Another prominent, and perhaps more obvious, example of the use of politics in music is the protest song. Protest songs involve artists using their music to make political statements, usually via politically charged lyrics. There is a particularly strong tradition of protest songs within the folk genre with one of the genre’s leading figures, Bob Dylan, also being perhaps the most prominent, and certainly the most successful, writer of protest songs (and songs in general).
This aspect of folk music has crossed over into other genres, and can be seen as a clear influence in styles as varied as reggae (Bob Marley’s "Get Up, Stand Up"), punk (The Clash’s "London Calling"), and alternative rock (Pearl Jam’s "Worldwide Suicide"). Many critics fail to acknowledge these stylistically varied formats of protest song, dismissing them as unimportant.
…On the one hand, so much activity is attempting to explicitly articulate rock to political activism; on the other hand, this activity seems to have little impact on the rock formation, its various audiences or its relations to larger social struggles… (Grossberg, 1992)
Grossberg’s argument, for example, rests on a perceived "radical disassociation" of the political content of the music of artists, such as Dylan, U2, and Pearl Jam, meaning that listeners derive pleasure from listening to their music, but do so without either agreeing with their politics or even being aware of them. However, there are many factors that serve to disprove this cynical point of view, and illustrate that many listeners do indeed have their ideological horizons both defined and expanded by their association with political music. Such factors include the tremendous support given to campaigns such as Amnesty International, Rock Against Racism, and Live Aid.
In 1988 the Amnesty International tours, featuring artists such as Sting and Bruce Springsteen, succeeded in adding in excess of 200,000 new members to the organization in the USA alone. Live Aid, the key political pop event of the 1980s, reached an audience of over two billion, raising funds and awareness of famine in third world countries. These staggering achievements highlight the fact that these campaigns reached an audience who were not only aware of and interested in the events’ politics, but were also supportive towards their aspirations.