There are now signs that the daily intensification of global politics is beginning to find an echo within popular music.
In the US, amid a climate of patriotism and mass censorship of any dissent, huge selling artists such as singer Mary J Blige and rapper Nas have come out firmly against the war on Afghanistan and the threat to Iraq. The reworking of Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' by MTV Allstars (Christina Aguilera, Bono, Ja Rule, Alicia Keys and many more) featured a video clearly identifying poverty, racism, Aids and Third World debt as the backdrop to the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. In the week of 11 September 2001 itself the world's most popular album was by 'nu-metal' band System of a Down, despite--or perhaps because of--their outspoken anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist lyrics.
In Britain George Michael released the single 'Shoot the Dog', with an excellent animated video showing Tony Blair as a loyal poodle to the missile-worshipping madman in the White House. Michael confessed his inspiration was the 'Mirror's anti-war reportage, particularly that of John Pilger, saying, 'I thought it was so refreshing to see a paper doing this-not just accepting what the government was saying.' The singer remained unrepentant following predictable criticism from US and Murdoch-owned media, saying, 'Anyone who has a problem with the cross between pop and politics should look at the politics first and the ridiculous media response second. The truth is the argument has been strengthened, and if the record comes in at 56 it will have done its job. This situation is more important than any record or any attack on me.' (It reached number 12 in the UK charts.)
Similarly, at the start of September popular British groups Massive Attack and Blur helped fund a double-page advert in 'NME' against the war and for the 28 September demo.
Of course the above are not yet typical examples of politicised popular music. The multibillion dollar global music business continues to make vast profits from churning out formulaic rubbish. The charts don't give a true picture of the music many are into--for example the complete exclusion of the likes of bhangra and world music from the lists of bestsellers, despite massive grassroots popularity. Yet, many up and coming artists are making great music that expresses the anger, defiance and hope for a better world felt by hundreds of millions across the world, particularly among young people.
There has been a resurgence of such artists in US hip-hop, with the popularity of acts like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common Sense and Dead Prez. UK hip-hop is in possibly its rudest health ever, with the likes of Roots Manuva, Mark B & Blad and Blak Twang all enjoying TV exposure and chart success. The video for the latter's recent 'Kik Off' single shows footage of protesters battling cops in the anti-capitalist demonstrations of Prague and Genoa, with a chorus of 'Get ready to kick off!'
Jamaican music, for years dominated by often brilliant though generally apolitical dancehall reggae, has seen a big increase in popularity for 'conscious' MCs like Sizzla, Anthony B and Capleton, who in turn have had an influence on bigger stars like Beenie Man, who asked on a superb recent hit tune, 'Has the world gone mad?'
This exciting shift in reggae is marred only by a prevalence of homophobic sentiment on even the most conscious records--a contradiction mirrored in hip-hop stars like Eminem, who can be simultaneously brilliant and reactionary.
In Britain garage music remains popular. While some of its more famous exponents, like So Solid Crew and Oxide & Neutrino, have been plugged on the basis of sexism and the glorification of violence, this year in particular has seen bright and positive new stars emerge.
Ms Dynamite, originally and still a superb garage MC, has made an album full of great r & b songs making smart points about racism, sexism, and the worship of money and violence. Easily the most popular garage club act is Heartless Crew, who mix a wicked blend of garage, r & b, jungle and dancehall with positive lyrics and a good time vibe.
Ms Dynamite performed at the Anti Nazi League's 'Love Music--Hate Racism' carnival in Manchester at the start of September attracting over 30,000 people. Along with the Doves, The Shining and Billy Bragg, the carnival also featured the cream of Britain's hip-hop, indie, garage, bhangra and drum & bass talent. The success of the ANL carnival will be built on with a series of gigs and raves across Britain in the coming months.