a beautiful idea. Founded by Mark Johnson and and Whitney Kroenke, Playing For Change began with the idea that music “has the power to break down boundaries and to overcome distances between people.” This idea sparked Songs Around the World, in which street musicians around the world come together —through the use of recording and film equipment—to sing songs and spread their messages of joy and hope. Songs Around the World reminds us that, though we all come from many different cultures—and use different words, and eat different food, and wear different clothing—we can share a common language through music. This is a powerful message, and it also makes for wonderful music.  At this point, Playing For Change has made many Songs Around the World videos, including the one above which features “musicians who have seen and overcome conflict and hatred with love and perseverance” (including Bono.) There is also this adorable video which features children from around the world.  Recently, they have formed the Playing For Change Foundation, a non-profit which works to provide music education to children in communities all around the world. Playing For Change really seems to have understood the power of music, and the community it creates, and are using this power to create community across huge distances and giant barriers.

Conduct Us

On September 14, 2013, Improv Everywhere, a New York based group that “causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places,” placed a Carnegie Hall orchestra in the middle of the city with an empty podium that read “conduct us.” Random people in New York were able to approach the podium and conduct this world-class orchestra, and the orchestra responded to their conducting. The above video, posted by Improv Everywhere, gives only a brief snippet of what must have been a fantastic day. This event, among all of the other things it does, reminds us that classical music–a medium that is often seen as  inaccessible by modern audiences both because of cost and also because it isn’t as easily relatable as pop music–is something everyone can enjoy and have fun with. But it’s about more than just the fact that classical music can be “fun.” This piece is particularly powerful because it’s a reminder that while we often value technique and skill when we think of classical music, everyone can make music. And music can be an amazing tool for creating community among people in all walks of life. I mean, how many times do you get to see so many different people standing on  New York  street corner smiling, laughing and making music together?

A Song of Our Warming Planet


Daniel Crawford, a University of Minnesota undergrad, has found a new way to represent data about climate change. Instead of using graphs, or diagrams, Crawford uses something many of us would not expect–music. This approach–known as data sonification–converts global temperature data into musical notes. Each note represents a year and higher pitches are warmer temperatures and lower pitches are cooler temperatures. While perhaps this piece isn’t going to win any awards for the music itself–though it is not bad to listen to–Crawford’s method suggests that data can have different impacts when looked at in different ways. The video above claims that by the end of the century, if we continued the Song of Our Warming Planet to reflect this data, the earth would have warmed so much that it would produce a series of notes that are beyond human hearing. I think that a statement like that is really powerful, perhaps even more powerful than another graph or chart. Crawford claims that he’s trying to “add another tool” to the climate change “toolbox,” and I think what he has found is an extremely powerful and provocative tool.