Despite the wishes of a rabid horde of Republican talk show hosts circa 2003, musicians the world over (Dixie Chicks included) have never been the type to shut up and sing. In an attempt to appease the all-consuming and soul-eating fear of the next four years, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite musicians fighting the good fight, from a couple of genderqueer glitter punks to three riot grrrls blurring the lines between punk and reproductive rights.
The not-always-positive term “conscious rap” gets tossed around frequently when discussing the lyrical powerhouse behind 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, but it doesn’t quite do justice to the activist power of Kendrick Lamar. A staunch advocate for his hometown of Compton and an outspoken opponent of racial inequality, Lamar drew the ire of Fox News with a bruising performance of “Alright” at the BET Awards that skewered state-sanctioned racialized violence. That’s a good sign, too, since nothing says “right side of history” quite like pissing off Fox News.
Well, we can’t say Pussy Riot didn’t try to warn us. The Russian punk outfit — three of whom were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and subsequently jailed — made history when they staged a guerrilla performance inside a Moscow cathedral in 2012 to protest the Russian Orthodox Church’s uncritical support of Vladimir Putin. Vocal opponents of his anti-LGBTQ and anti-democratic legislation, the group is now a protest punk superstar and, much to the Kremlin’s dismay, hell bent on remaining as loud as ever.
In addition to running two of the best Twitter accounts on the planet, Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce of queer punk duo PWR BTTM are out to make the world a more glittering and inclusive place. They insist on gender-neutral bathrooms at the venues they play at and go above and beyond to ensure said venues are fully accessible to any and all people. Longtime proponents of drag, the fearless pair advocate on behalf of (and sing really kickass songs about) LGBTQ rights and eliminating mental health stigma. In other words, PWR BTTM brings the sequins and the social activism.
Half frontwoman of indie rock quartet Speedy Ortiz, half driving force behind her solo indie-pop project Sad13 (pronounced “sad- thirteen”), Sadie Dupuis is a busy woman. Frustrated with the frequency of sexual harassment at concerts, she set up a hotline at Speedy Ortiz gigs that audience members could use to contact the band and its staff directly if in a dangerous situation. She then released her first album as Sad13, Slugger, in 2016, and filled it to the brim with über-feminist synthpop tunes about consent, friendship, and abusive relationships. For Dupuis, the music is always the message.
Emerging from the riot grrrl movement of the 1990s, Sleater-Kinney’s feminist roots run deep. The trio ended their eight-year hiatus in 2014 with the critically acclaimed No Cities To Love, then hit the road with Planned Parenthood in tow. Onstage, guitarists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein (of Portlandia fame) spoke about the organization’s essential work while volunteers gathered signatures for pro-reproductive rights petitions, handed out condoms, and urged concertgoers to get involved with their local chapter. Talk about a kickass support act.