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YGPhoto by Tyler Mitchell

How do musicians feel about the US election?

As America prepares to vote in the nastiest election in recent memory, a handful of musicians reflect on the long, weird and exhausting year that’s been

It’s been a very long, very tiring, and very weird election. Good things have happened, of course: Bernie Sanders helped spearhead a resurgence of socialist thought and shifted the conversation towards income inequality, and it was hard to feel anything but glee seeing ghouls like Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio – men who’d fantasised about being president their entire lives – leave their respective campaigns humiliated and with their reputations destroyed. But it’s mostly been joyless, a race between two candidates who vast swathes of the American public hate. Are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton really the best candidates that America has to offer?

Irrespective of who wins tonight, the anger unleashed in this election will be hard to contain, and reconciliation will have to be a major project if any sort of progress towards a better future is going to be made. Music plays a role in this, even if a small one, through helping foster a community of likeminded people, protesting the status quo, shining a light on certain issues and campaigns, or presenting an image of a positive future. The fight will go on long after the polls close.

Plenty of artists have thrown their weight behind certain candidates (Beyoncé, Le Tigre, Grimes and Lady Gaga have all voiced their support for Hillary Clinton), while others have thrown their weight against others (Tyler, the Creator with his anti-Trump t-shirts, YG with his election-dominating anthem “Fuck Donald Trump”). We spoke to a handful of musicians about the election and dug out what others have said about the state of the world in 2016 to Dazed in the past, and tried to see whether music can have any role in politics in the future.


“I’ve sent off my absentee ballot. I didn’t get it together in time to vote for Obama, but I thought it was important to vote in this election. This is the most insane election (that I’ve experienced). One thing that really underpins this election is that the US is changing, and it’s no longer going to be a majority white country. So all these white dudes are suffering, and it’s the people who have nothing to cling to but the fact that they’re white dudes because they’re being absolutely crushed by capital – but they couldn’t admit it to themselves, and now their fantasy of themselves is being exposed. It’s a long, drawn-out process. Europe is swinging right, Brazil – you would not believe the situation in Brazil. It’s a rough time everywhere. (When Hillary Clinton says ‘America is already great,’) I think that what she’s talking about is that some things are remarkedly better in America. The fact that everybody is talking about racism in this way is so much better. Identity politics was a big thing in the 90s and then seemed to go away, and then it came back twice as strong. So there are some good things going on in America. Obviously America is not great, but it’s also not as bad as Trump is making it out to be, or in the way he’s making it out to be, because when was America great? When we were paying for assassinations in central America? Just ruthlessly exploiting (countries) right and left? The Civil War? I mean, what the fuck? I’ve always resisted preaching to the converted and I distrust sloganeering lyrics, but I feel like saying something. I’ve written the occasional song that addresses things metaphorically. I took the title (of my new record) from an underground movie, the story of a maid who kills one employer after another. The whole first half of the movie, she just kills her bosses and I thought, we need a little more of this.” – Dazed Digital


“The current political climate has really shed light on the racist, classist, sexist value systems that not only exist but thrive on an institutional level in this country. People used to be secretly racist and sexist, now people are outwardly/loudly racist and sexist. And it’s been bottled up, so it’s extreme. It’s unbelievable how many people still hold these archaic beliefs, but tradition is hard to break, and their beliefs are just a product of a fucked up, money-hungry capitalist system that wants them to believe those things. Hillary Clinton is flawed. Angela Davis has recently said some extremely insightful things, which I agree with, about how both candidates come from the warmongering capitalist empire that is the reason for most people’s struggle. But her winning could open the doors for progressive change. The future is female. Topple the patriarchy.” – Dazed Digital


“Donald Trump has to be the most narcissistic media character there is at the moment. Anything he does seems like it’s part of a reality show. He has lost his mind. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t realise that he could potentially have the power to create the end of humanity, with wars and so on. He’s living in a fantasy. The first thing he has managed to achieve is that he has given tacit permission to rednecks, racists, homophobes, neo-Christians, and all those nasty little people who do not like the human species. Their hatred is being validated and it’s already taking off. They’re the same people who demonstrated against universal health care when they didn’t have any health insurance themselves – that’s how insane they are, and that’s the group he’s appealing to.” – Dazed & Confused, summer 2016 issue


“Looking back, this entire election cycle has been nightmarish, save the dream of Bernie. I do believe Bernie Sanders could have been president and would have been an amazing one at that. I mean, the guy was actually offering, ostensibly, a counter-neoliberal political-economic platform. His platform would’ve been good for poor people, people of colour, the elderly, the disabled, the afflicted. How fucking wild and, apparently, un-American! Bernie’s thoughts were extremely powerful to me and when his campaign was foreclosed – largely by the criminal and disgusting actions of the DNC (Democratic National Committee) – it was indeed a very sad thing to watch. Make no mistake that both Clinton and Trump will wreak havoc on the lives of people in my inner circle, in my family. Ultimately, Donald Trump is a xenophobic and totally uncorked monster and must be defeated by any means necessary. But Clinton is, to my mind, a very depraved politician, a war hawk who is not only interested in perpetuating international conflict, but also domestic wars – she’s historically been a very violent actor in the racist war on drugs, in economic class war, in the war against the disabled through budget cuts affecting socio-economic safety nets. So I feel like the next four years are going to be quite awful! And not just in America – it’s astonishing and horrifying and frankly sad as fuck to watch people like Donald Trump, Jimmie Åkesson, Norbert Hofer, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Marine Le Pen, Frauke Petry, and many others crop up and gain real traction both within the citizenry and within political institutions. As I sing on ‘They'll Take Everything You Have’ on Care: ‘In 2016 we fell off the globe.’

