2016 has seen drastic changes in the world, with a UK referendum, a US election, terrorist attacks, wars, climate change and more. In every situation, there was a bold musical response, whether it was questioning power, political norms, provoking responses, spreading hope or generally just being a bit angry. Here’s a list of the best.
MIA – Borders
In light of the Syrian refugee crisis, MIA, refugee and daughter of revolutionary Arul Pragasam, questions the very legitimacy of man-made lines in the sand with a simple mantra of “Borders: what’s up with that?” Her most radical statement yet is accompanied by a distressing choreographed video of refugees lying deathly still on boats, wading through water and climbing a fence in the shape of the word ‘LIFE’. Over 11 million Syrians having fled their homes in fear of death, but while the West fears terror attacks, the very idea of who should be allowed on certain land has never been more strongly contested. On what is supposedly her final album, MIA asks whose lives we really care about.
Kate Tempest – Europe Is Lost
Although the single was released in late 2015, ‘Europe Is Lost’ from this year’s amazing Let Them Eat Chaos couldn’t be more 2016, but that’s got nothing to do with a polarising referendum, it’s far more apocalyptic. Tempest’s spoken word poetry is a skilfully contradictory argument based on the state of our planet and all the distractions it contains. “The water levels rising! The water levels rising! The animals, the elephants, the polar bears are dying!” she cries, responding to her conflicted self with “Don’t worry ‘bout that, man, worry ’bout terrorists.”
Run The Jewels – 2100
Released the day after one of the most pessimistic elections in recent memory, 2100 kicks off darkly with “How long before the hate that we hold leads us to another Holocaust?” The near legendary rap duo criticise the fact people “pick [their] master for president” or might “kill another human being in the name of a government”. Thankfully, they choose their weapon of resistance comes in the form of optimism because “you defeat the devil when you hold onto hope”.
Beyoncé – Formation
The biggest statement from her surprise video-album Lemonade, both track and video made waves in the media with its unselfconscious celebration of black culture and her alignment with the Black Lives Matter movement. Some were offended by the scenes of dancing in front of armed police, standing on a police car and the anti-police brutality graffiti of ‘stop shooting us’, which resulted in the police leading a boycott of her music. But considering the anti-Beyoncé protest, which er, only two people turned up to, it probably didn’t hurt her success.
Formation – Powerful People
With a video directed by Mike Skinner of The Streets, the other Formation track takes aim at the ‘Powerful People’ at the top of our hierarchies. The powerful people “digging up the ground”, ruining the earth and just being a nuisance. While it’s probably the catchiest and most accessible sounding track on the list, it hides the ever-so sinister lyric of “who’s gonna help them in giving them what they deserve”.