Land of the Free—The Killers and American Politics in Music

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America, a deeply divided and politically polarized country, has always had its politics represented in artistic culture. In music, political statements are increasingly important, and award shows have become a platform for artists to express political discontent or support for ideologies and causes. Popular artists have always shouldered the burden of playing an important role in the societal discourse of their time. Although it may be problematic in pressuring these artists, people will always turn to art in times of trouble and need.

Tupac Shakur’s work is one of the historical highlights of music that impacted social discourse. Raised in Manhattan by his mother, Afeni Shakur, Tupac lived among political activists belonging to the Black Panther Party. By the early ’90s, he had become a strong voice in West Coast hip-hop and was known for his deep, self-aware, and moving lyrics.

A more recent example is rock duo Muddy Magnolias. One of my favorite tracks that covers 20e the feminism of the century would be ‘American woman’ (2006), a song challenging changing attitudes towards the role of women in American society. It addresses the themes of unpaid work, stereotypes and self-esteem. Politics is everywhere in music, from traditional artists to small musicians.

While it would be pointless to compare the political art of the past to contemporary art due to ever-changing societal structures and the transitioning political landscape, in recent years there has been a deliberate push towards outside activism, political participation and outspoken statements. Political sentiment is more present than ever in modern music, and perhaps more encouraged than ever.

One group in particular released a track in 2019 that encapsulated some of the major political issues facing America in an emotionally overwhelming use of poetic lyricism. This group is The Killers. The Killers use their music to express their political discontent and advocate for the change they believe is necessary.

The Killers have never been one to exclude politics from their music, but it has become more prominent in recent years. Initially, their observations were more social than political. Their first album, hot bustle (2004), featured performances of young loves and gave them their biggest hit and debut single, “Mr Brightside”. Day and age (2008) raised philosophical questions (“are we human or are we dancers?”), and Born warrior (2012) asked and answered questions about what it means to be human, “what are you made of? Of flesh and bones.

Just two years after the band’s debut album, Sam’s Town has been freed. This second album is deeper than the first. Sam’s Town began to paint a more political picture of the group’s life experiences in America. The title track is about dreams and ambitions that are not supported or realized within small urban communities. It’s a theme that’s picked up on the band’s latest album, pressure machine (2021). Track, “Western Hills” tells the story of a young woman who marries in early adulthood and accepts her life as it is. This story is told in a way that makes us love small town America, but is bittersweet in its display of stagnation, conformity, and lack of ambition. It is in the last two albums that the most political ideas have crept firmly into The Killers’ music. The monologue at the beginning of the song gives us the context and we immediately understand the meaning of the song, even before the first note.

At the exit of Implod the Mirage in August 2020, I first noticed that the lyrics of the music took a different direction than what I was used to hearing from The Killers. Where social and political issues had been peppered before, they were now at the center of every track. The words are beautifully combined with the catchy, catchy melodies we and the band have come to expect. They created meaningful music that also sounds intensely upbeat.

As anyone who knows TK knows, frontman Flowers and his partner, Tana Mundkowsky, have spoken openly about his struggle with complex PTSD. Women’s rights and violence against women have always been an issue close to the band and this is also reflected in their music, especially in Implod the mirage, where the song “Blowback” examines the consequences of violence against women and girls. The song “When The Dreams Run Dry” contains the phrase “nobody wishes they worked anymore” and asks us to think about the American dream and the needless sacrifices made for something unattainable. Woven intensely through these two albums, there are strong connections between how society works poorly and the politics behind it.

In their latest album, pressure machine, we hear an unfolding examination of life in a rural American town. A bleak picture is painted of drugs, young marriage, negative family dynamics and a general lack of aspiration. Despite this, it is evident that the lyrics are written with affection and appreciation for this way of life. People who live the aforementioned lives are content and feel content. The statement is not “this is not enough”, but the question: “should this be enough?” “.

The song “Terrible Thing” is about a boy who desperately struggles with his sanity and follows him one night as he contemplates suicide. This is a reflection of the mental health crisis that America, and indeed the world, is facing right now.

