NEW YORK – As the presidential election draws ever closer, rock, pop and country stars are amping up their efforts to strike a chord with voters and get fans to tune into the political process.
The list of singers crooning about the government, elections and voting is growing fast. To some, the latest efforts are like the '60s all over again — but these days, musicians on both sides of the political aisle are lifting their voices in protest and praise for Washington.
“At both extremes, people are trying whatever way there is to get a message across,” said Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Tom Moon. “They’re targeting places where they think there’s a margin to create change in the minds of voters who may be on the fence.”
The anti-Bush “Vote for Change” tour will hit 32 cities, all in swing states, and boasts a lineup including Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews Band among the nearly 20 acts. The concerts, presented by MoveOn.org, will give the proceeds to America Coming Together (ACT).
The pro-president “Your Country Your Vote” campaign involves country music artists on the “America Will Always Stand” album — including Darryl Worley, Randy Travis, Lee Ann Womack, Ricky Skaggs and others — telling people to vote in public service announcements.
Meanwhile, the Russell Simmons'-run Hip-Hop Summit featuring rappers like Nelly and Jadakiss was held to register young voters and make them feel included in the political process.
The efforts are not only grabbing headlines — they've even gotten Washington’s attention. In a TV spot, U.S. Senate candidate Marilyn O’Grady of the New York Conservative Party encourages Americans to “Boycott the Boss,” referring to Springsteen.
Indeed, musicians who speak out these days do have to face repercussions.
"If you take a strong political stand in either direction in this climate, there's a large portion of society that's going to react to that," said Rob Brunner, senior editor at Entertainment Weekly.
The Dixie Chicks, Linda Ronstadt and Springsteen have all been criticized for their anti-Bush stance.
Many music fans aren’t wild about entertainers playing political pundit — especially when it's during a show that's not advertised as political.
“They’re misusing their position,” said a 55-year-old New York City attorney who asked not to be identified. “They have access to a mike, they’ve got the public’s ear. … Most of them are not qualified to be speaking one way or the other.”
But she's fine with clearly labeled efforts aligned with a cause.
“If this is a concert with an established political agenda set forth, they’re perfectly in their right,” she said. “If you don’t share it, don’t go.”
Many liken today's climate — a country on alert, a still-raging war and a divided electorate about to vote for president — to that of the Vietnam War era. But one expert in 1960s American culture says there’s a world of difference between then and now.
“The current effort on the part of artists pales in comparison with the ‘60s,” said Benjamin T. Harrison, Ph.D., a University of Louisville history professor. “There was an incredible optimism, at least in the early ‘60s, that the music could make a difference. [Today], there’s developed such a cynicism. They’re not as optimistic about being able to bring about change.”
Despite the bold-faced names involved in the efforts, Moon said it’s unlikely the rally-style concerts and other initiatives are going to hold much sway with voters.
"Let's face it: Most people who've bought tickets are already pretty sure of who they're going to vote for," Moon said. "It's a little much to say this represents a new spirit of activism or anything more than another way for people to interact with their favorite artists."
Still, some of the songs have been incorporated into politics.
Springsteen’s “No Surrender” has become an anthem for John Kerry. The Beastie Boys’ “In a World Gone Mad,” John Mellencamp’s “To Washington” and Jill Scott’s “My Petition” are all anti-White House tunes. Plus, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott and Eve — all Bush critics — are remaking the 1960s hit “Wake Up Everybody.” And a MoveOn.org-sponsored album, “Future Soundtrack for America” — with songs by R.E.M., Tom Waits and Elliott Smith — is set for release next week.
Conversely, Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” Lee Greenwood’s re-release of “God Bless the USA,” Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten” and Aaron Tippin’s “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly” have all been used as pro-Bush anthems.
Still, experts are skeptical that songs will influence people’s views.
“Music basically has reflected ideas and opinion far more than it’s changed ideas and opinion,” said Harrison. “I don’t think people are molded by the music they hear.”
And at least one rocker — Alice Cooper — thinks people who listen to musicians' political opinions should re-think their approach to politics.
"If you're listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you're a bigger moron than they are," Cooper, a Bush supporter, told WorldNetDaily. "Why are we rock stars? Because we're morons. We sleep all day, we play music at night and very rarely do we sit around reading the Washington Journal."