Should artists just shut up and sing when it comes to politics?
Today’s Iowa Caucus and Kelly Clarkson’s recent dust-up with her fans after she endorsed Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul got me thinking about whether artists should talk politics or just keep their mouths shut unless they are singing.
As we posted yesterday, Clarkson, who initially got her feelings hurt by fans’ criticism following her endorsement, saw a slight bump in album sales after her Paul plug, but it’s impossible to know if that’s because pro-Paul people rushed out to buy the record (unlikely) or if the publicity that ensued simply reminded them that she had a new album out there (likely).
Speaking one’s mind, especially if it comes in the form of criticism instead of praise, seems to be particularly damning for country artists--even though, of course, they have the right to. The Dixie Chicks have never recovered professionally from lead singer Natalie Maines telling a British audience that she was ashamed to be from the same state as George Bush in 2003. Just as there are people who will never forgive Jane Fonda for her alleged remarks calling tortured Vietnam POW’s “hypocrites and liars” 40 years ago, there will be those who can never forgive what they see as a traitorous remark by Maines. (If you think Fonda has been forgiven, you’re wrong. Last week, I went to see Bob Seger at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. When he introduced “Her Strut,” he said it was about Jane Fonda. On his Facebook page, some fans wrote that they would never buy another Seger album if he supported “Hanoi Jane.”)
While it seems like conservatives get more up in arms when one of their candidates/elected officials is criticized, as you’ll recall, Hank Williams Jr. found himself in a heap of trouble in October when he compared Speaker of the House John Boehner and President Obama’s playing golf together to “Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.” And there was no confusion over who was Hitler in that equation. ESPN then yanked his “Are you ready for some football” intro from its Monday Night Football broadcasts.
Rock and roll seems to be more tolerant of its artists criticizing government or openly endorsing candidates--- although I’m hard pressed to think of many rockers who have gone out of their way to endorse Republican candidates (other than Ted Nugent). And no artists who aligned him or herself with the Occupy Wall Street movement, such as Tom Morello, seemed to get any negative backlash from fans.
The bigger question how does it affect you if an artist endorses a candidate that you disagree with? Using country again, I have to admit, I was a little surprised that even though country artists are most frequently aligned with conservatives, that some went so far as to appear on a Fox News (not Fox network) New Year’s Eve special. That’s a quasi-political move as far as I see it. Most country artists, more so than even rock artists, tend to go out of their way to avoid discussing politics, or anything controversial, for that matter.
If you’re a big enough fan, can you just look the other way? My favorite, Bruce Springsteen, has grown louder and louder about his political leanings, especially in the 2004 and 2008 elections (we’ll see if he beats the drum for Obama this time around). The fans who don’t agree with him politically grumble on his message boards that they wish he’d shut up and sing, and even I admit there are times when he gets on the political bandwagon (and I agree with him 99% of the time) that I want to tune him out. When is it too much?
What do you think?
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