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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Hofstra chapter.

In a climate of rapid political change, economic insecurity and environmental detriment, it’s important to start thinking about our own impact on the world we live in and how we can use our voices to enact change. In the spirit of movement and progress, I’d like to discuss some songs that inspire forward thinking and forward motion. If we don’t help ourselves, who will?


“Get Out of Your Own Way” by U2

U2 is no stranger to speaking out. This Dublin rock band formed in 1976 is made up of lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Bono; lead guitarist, keyboardist and backup vocalist The Edge; bass guitarist Adam Clayton and drummer and percussionist Larry Mullen Jr. U2 has gained popularity over time for Bono’s distinctive voice and their evolving musical style. What started as post-punk music has stretched to fit topics that are sociopolitical, spiritual and deeply personal. With such relevant and universal subjects, U2’s songs have become an inspiration from one generation to the next.


Following along this train of community involvement, “Get Out of Your Own Way” serves as a commentary on current society in America. As the song title suggests, the music roots itself in the theme of taking a step back and looking at things from a wider perspective. This song perpetuates the idea that as a people, we have become far too focused on the concerns of the individual rather than the whole. The first verse seems almost as if it could be any other modern song by starting with the image of a girl; however, the deeper meaning quickly takes over when Bono sings “Love has to fight for its existence.” This line has so many meanings, but is most likely focussing on the fact that in such a divided culture, it is harder to find commonalities than differences. Later in the song, there is a more clear picture of intention in the line “The face of liberty is starting to crack.” In these words, the song expresses a fear that the people of the nation are no longer in control of their futures, but instead have given in to letting a larger force control them. It seems that this song alludes to the possible reinstatement of fascist ideologies in modern politics and is warning all of us to stand up for ourselves before that happens.


“PYNK” by Janelle Monáe feat. Grimes

Signed to Atlantic records, this singer, songwriter, actress, rapper and producer has made a lasting impact on the music industry with her funky R&B style repertoire. She first started her career in 2003 with the release of her unofficial demo album The Audition. Her first public EP was titled Metropolis: Suite 1 (The Chase). But perhaps it was not until her collaboration with the band fun. on their song “We Are Young” that her career really took off. In 2013, she released her second studio album, Electric Lady. The album hit number five on the Billboard charts. However, her most influential release has been her third album, Dirty Computer, for which Monáe has received critical acclaim.

“PYNK” is a song encompassing women empowerment and sexuality. For a long time, women’s sexuality has been something that has been suppressed in the eyes of the media. Even outside of the influence of the press, it’s not a topic that is discussed without stigma being attached to it. When women’s sexuality is brought to light, it is more often than not in conjunction with male pleasure. Instead of using sexuality as something to embolden women, it has been made to shame them. “PYNK” is a look at turning that ideology around through its evocative lyrics and suggestive music video. Throughout the song, Monáe uses the word “pynk” as symbolism not only as a color associated with femininity, but also as a term often associated with female genitalia. In the opening verse, she uses the phrase “Pynk, like the folds of your brain” to equate femininity with intelligence and thoughtfulness. The repeated line of the chorus says “Boy, it’s cool if you got the blue, we got the pynk.” This phrase suggests that Monáe is choosing to embrace her identity as a woman and won’t be made to feel less than because of her status.


“Big Yellow Taxi” by Counting Crows ft. Vanessa Carlton

1981 Californian rock band Counting Crows formed in Berkley. The members, Adam Duritz (vocalist), Charlie Gillingham (keyboardist, pianist, accordion player), Dan Vickrey (lead guitarist), David Immerglück (guitarist, bassist, mandolin player), Jim Bogios (drummer and percussionist) and Millard Powers (bassist, pianist, and guitarist), make up the dynamic alternative rock group that became a sensation in the ‘90s. In 1993, Counting Crows’ debut album August and Everything After hit the market and sold over seven million copies. The group was nominated for two Grammys in 1994 for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for their song “Round Here” as well as Best New Artist. In 2004, after the single “Accidentally in Love” was featured in the soundtrack for Shrek 2, Counting Crows was nominated for an Academy Award.


To state it simply, “Big Yellow Taxi,” originally a song written and performed by Joni Mitchell, comments on the state of environmental affairs and the use of pesticides and herbicides on commercially grown food. The first line of the song is “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” This line refers to the frequency at which humans have destroyed natural land in order to build housing developments, mini-malls and other conveniences. The message is clear: our consumerist habits have made us blind to the damage that we do to our environment. Perhaps one of the most provoking lines of the song is “I don’t care about spots on my apples, leave me the birds and the bees.” This line is a reference to the incredibly harmful pesticide DDT that was became infamous after the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring. The book explored the dangers of pesticide use and how it has been linked to cancer as well as how it has had detrimental effects on wildlife populations. While this song may just sound like a bop, there’s a lot more at work beneath the surface of a catchy rhythm.

“If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” by Manic Street Preachers

This Welsh rock band out of Blackwood formed in 1986 after cousins James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore decided to start making music with Nicky Wire. Soon after the release of their debut single, “Suicide Alley,” the band obtained a new member, Richey Edwards, who worked as a lyricist and rhythm guitarist. Manic Street Preachers is notorious for its affiliation with left-wing political views and their punk and alternative rock sounds. They are defined as being one of the “cult” bands of the ‘80s for their themes of culture and alienation. Although they had grand plans for their debut album, Generation Terrorists, hoping the album would sell over sixteen million copies, Manic Street Preachers initially split up after its release and Edwards left the group for good. In 1995, the band reformed and in 1998, the band released their album This is My Truth Tell Me Yours which reached the number one spot on the UK album charts.


