Top 10 Social Commentary Songs of 2016
10. “Zombies” – Childish Gambino
Gambino’s newest album held plenty of surprises from the rapper sound-wise, and this was one of the tracks that stuck out to me the most. It describes those around him as zombies – soul-sucking entities that only seem to care about one thing: money. No doubt this song was a result of the people that attempted to surround him on his rise to fame.
9. “Radio” – Sylvan Esso
“Radio” is a catchy tune that was picked as the first single off the band’s much anticipated sophomore album, describing the process some girls go through in order to make their way in the industry (“now don’t you look good sucking American dick”). The lyrics also go on to say that even when you do make it, all that comes out of it are “highway blues and gasoline fumes” – a fantasized life that’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
8. “I See Change” – Ny Oh
When I saw the Aussie native perform for the first time, she prefaced this song with the story of the first time she played it live – it was at the Grand Canyon for a crowd of strangers, and during her short performance she said some left and others gave her some choice comments. I found this a bit shocking as the lyrics reflect Ny Oh’s pain as she sees the beautiful world we call home become overrun with concrete, so to have people at a national park simply ignoring her message only seems a bit ironic, if not a perfect proof to her point.
7. “Fuck Donald Trump” – YG ft. G-Easy and Macklemore
I think the title speaks for itself.
6. “Drone Bomb Me” – ANOHNI
Anohni is better known by some as the lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons, but she did not hold back on her first solo album. The title of this song is pretty self-explanatory, a direct response to the incessant drone warfare and terrorism the world has been subject to these past few years. She commented that “it’s a love song from the perspective of a girl in Afghanistan, say a 9-year-old girl whose family’s been killed by a drone bomb. She is kind of looking up at the sky and she’s gotten herself to a place where she just wants to be killed by a drone bomb too.”
5. “Power Play” – HOLYCHILD
HOLYCHILD has been known for their brat pop infused with social commentary ever since they dropped their debut EP MINDSPEAK (an appropriate title to say the least). Before lead singer Liz Nistico had vocal surgery earlier this year, the duo released their latest EP America Oil Lamb, the name itself being a jab at what America has become. “Power Play” featuring RAC is a gritty synth filled track that delves into the world of wealth, mental health, self-worth, and the resulting fear of aging. Similar to an older track, “Nasty Girls”, Liz lists all the things she feels many people (including herself) get suckered into thinking are a necessary part of everyday life.
4. “iT” – Christine and the Queens
While it seems pretty clean cut that this song is about transsexualism, Héloïse (Christine) takes things a little deeper by saying, “I had symbolic desire with this song to take the place of a guy. Perhaps because I was not given what I wanted as a girl. But also by play. There is something of the infant omnipotence in this statement […]. The final sex change does not interest me.” Ultimately, this song discusses what it means to be a man and have power in society.
3. “#WHERESTHELOVE” – The Black Eyed Peas
The Black Eyed Peas came back this year with a spinoff of their 2003 hit “Where is the Love?” and a powerful music video to go with it. The song features collaborations with other pop superstars ranging from the likes of Justin Timberlake to Snoop Dogg and Mary J. Blige, or as the song credits, “the world”. The band also took this single to a new level, with a website to go along with it (www.wheresthelove.com) including a #DONTFORGET portion with links to pages to donate to different causes.
2. “16 Shots” – Vic Mensa
This pro-black anthem details the death of Laquan McDonald, the title being a reference to how many times officers shot him. Vic Mensa has been an avid supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, and many of his songs off his new album touch on the subject in one way or another – he actually protested in Chicago alongside other advocates the day after McDonald’s shooting, and used a performance on REVOLT TV as a fundraiser for the Flint water crisis. As far as rappers go, I’ve found him to be one of the best at making a lasting impression, using news report commentary on many of his tracks to further instill the sense of injustice (see also “Go Tell ’Em”).
- “Don’t Touch My Hair” – Solange
I would honestly consider A Seat at the Table one of the best albums of the year. Solange put so much into this record and managed to create a beautiful visual story of black empowerment. “Don’t Touch My Hair” speaks out against the constant problem black women face – the “compliment” question of asking to touch a black woman’s hair is, in fact, a racial microagression. In a white-dominated, patriarchal society, the question itself denies black women consent and respect of their own bodies in such a way that puts them on display as abnormal. Solange uses this track perfectly to define the limits she will allow her identity and beliefs to be compromised in order to satisfy those around her.