As the clock ticks down closer to Election Day, more and more musicians are encouraging their fans to get out and vote. While musicians encouraging fans to vote is nothing new, this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, things will have to be done differently.
Artists have always influenced and commented on the culture around them. Yet, moreso in America since the Vietnam War, musicians have encouraged their fans to vote and push for change. It was seen during 1969’s Woodstock festival and the Newport Folk Festivals through the 1960s. Then in the 1970s, new genres like punk rock and hip-hop began taking shape by speaking truth to power.
“Politicians say things that are popular, but not necessarily true, and an artist's job is to say things that are true, but not necessarily popular,” Mikel Jollett, frontman of The Airborne Toxic Event, told Inside Edition Digital.
By the 1980s and through the 1990s, musicians ushered in the “Rock the Vote” campaign. In the early 2000s, there was the “Vote or Die” campaign. In past years, musicians would hit the road with politicians to drum up support.
Now, as America and the world at large grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, musicians are finding new and creative ways to get their voices heard and encourage people to vote and organize.
“I personally am doing all that I can to make sure that people get out the vote. In any way that they can. I talk to my friends and my neighbors and anyone who will listen about how crucial this election is,” Corey Glover, singer of Living Colour, told Inside Edition Digital.
“Sometimes it makes more of an impact when people in your real life encourage you,” pop star Olivia O'Brien told Inside Edition Digital. “Social media is very impactful, but I’ve found that people can still be forgetful or not always comprehend the importance until they hear it personally from someone close to them.”
Though touring has all but come to a standstill, many musicians have taken to social media in recent weeks to encourage fans to get out and vote. But, as many artists and social media users have come to learn, misinformation spreads fast and is wide-reaching.
“It’s important to be educated in an unbiased way so you can understand both sides and pick the side that you feel is right. A lot of people are getting information from random people on Facebook and other social media who have no idea what they are talking about,” O'Brien said.
“Facebook needs to make its news feed cultivated by experts. Period,” Jollett said. “As it turns out, misinformation, disinformation, these things that have these conspiracy-laden, fear and anger triggering type headlines and ideas, they keep you interested as human beings, because they stimulate this flight or fight response, which is very addictive.”
Jollett also is using his time away from touring to volunteer for various organizations like volunteerswinelections.com and 38for38.com as well as encouraging people to become poll workers. He also phone banks in support of candidates.
“I think a few artists are putting on digital performances...I think a lot of artists have come to the conclusion that what they need to do is advocate, and what they really need to do is organize and cut out the middleman of raising money, give it to other people, to simply sign up and volunteer themselves, lend their platforms,” Jollett said. “It's lots of different artists. I don't think it's just musicians, but musicians certainly as well. Because the moment requires everything from us right now. It's like whatever you have to give.”
Recently, hip-hop group Run the Jewels performed their new album, 2020’s “Run the Jewels 4,” live in full for the first time as a way to encourage their fans to register to vote and head to the polls. The concert also raised money for the ACLU. And iconic New York City rockers Living Colour will play a socially distant concert in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, which will be broadcast online.
“It seems that the artist always sees the world for what it is,” Glover said. “They are usually working from a place of struggle. Which means that puts us in the middle of the struggle. Politics and the world affect us more than others in my opinion. Plus, we have more access to people.”
“People before me paid with their lives. And people right now, we’re paying with their lives,” Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid told Inside Edition Digital about why he has spent his career speaking truth to power.
Though concerts in the traditional sense can’t take place, musicians are all but quiet.
“It’s the responsibility of people with a large following to spread the word about important topics. When a lot of people are watching what you do, you have a rare and incredible opportunity to raise awareness for things that matter to you. Voting, and encouraging others to vote, is one of those particular topics that matters to many of us. It’s up to all of us to change our country for the better,” O’Brien told Inside Edition Digital.
“I think part of it is just we tend to be people who are more like canaries in the coal mines, we can speak our minds,” Jollet added. “People in the public sphere are often hampered by their inability to say the truth as they understand it. It's like one of the reasons why I never ran for office.”
Sometimes an artist speaking their mind can rattle their fanbase. In March 2003, The Chicks’, then-known as Dixie Chicks, singer Nataline Maines said in concert that she and her bandmates were "ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." Her comments were made after then-president George W. Bush announced that the U.S. was invading Iraq. The fallout from the comment nearly cost Maines and her band their career.
“You have to face yourself in the mirror every day. If you can make the kind of compromises that eat you alive and be cool with it, then do that. If you can’t live with yourself and face your children then you have to go the other way,” Reid said.
“The risk is definitely worth the reward, or you're not going to have a country to do your art in. And also you could end up in jail. What happens in authoritarian regimes is people who speak out against the regime get put in jail? You're labeled a political dissident, so one way this could play out,” Jollett added. “I mean there's not going to be a country to do your art in...raise your voice. This is the time. This is the moment.”
What happens November 3, 2020 remains to be seen, but the movement for these musicians to mobilize seems to be as energized as ever, with each looking at the election as not just about party or ideology but what they see as right and wrong.