The times, they are a-changin’. Late last week, Governor Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island signed a piece of legislation which allows same-sex marriage in the state beginning in August, making it now the tenth state on a growing list of those that allow it, including the rest of New England, Iowa, New York, Washington and the District of Columbia. There are thousands of people that are thrilled with the decision, but there are always those who take the opposite stance on a hot-button issue like this. Fact is, the number of people who want marriage equality in the U.S. as a whole is verging on 60% at this point, and that number will continue to keep growing as well as the number of states that allow it.
Now, why do I bring this up? Well, there always has to be some musical twist to this. Today, it’s politically-charged songs. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Some are done really well and work directly with the issues, while others fall apart and remain vague and show little connection to the topic. There are several songs being worked as this point that deal with the subject of same-sex marriage equality, homosexuality and other LGBTQ issues, which entertains a certain audience, but may also irk many depending on a number of factors: religious stance, age, etc. It’s a touchy subject. It’s not discussed in many songs that become singles for that reason alone. Yet, the times are changing, and radio can lead the way in this charge or stand aside and repress these statements. So, can these songs garner airplay in a world of national playlists rather than localized programming? Will entire radio groups prevent these from becoming popular? You be the judge.
MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS featuring MARY LAMBERT, “Same Love”
“Same Love” was originally written last year by Ben Haggerty, a.k.a. Macklemore, in support of legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington state, which was passed and enacted last December. Lyrically, the song is pretty blunt, with lines calling out “the right-wing conservatives”, who “think it’s a decision/And you can be cured with some treatment and religion.” He also dedicates a verse to talking about masking ourselves behind technology which encourages bullying: “Have you read the YouTube comments lately?/”Man that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily/We’ve become so numb to what we’re sayin’.” Pretty powerful stuff, but played to the wrong ears and you’re bound to hear some pretty hateful stuff back. “Love” hasn’t officially been serviced to radio here., as “Can’t Hold Us” is still dominating at several formats. However, it has been slowly climbing up the Alternative survey on unsolicited airplay for a little over a month and is hovering just inside the top 30. It’s also been added by four stations at CHR radio: three CBS-owned outlets in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco and the fourth, a Clear Channel station also in Los Angeles. Thus far, only the Boston and San Francisco stations have actually begun spinning it. “Love” has already gone to #1 in Australia and New Zealand, but when it comes to the United States, the opposition to the issue will likely only make this song a mid-charter at best. I should note that you don’t see many midwestern and zero southern markets playing the song thus far. Sales of the song is a whole other beast, which are going to be consistent regardless of whether or not the song becomes a hit. The discussion’s going to continue for months to come, but this is one song that can’t be ignored. The content of it is too bold to just sit there.
SARA BAREILLES, “Brave”
Bareilles is starting off her third album The Blessed Unrest on a positive note with this tune, which employs whoever the song is directed to to “say what you wanna say/And the let the words fall out.” The subject seems to be imprisoned by the society at large (“Bow down to the mighty”) but the singer urges him or her to find “a way out of the cage where you live/Maybe one of these days you can let the light in.” Now, without any prior context, the song just sounds like her appeal to anybody who has a problem to be strong enough to admit something needs to be said. However, as Bareilles states in a video blog, the song was written for a friend who was having trouble coming out. Co-writer Jack Antonoff, one-third of the band of fun., told the Huffington Post that the song is “a civil rights anthem in a time when there are no civil rights anthems and there’s a giant need for [one].” So, if you didn’t know, now you do know. The message hasn’t seemed to affected its run thus far; it sold 76,000 copies digitally in its first week and is just about to enter the top 40 on Hot Adult Contemporary radio, one of her core formats. However, you could make the case that the fact that it’s no longer top 100 on iTunes and only posting moderate radio gains does mean that there is a hesitation to play the song. I honestly don’t know. It’s relatively harmless, but someone’s going to take issue with it. We’ll see what happens.
JILLETTE JOHNSON, “Cameron”
This is probably not going to get a lot of recognition, but Johnson’s song deals with a very interesting topic that isn’t addressed a lot of songs and for that reason alone, I’m hoping it gets picked up in a big way. She begins, “Cameron’s in drag, makes his father mad/Since he was a little boy, he always felt more comfortable in lipstick,” proceeding into the lines that deal with how the little boy is teased and beaten up by “aliens” for being different. This one just tugs at your heartstrings considering how young of a person we’re talking about. Why should he, so innocent, find himself denied for just being his usual self? “Cameron” is the second single from Johnson, who recently opened for Kris Allen on tour. Her first release, “Torpedo”, failed to get any significant airplay when it went for adds on the Hot Adult Contemporary format a few months ago. This, at least, has a little curiosity behind it and is effective in its final product. It goes to radio at the AAA format in two weeks on Wind-Up Records. I would watch this one carefully because if it gets the right placement, it could be huge, and probably stir a lot of family talk at the same time. There are plenty of children out there in Cameron’s position, unfortunately; it may give them a voice when one may be hard to find.
KACEY MUSGRAVES, “Follow Your Arrow”
Now, this one hasn’t been issued as a single and it may not be because this song involves the über-conservative Country radio format. Musgraves is known for speaking her mind when it comes to music, and her honest and in-your-face material probably doesn’t this particular case. However, if you know her stuff, then you know this is an excellent song that also does an excellent job at not being politically correct. As she states, “If you save yourself for marriage, you’re a bore/If you don’t save yourself for a marriage, you’re a whore-ible person.” She also tells her listeners to “make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys/or kiss lots of girls, if that’s something you’re into.” Musgraves appeals to a younger audience, which is where the format is heading, but still, there was a lot of talk over the track at some recent Country radio seminars. Her label ultimately chose “Blowin’ Smoke” as her second single, but there’s always a chance that this could be considered again. An adult audience would probably shudder at the idea of hearing this on the radio and having their children exposed to such content. Others would probably commend her for not being afraid to speak her mind. It still remains a popular album track.
We still have a ways to go when it comes to acceptance and equality in our nation, but we’re making big steps towards progress. This is just another of them. It should be our responsibility to keep an open mind when it comes to these kinds of subjects. Whether we agree or disagree, we should be able to speak our minds without being attacked for feeling a particular way. So, tell me: are you comfortable with hearing these kinds of lyrics on the air? Are you a radio programmer who feels one way or the other when it comes to songs like these? Can you like a song without supporting the big issue behind it? Let me know. Comment below or find on Twitter: @AdamFSoybel.