Donald Trump‘s presidency has inspired the largest wave of protests in America since the Vietnam War. And, just as it did back then, music is helping lead the charge. The new coalition includes everyone from rappers to rockers to EDM stars, with protest veterans and previously apolitical pop stars alike speaking out.
Katy Perry appeared alongside Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards at the Women’s March in D.C. Rihanna told her 70 million Twitter followers, “America is being ruined before our very eyes,” in response to Trump’s executive order limiting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. And during a recent stop on his Australian tour, Bruce Springsteen paid tribute to the new movement: “We are the new American resistance,” he told the crowd.
“There’s never been anything quite like this,” Tom Morello, who re-formed his early-2000s supergroup Audioslave for a Los Angeles inauguration night set. “During the invasion of Iraq, everybody from Audioslave to the Dixie Chicks raised their hands to say ‘not in our name’ – but this, in the first weeks of this presidency, is beyond that.”
“Artists were not willing to speak out before – but we’re in a whole different world,” says Jordan Kurland, a manager who helped put together the protest collection 30 Days, 30 Songs during the campaign. One of those artists speaking out for the first time is Blink-182 bassist Mark Hoppus, who called Trump’s travel ban “disgraceful.” “For me, this is uncharted territory,” says Hoppus. “But we’re kind of in a time of crisis. I don’t know how to use my voice yet – but it feels good to do it.”
“I’m not with this whole ‘you’re not a politician, you shouldn’t say anything’ – that’s bullshit” – Bethany Cosentino
Environmentally conscious musicians in particular are gearing up for a big battle. During his first 100 days, Trump has approved construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and says he plans to drastically expand coal and oil drilling. “They have us spinning so fast we don’t know which thing to latch on to,” says Joan Baez.
Trump also plans to revive the Dakota Pipeline – a project that was stopped by President Obama after thousands, including Neil Young, Dave Matthews and Bonnie Raitt, showed up to oppose it. “They brought the gift of music into the camp to lift spirits – it was a beautiful thing,” says Jon Eagle Sr., tribal historic preservation officer for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. But that was just the beginning. “The fight is going to continue,” says Raitt.
Trump has caused many musicians to rethink their artistic game plans: Morello’s other group, Prophets of Rage, are tweaking their new album to capture the resistance. Conor Oberst is one of several artists booking shows in red states like Alabama and Texas. “My acts want more work,” including shows in minor markets, says Adam Voith, an agent who represents Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend. “They’re all charged up, and they want to do something.”
Reproductive rights are another major focus among musicians. The same week Trump signed an executive order banning federal foreign aid from going to groups that “promote” abortion, including international affiliates of Planned Parenthood, Halsey donated $100,000 to the organization. She credits the group for diagnosing her endometriosis, a uterine disorder. “Without that treatment, I wouldn’t be able to tour,” she tells Rolling Stone. “I’m not concerned about alienating people.” Sleater-Kinney played a benefit show for Planned Parenthood at D.C.’s 9:30 Club. “We weren’t even on tour,” says guitarist Corin Tucker. “The idea that the next generation will have less [reproductive] freedom than their mothers and grandmothers is an outrage.”
“That the next generation will have less [reproductive] freedom than their mothers and grandmothers is an outrage” – Corin Tucker
Speaking out hasn’t gone smoothly for everyone. Taylor Swift tweeted in support of the Women’s March, but it caused some to point out she still hadn’t condemned a president antithetical to her inclusive feminist message. “Taylor Swift has so many fans that if she lost some, she’s not going to suffer,” says Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast. “I’m not with this whole ‘you’re not a politician, you shouldn’t say anything’ – that’s bullshit. At this point in the world, it feels like the most selfish thing you can do.” Madonna gave a fiery speech at the Women’s March in D.C., but one comment – “I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House” – became a focus of right-wing outrage: Newt Gingrich called for her arrest, and a Texas radio station banned her music.
When Baez attended the Women’s March in San Francisco, the event brought back memories of her Sixties advocacy. “I was struck by the youth,” she says. “When I look back at the civil-rights and peace movements, I go, ‘Was it really this young?'”
Baez tells a story about how her lighting engineer took his three-year-old daughter to the airport right after Trump signed the travel ban, joining an impromptu protest. “That’s a feeling people have kind of yearned for or never had,” she says. But, she adds, from her experience, songs are more effective than shouting. She’s been singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in concert lately, dedicating it to everyone, “even Donald.” “He is a human being,” she says. “He’s just all screwed up. We’re in for a bumpy ride.”