But by far the biggest political statement made by the band is the song, ‘Land of the Free’, released as a single and not featured on any of these later albums. This track was the turning point beyond which politics became a central pillar of The Killers songs.. I first heard this song in February 2019, just a few weeks after its release, and was immediately struck by the emotion radiating from the lyrics and melody. It took me right away and I spent minutes thinking and feeling what I heard.

The second time I heard this song, I had tears in my eyes. The passion behind Flowers’ lyrics and the ferocity with which he sings them was global. I have never heard a more heartbreaking or politically desperate song before. It is a call to all who hear it.

Every few lines tackles a different, devastating and unique American political issue, and each refrain reminds us that the branding of America as the “land of the free” is, at best, irrelevant. With the highest number of people incarcerated per population, beating El Salvador by 67 people per 100,000, America is far from free. And, taking a closer look at these numbers, it’s clear that something is broken.

It was with this track that the band cemented their reputation as good guys who are also good guys. Demanding that Americans stand up for themselves, their rights, and those less fortunate, there is a deep passion behind the lyrics of this song.

The opening verse describes a man who came to Pennsylvania as the son of a slave and is now free to live as a citizen in his old age. He washes the truck he owns at the garage, and the narration leads to a chorus praising America for being the “land of the free.”

However, this statement becomes more sinister as we delve deeper into the trail.

The second verse tells us about race. Flowers talks about the mistrust and mistrust of law enforcement that is so prevalent among racial minority groups. He reminds us that America has the largest prison population in the world and benefits from running busy prisons, and sings “it’s harvest time out on the avenue.”

The final verse touches on gun violence and right-wing extremism, two things that have been a huge problem in the United States for decades. We begin with a poignant question about how many children must be shot before gun violence is confronted head-on. Gun-related deaths are the leading cause of death for American children and adolescents. Every day, an average of 40 children are slaughtered, 8 of which die.

Since (and even before) the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings, which killed 28 people, mass shootings have been in the spotlight as an American political issue. Over the next 10 years, American schools experienced 18% of the total 1,316 school shootings since 1970, and have seen it cause the deaths of 212 students and staff, including the highest number of fatalities per event since Sandy Hook, which occurred in Parkland, Florida on 14e February 2018. In 4 out of 5 school shootings, a second person knew about the attack before it happened but did not report it, and in 68% of school shootings, the he gun is taken from the home of a friend or relative (Vossekuil, et al, 2002).

These statistics paint a very bleak picture of violence in American schools and underscore why this issue is so important. Despite desperate calls from many for tougher restrictions on lethal weapons, the policy to tighten controls on the purchase and distribution of firearms has yet to become bipartisan. The Killers make their position very clear. In their own words, “just fall apart and deal with it, we have a gun problem.”

The final lines before the ending chorus delve into the idea of ​​the border wall that was popularized by DJ Trump and may have contributed to DJ Trump’s rise three years before this song was released. We are reminded that people who want to become American citizens have the same aspirations as people who are citizens by birth, and the line, “high enough to keep all those dirty hands away from our hopes and dreams” shames and defies the opinions of ‘better than’.

This final verse and the chorus that follows have a backing chant repeating “I’m up, I’m crying”, to remind us of the tone and devastation this song represents.

We are left with many moral questions to answer about America declaring itself the leader of the free world, but there is no doubt that the country’s politics are called upon.

So, does politics have its place in music? Of course it is! Music is a medium through which humans have always expressed the deepest and most emotional parts of ourselves. Politics is the framework in which we live and are constrained by those to whom we give power. Creating art that reflects how we live and how we are treated is a natural expression of a human society. The Killers have done some of their best work centered around political themes, and no doubt will continue to do so as they watch their home country struggle against homicide, oppression and extremism.


Editor’s Note: The May 14 shooting in Buffalo, New York, occurred after this article was written, as did the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The May 24 shooting was the second deadliest school shooting in United States history; our thoughts are with the victims of this attack.

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