Where Have All the Protest Songs Gone?
Wood, Stephen [faculty advisor, Department of Communication Studies]
protest; music; bob dylan
The protest of social conditions through the form of music has a rich history. During the 1960’s, America saw a popular revival of protest music, which responded to the social turmoil of that era, from the civil rights movement to the war in Vietnam. Countless musicians used their art to protest the social inequities of their time, creating a diverse catalogue of popular protest music, which spoke to the masses of youths crying for revolutionary change. Of the popular, cultural heroes of the 1960’s, perhaps Bob Dylan is the most interesting and important case study. As Dylan’s character and music rapidly evolved, he redefined what protest music sounded like, took protest music to new and popular heights, and expanded the notion of what protest music is. His work has had a profound effect not only on his contemporaries, but on musicians in subsequent generations. However, why hasn’t a similar resurgence of popular protest music mirrored the contemporary era of social turmoil, including the war in Iraq, global warming, genocide, poverty, and continued discrimination based on gender, race, and sexual orientation? Although protest music unquestionably exists today, it hardly amounts to a flowering revival of musical protest through popular culture. The answer to this question is complex and multi-faceted. In the aftermath of the revival of songs of social change during the 1960’s, today’s protest music has inevitably changed, as has the perception of it by both artists and fans. From the lack of a strong and unified social movement to the changed nature of pop culture and the music industry, several factors work together to account for the lack of a contemporary revival of popular protest music. In addition to my research, I wrote, performed, and produced a contemporary protest album. Drawing on both old and new traditions, I completed a short album, which I hope reflects the spirit of youthful protest in these modern times. From folk, to electronic, to hip hop, the album serves as a work of musical protest that is eclectic in both style and content, challenging the notions of what protest music should say and sound like.