“I’m a very politically-minded person, but I’m very allergic to moralization. I think the worst characteristic of the contemporary situation is that we’ve fallen back into quite banal forms of moralism and didacticism in art, which is supposed to be an active force against these things. Yet the desire for pure, instructive didacticism in music has reached an all-time high. Surely, my work imputes norms and conveys information, but it does so in a way that’s less prescriptive and more evocative. I think music is failing politically right now by overestimating its importance in political reality. As long as social recomposition is made impossible by material factors and capital forces, it doesn’t really matter how well you art-direct your aesthetic politics. Politics is actually something that is enacted by people acting together, typically in the streets.” – Dazed Digital


“The idea of ‘white’ freedom being under attack is so powerful. When you’re a refugee, you become the place where you land. You have to embrace it. British Asians in the 90s were insane. I went to Hampstead college which was 80 per cent brown and at that time we didn’t think we were gonna have problems. All the cool brown girls had the quiffs and the red lips, and watching the second generation explosion of girls going insane was incredible. It was amazing... and then 9/11 happened. Things went backwards. This is why I’m putting this record out, to slow down division. It’s going backwards because stupidity is winning… I thought that, by 2016, we would have had 20 MIAs! I didn’t think I’d have to come out of retirement at my age and still be waving the flag for Indian girls and Tamils and Muslims. I didn’t think that would be where we are.” – Dazed Digital, October 6, 2016


“Why am I voicing my opinion about Trump? Because I strongly believe that the earth could not simply stand the co-existence of Putin and Trump in power. The earth will quit. It’s simply too much bullshit. In my opinion, Putin’s goal – besides stealing money from Russian people – is to establish the new conservative, patriarchal, cynical, masochistic, violent order. That’s why he supports right-wing scumbags in Europe, that’s why he supports Trump. I’m not surprised that Putin is behind hacked Hillary’s emails. He was reading my emails for years – though I don’t know anything interesting he could find in them, besides pictures of my vagina and ass.” – Dazed Digital, October 31, 2016


“Whether you’re making political music or not making political music, it is all political music. If you’re deciding to stay silent, then that’s your decision – and a political decision. If you see discrimination and oppression and decide to stay silent, that is a political decision. Therefore, silence in this specific respect – especially when we have the added threat of Brexit, Donald Trump, the right-wing parties in Germany, and Marine Le Pen in France – is not acceptable. I tell myself, ‘What does it do to say something?’ This is a question I don’t know, and so I want to impart that while I’m asking these things, I don’t want to sound like I’m very sure of myself. I’m not. I don’t know the answer to these questions.” – Dazed Digital, October 10, 2016


“I think anyone with half a brain is aware that we’re living in treacherous times. I mean, I really, genuinely feel that. It’s the most tumultuous time that I can remember... I feel somewhat scared – particularly by the level of denial which seems to be in operation right now about what’s actually happening... my agenda was certainly that I wanted to be truthful about the world I found myself in and what that meant. It was an exploration of that, rather than a focus on just making people feel good. There are enough artists doing that. Now we need to really step up and start speaking out. If we don’t do it, who will?” – Dazed & Confused, autumn 2016 issue


“People definitely don’t like him (Donald Trump) in México. We’re neighbours with the US, so we follow their politics up close – especially in an election like this. I do think Trump is an asshole, and I hope he loses, but to be honest it’s not like the US government cares about Mexico anyways. So at the end of the day, I kinda don’t care too much about who wins. For a group of people who make this place their home, making music and throwing parties can have a role in shaping politics – but that's limited to a small group of people in every city, so I don’t know how much of an effect it can have in a situation like the US election. The election isn’t about ‘him’ or ‘her’ – the system that we’re ‘locked’ into goes beyond these two candidates. Things like racism, classism, sexism, or the way the west expands across the globe will still be here, whatever the outcome. It’s no surprise that there are people like this or a system like this in the world. It seems that only countries like the US or other first world societies seem to be impressed when these characters pop up. I guess the way you see things from a different angle depends what end of the stick you find yourself on.” – Dazed Digital


“Some artists who didn’t speak out before are now finding a voice because it’s repulsive to ignore. You play a part in making things better or you’re making it worse. Music – especially rap – is one of, if not the biggest mediums that the black community has to further our place in society and free ourselves, so I think in rap music there is a responsibility, but not everyone assumes it ‘cause it’s not everybody’s path… Most of the world is really racist and Americans are just being exposed at alarming rates. ‘Make America Great Again’ is ‘Make America White Again’.” – Dazed Digital, July 21, 2016


“In the future, this racism shit isn’t going to be normal because all the motherfuckers on some racist shit are older. The majority of the young kids, like us, we fuck with each other. We like white girls, we like shit y’all do, and y’all like shit we do. It’s the old people that were young back in (the pre-civil rights) time that are spreading racism. That shit’s still with them… The majority of us are on the same page. All of the middle Americans who are on that – their kids are gonna be the last ones to get on what we’re already on. Music and entertainment is helping that shit. (I asked white rappers Macklemore and G-Eazy to feature on the ‘Fuck Donald Trump’ remix because) I wanted to let the world know that there are white people that don’t fuck with Donald Trump, but it hasn’t been put out to the masses. Your own people don’t fuck with you. You know that – you’re one of them… The world ain’t ever going to be perfect, and there will always be some shit going on. It’ll slowly but surely get better, but for now, we’re trying.” – Dazed Digital, August 2, 2016