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Music Will Always Be Protest

CONTENT WARNING: Racism, acts of violence, oppression

April 10, 2023

Music is inherently political. If you’ve read any of my articles, you know that I write about music as protest, music as resistance against societal norms, and music as a means of self-expression in the face of Eurocentric cis-heteronormativity. While all music communicates values and politics, the songs that express radical statements explicitly are often the most powerful. For your activist endeavors, I’ve compiled a short, non-exhaustive list of protest songs that cover a variety of issues.


Woman In Color – album (Raye Zaragoza)

Zaragoza’s 2020 album Woman In Color hosts ten songs that bloom with defiance and self-understanding in the face of harmful stereotypes and difficult immigrant experiences. Flashing opposition to tropes like the American Dream and feminine weakness, Zaragoza’s songwriting demonstrates the power that women of color like herself hold against hatred and systemic inequity. “Change Your Name,” “The It Girl,” and “Rebel Soul” are particularly moving, each confronting intersecting oppressions.


“The Bigger Picture” (Lil Baby)

Protest music exploded in 2020 and 2021 in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Lil Baby wrote, recorded, and released “The Bigger Picture” in just three weeks following George Floyd’s murder. “The Bigger Picture” explores the institutional issues of racism in the United States, pointing out not only police violence but disproportionate incarceration of Black people and the injustice of the “justice” system. White people often regard racism as an issue that only manifests in individual interactions rather than a system of laws, practices, and policing that carries through all institutions to continuously oppress people of color, most notably and severely Black and Indigenous people. Lil Baby’s rap debunks the myth of racism as a solely individualized phenomenon. Not only is racism part of the bigger picture, but it is the bigger picture.


“Strange Fruit” (Billie Holiday)

Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is a quintessential protest song that inevitably and deservingly makes it onto the majority of protest song playlists. Recorded in 1939, “Strange Fruit” mourns the thousands of Black people lynched at the hands of ruthless white crowds. Holiday compares bodies hanging from trees to fruit, reflecting on the inherently racist nature of the white South. “Strange Fruit” is a significant song not only for Black activists working for racial justice but for non-Black accomplices to remember and call out the atrocities that continue to harm Black Americans.


“Song 33” (Noname)

Noname’s discography explores a vast array of social issues and is consistently intersectional, focusing on race, gender, sexuality, and a variety of other issues. In a mere minute and nine seconds, Noname’s “Song 33” calls out femicide, missing women, police violence, the denial of childhood and safety to Black children, the murders of transgender women, the democratization of Amazon, and advocates for the abolition of borders. We need more intersectional activism like Noname’s, and activists who identify with mainstream, privileged identities would do well to adopt a critical, intersectional lens to their activism. All of Noname’s music is protest music in one way or another, delivering radical social justice messaging through powerful lyrics and melodies.


“We Shall Overcome” (Gospel Hymn)

“We Shall Overcome,” a key anthem of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, takes a hopeful stance in the face of injustice and proclaims bravery, hope, peace, and community. Countless artists have covered and performed “We Shall Overcome” and crowds of protesters have enshrined it as a vital protest anthem. Descended from the hymn “I’ll Overcome Some Day” written by minister Charles Albert Tindlay at the turn of the twentieth century, “We Shall Overcome” bridges religion and protest.


“Tear It Down” (Amy Ray, ft. Allison Russell)

Over her decades-long career, Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls has created countless songs that go outside the norm, working for social justice. “Tear It Down,” a song from Ray’s 2022 album If It All Goes South confronts the racism of the Southern United States in which Ray was raised in. Ray is white, making her callout of white Southern systems and practices an act of responsibility. Many, if not most protest songs are created by people of color, and white musicians often remain silent regarding political issues, especially racialized ones. Featuring Allison Russell, a Black singer-songwriter who regularly uses her own music to shed light on social justice issues, “Tear It Down” calls for the eradication of Confederate monuments and flags throughout the South. One day, we can hope, this demand will manifest.


Sources:, gs/the-50-best-protest-songs-of-all-time/

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