For Once and For All: All Music is Always Political!

Following Lady Gaga’s performance at the Super Bowl several weeks ago now, people were sending comments and tweets across the Internet praising her for leaving politics out of her performance. This interpretation of her song selections unknowingly or perhaps even willing erases the extremely political nature of her Super Bowl Halftime Show. Lady Gaga performed parts of many protest songs. And, considering the scope of United States History, having Lady Gaga perform is a political act in and of itself. 

Since this performance, I have seen many other comments suggesting that music is frequently apolitical.

Music, however, is always political.

Even when it is “political” in terms of the “the personal is the political” philosophy.

We can read the lyrics and the instruments as texts and then examine relevant intertextualities and contexts. Song lyrics constantly respond to hopes and fears. Frequently, they take very specific stands. They provide a certain kind of measurement for change over time if we consider the difference between Sounds of Silence in the classic The Graduate and between Where is My Mind? in the classic Fight Club, as articulated here, for example. For some detailed comments as they relate to a specific song, please see my comments about God Bless the USA here

That’s all for this post. Wanted to get this out there! This might be the start of a series focused on interpreting music. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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2 replies

  1. You are so right about music never being apolitical!

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  2. I have been listening to the CBC’s radio program, ‘Ideas,’ which is an extremely provocative 54 min long show. I remember one episode many years ago, (sometime in the 1980s) about Cabaret music and how it could hide its political jabs in the music. It was very popular at the turn of the 20th century, and took on a very political stance during those early years and during WWI, although it seems to have begun as a musical category in the 17th century. Until I listened to that episode I never realized how political cabaret was. Up until then, I saw how folk music could be political. According to Wikipedia, it seems that NY never really developed its political nature, and instead emphasized dance and jazz etc. instead. But you can argue that jazz had its politics very well hidden.

    I love this program for the history it talks about, although it always surprises me with the science, politics, religion, literature and the arts topics it covers. I was living in Montreal the year after the movie, ‘Return of Martin Guerre’ played in the states. They did an ideas series on ‘The New Historians’, and interviewed the author of the book the movie was based upon, Natalie Zemon Davis. It filled in a lot of gaps that the movie failed to tell us about, like a real, historically significant trial, taking place when protestants were gaining places in the court where Catholics still ruled–early Huguenot history. The sound track was gorgeous period music, especially the opening scene where the Huguenot civil judge was coming with his entourage to the village to interview the witnesses. It was created before they had digital sound. Gerard Depardieu played the imposter Martin Guerre. I doubt that the CBC has this series archived online, however, but the book is well worth reading, with a lot more than discussed on ‘Ideas.’

    You can stream the ‘Ideas’ program from Radio Canada now at They generally add episodes about 1 day after it broadcasts on their radio stations. Many radio stations in the US also broadcast it. E.g. KUOW in Seattle broadcasts it at 7 pm (Pacific time, after the news) M-F. It is generally streamed from Canadian radio stations at 9 pm in the city being listened to. E. g. Toronto broadcasts at 9 pm in Toronto but you have to add or subtract hours if you listen to it on the radio originating in Toront, unless you are in the Eastern time zone. But, since they archive the podcasts at the above page, you can listen to it at any time.

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