This is a song that speaks out about the Spanish Civil War. Due to the charged climate of the time, the song’s narrative touches upon topics of fascism and the harsh realities of war. The song draws upon several literary and historical references to drive forward its meaning. The start of the song includes the line “So if I can shoot rabbits, then I can shoot fascists” which is derived from a famous quote by a soldier of the Spanish Civil War featured in the book Miners Against Fascism by Hywel Francis. In deconstructing this line, one can understand the severity of this statement. The speaker is removing the humanity from the person they are pointing a gun at by comparing them to a rabbit because of their unwillingness to treat their own subjects as human. The chorus of the song serves as a reminder that if we do not stand to overthrow these types of authority figures, ourselves and generations to come will be faced with the same types of unrest.


“Way Beyond” by Bastille

Although I’ve talked about Bastille before on this blog, I figured I’d mention them again with the release of their new single “Doom Days” from their upcoming third album of the same title. Bastille often talks about political strain, especially in the context of their second album Wild World which served as a commentary on the media and how it affects the ways that we perceive world events.


“Way Beyond” plays into that theme as it speaks to the ease with which people choose to ignore the serious situations that occur globally. This is perhaps best described in the lines “We just keep flicking through the stations, ‘cause if we don’t post it doesn’t happen.” The lines are so incredibly relevant because often the news portrays only the negative things that go on, therefore, if we simply keep changing the channels, we don’t have to be reminded that it’s happening. These lyrics also comment on the use of social media within our time and how people believe that posting about a tragedy on Instagram or Facebook serves as the equivalent of activism. In the chorus, lead singer Dan Smith sings “It only matters if we care now. If you’re way beyond that, then I’m gonna dust you off of my shoulders.” Here he’s saying that if we want something to change, we have to actually act and show that we care. We can’t just pretend at it.

“Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab)” by Mona Haydar

Mona Haydar, best known as an American rapper, also identifies as an activist, chaplain and poet. She often writes music that is based in protest and went viral for her song “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab).” Born in Flint, Michigan, Haydar grew up with seven siblings and her parents, both of whom immigrated to the United States from Syria. As well as being a rapper, she also received a master’s degree in Christian Ethics. After graduating from university, she went abroad to Syria to connect with her culture and further her religious studies, but when the Syrian conflict occurred, she was forced to move back home to Flint. In 2016, Haydar reflected on her protests standing with indigenous people at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to oppose the Keystone Pipline in her EP Barbarican.


This songs reflects upon the racism and oppression that Muslim people face as a result of following their cultural and religious traditions. She begins her song with the question “What that hair look like?” as a way of directing her listeners’ attention to questions that are frequently asked out of ignorance. This is a common question that Muslim women who choose to wear hijabs (or other head coverings) receive because people outside of their culture refuse to understand their practices. She goes on to describe the ways in which people try to get her to remove her hijab, but she refuses to take it off because she refuses to be stripped of her culture. Haydar also says in the song that she is “Not your exotic vacation.” These words demonstrate the dismantling of culture and the fetishization that surrounds women of color by referring to them as “exotic.” In many instances, they are seen as a “fascination” because of their different skin color and outward appearance, making them the target not only of racism, but also of unwanted advances. By promising to “still wrap [her] hijab,” Haydar is really saying that she won’t stand down in the face of oppression.


“Fight Like a Girl” by Zolita

American singer-songwriter Zolita first garnered attention from the public upon the release of her single “Explosion,” which has over 8 million views on YouTube. Her debut, Immaculate Conception, was released in 2015, featuring “Explosion” along with her other hit single “Holy.” Throughout her music career, Zolita has based her songs off of her experiences being a lesbian woman as well as reflecting on the troubles of other women around her. In 2018, she released her second EP Sappho which continued to narrate these feminist themes.


“Fight Like a Girl” is a song that celebrates the power of women. In its music video, the song features women of different races, religions, and age groups as well as highlighting trans women actors to portray Zolita’s cult. The title plays off of the saying that someone (usually male), “fights like a girl,” meaning that the way they fight is weak. Zolita chose to repurpose this phrase to showcase the ways in which women stand up for themselves. She begins her song by saying “I will sleep when I’m dead, a revolution’s waking up in my head.” Zolita wrote this song right after Trump’s election in 2016 and felt an anger toward the consequences she knew were to follow. The revolution she proposes is one that raises up the voices of women against the oppression of someone intending to revoke their rights. In the outro of the song, the lines “My body, my choice, my rights, and my voice” are repeated to mimic the pro-choice movement against revoking the right for women to get an abortion in the United States. She wants men to know that they can’t make her decision for her, or for any other woman. She also cleverly layers in the lyric “can’t grab me by the—” into the echo as an allusion to Trump’s “locker room talk.” Zolita is trying to put the power back in the hands of women and to bring a community together.


Activism is something that plays out in our society every day. Activism can show itself in small ways like signing petitions or large ways such as rioting and protesting. The importance of activism remains something that is ever-growing. It’s time now to start listening, making ourselves informed and acting on behalf of what we believe is right.

Junior English-Creative Writing Major at Hofstra University. Music and cat enthusiast.