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#5 Times That Music Festivals Raised Political Discussions

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Music festivals have been a refuge for crowds of fans, music admirers and all kinds of people who are looking for a great time at different concerts. Despite being a space for having fun and enjoying some good music, these events are not dissociated from the reality of the society. 

In this perspective, some artists have been using the massive visibility that they have in these festivals to defend causes and aware the public of present events, lifting up political discussions. We can see this kind of movement happening in distinct historical times, showing us that this is far from being only a gen Z trend. Check it out:

1-Woodstock, 1969

In 1969, in Bethel, New York, happened the Woodstock Festival, one of the biggest and the most famous music festivals of history. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin are examples of attractions that amused the crowd in this three-days event.

Woodstock brought together, as a public, a youth that contested the prevailing reality and policies in the United States, being a milestone in the counterculture movement – which was based on denying and breaking the dominant cultural standards. As a group that defended liberty, love and peace, the main critics that were raised were about the “American Way of Life” – which was based on an uncontrolled consumism – and about the American presence at the Vietnam War.

Therefore, this episode had an expressive influence in the political scenario at the 70s, since this movement was an opposition of the current American political system at that time.

2-Rock in Rio, 1985

Rock in Rio is one of the most significant music festivals in Brazil. Since 1985, this event has been attracting millions of people to Rio de Janeiro to enjoy concerts of well-known artists from the music scene.

The first edition of the festival was a powerful landmark in Brazilian political context. This was the first expressive artistic reunion after the dissolution of the military dictatorship – defined by censorship and by the rupture of civil rights – established from 1964 to 1985.

Cazuza, an important singer in the 80s, during the performance of the song “Pro Dia Nascer Feliz”, made an appeal for a happier and new country – after the redemocratization – for the people who live in Brazil.

Some people in the audience were holding the Brazilian flag and celebrating the election of Tancredo Neves, the first elected president of the rebuilt democratic system. Therefore, the 1985’s Rock in Rio was attended by a strong feeling of hope towards democracy, freedom and a better country.

3-Coachella, 2018

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, popularly known as Coachella, is a festival that takes place in California, United States – which had its first edition in 1999. 

In 2018, the festival raised an anti-racist and feminist discussion about diversity. Beyoncé was the first black woman to be a headliner on a day of concerts at the Coachella. This was such an markable episode that, even before her show, the festival was being called “Beychella”. At the presentation, she sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, a song indicated as a black national anthem against racism. She also thanked the public and the organization of the event for being part of this act of representativeness.

4-Eurovision, 2019

The Eurovision Festival is an European music contest that was created in 1956 and is one of the oldest festivals in history. The event has the representation of almost 40 countries between the contesters.

In 2019, the finale of the competition was located in Tel Aviv, Israel. Also, it had a polemic musical performance by Madonna. As the performance was going on, two of her dancers were walking together and holding hands – one was wearing a flag from Israel and the other one, a flag from Palestine.

That was a clear statement about the conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis for territories that had been happening for decades – and towards peace.

This fact caused some controversial opinions, due to Eurovision claims to be a non-political event.  After her presentation, Madonna said: “Let’s never underestimate the power of music to bring people together”.

5-Lollapalooza Brazil, 2022

Lollapalooza Brazil had its first edition in 2012, in São Paulo. Since then, the festival has been gathering national and international attractions and conquering an expressive public, as we were able to see in 2022.

The most recent edition raised an intense discussion on the Brazilian political scenario. Many artists, like Emicida, Jão and Gloria Groove, raised their voices to criticize the current government of Jair Bolsonaro in their concerts. Also, the importance of voting and the freedom of speech were defended in some statements. The trigger for these protests was the judicial attempt to ban political demonstrations at the festival proposed by Bolsonaro’s party, since many people considered it as an act of censorship.

Although nothing officially happened to the festival or the artists, in this case, the political debate was intense, due to the polarized political climate in 2022, an election year in Brazil. 

These are just some examples of political debates lifted up in festivals to show that the musical scenario is not exempt from the social problems of the times in which they are inserted.  So, festivals can have a valuable role in discussions that affect the society and a huge potential to raise relevant reflections about them.

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The article above was edited by Isadora Noronha.

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Isabela Munhoz da Luz

Casper Libero '25

A journalism student, who loves writing and telling stories. I also believe that we can change the world with words and information :)
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