First Lineage

The first lineage I noticed was that of honoring activists that had come before, especially in a time of needed change. Hozier takes the cake on this one, by referencing numerous artists and even basing his song off of one of Nina Simone’s hits, but other artists, including Simone herself, have covered or written about previous activists.

Nina Simone “The Times They Are a-Changin'” 

This cover, done by Simone in 1969, was originally written by Bob Dylan about the change of the world. This song seems to take on a more melancholy approach in a way of acceptance that things have changed, in regards to capitalism and fundamentalism, and you have to accept it or it may just pass by you. Nina Simone covering this piece as an active member of the civil rights movement, may make the song take on a whole new meaning to a different crowd of people, specifically people of color during this era. The song itself is often interpreted in many ways, and Simone covering Dylan’s piece is a tribute to him, as well as a new interpretation for a different crowd of people.

Janis Joplin “Little Girl Blue”

Janis Joplin was the lead vocalist for the band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and she based a lot of her vocal techniques, which were thought to be unique especially during this time, off of Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, and Etta James. Nina Simone covered this song, and so did Janis Joplin, though it is thought that the cover Joplin did of it was influenced by Simone’s track as opposed to the original. Simone had an album released using the title “Little Girl Blue” that became one of her best albums to date, with fans including Sara Bareilles. An icon for the misfits and for strong women everywhere, Joplin’s tribute to Simone through this cover and others she had done again expanded the platform for people to hear a different interpretation of a song.

Flogging Molly “The Times They Are a-Changin'” 

Again, with the same cover, this Celtic punk band covered Dylan’s song on a tribute album to him in early 2012. The original song was based off of traditional Irish and Scottish folk songs ‘Come All Ye Bold Highway Men’, ‘Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens   . Flogging Molly’s cover of this song is a more modern day cover that is achieving the same thing that Simone’s cover did in reaching a new audience while reviving an old song and activist to a newer generation. Hozier ties in here as an Irishman himself, bringing back the original roots of the song via Flogging Molly’s Irish roots and the roots of Dylan’s song.

Sara Bareilles “Miss Simone” 

This song is more closely related to what Hozier did with his song, as it is a direct tribute to a civil rights activist (just so happens to be Nina Simone again) during about the same time period of modernity. Using soulful vocal tones as her tribute as opposed to more meaningful lyrics, this song talks of romance to the soundtrack of “Miss Simone” herself. Scaling out and viewing her album as a whole, Amidst the Chaos, was created with the intention of female empowerment and change during a political period where that is being threatened. Citing Simone on this album pays tribute to a woman who fought for rights through music and action, just as we should.

Hozier “Nina Cried Power”

The final stop on the lineage of tributes and covers of civil rights activists is Nina Cried Power, in which Hozier calls and references numerous artists that were influential during the civil rights era. The song is about empowering change and action, and using references to Simone’s song Sinnerman and even her name in the title emphasizes this point more so. This song is the modern day king of tribute songs, while at the same time having a powerful message just like those activists included in many of their own songs.


Second Lineage

The second lineage I want to look at is the lineage of songs about change post Donald Trump’s election into office. Nina Cried Power is no doubt a song commenting on the change that can be done by the people in times of civil unrest, and it was written by a man with a passion for rights for people of color, marginalized groups like the LGBTQ+, and women. With all of those things being compromised and threatened during America’s current administration, taking a look at the lineage behind this will give a better understanding of just how wide spread this issue is, and how Hozier’s message rings even more true.

The 1975  “Love It If We Made It”

Released in 2018, this song is a socially conscious comment on the political climate post-Trump’s inauguration. The song covers topics like the refugee crisis to Lil’ Peep’s death to Trump’s sexual assault accusations. Lines from the song directly reference quotes made by Trump about women, and while lead singer Matty Healy intended this song to be a introspective reflection of the times we are living in, it has become a song of protest, especially among the alternative/indie fan base.

Janelle Monae “I Got the Juice”

A feminist icon, Janelle Monet has been an advocate in speaking up for women and people of color through her music and in her day to day life. The song I Got the Juice references Trump’s disgusting remarks about women in the lyrics, like in the line “If you try to grab my pussy cat, this pussy grab you back (hey)”. This song also tackles issues like Trump’s infamous wall on the border of US and Mexico, and going along with that the racism and dehumanization that has resulted from his presidency. Monae is a modern day activist, spreading awareness and lighting a fire in the hearts of all her fans through the pop genre.

Childish Gambino “This Is America”

Perhaps the number one song to come to mind when thinking of songs of protest during today’s political climate, Gambino’s song This is America shows what today’s current society is like in its song and music video. The video references even more of the injustices that exist from police brutality to racial and gun violence. It is a critique of the country as a whole, and each moment of the song and music video is carefully chosen and placed the reflect that which has been often ignored, sugar coated, or hidden from people, especially the white middle to upper class. This song is a protest song through and through, and the civil unrest that exists was shown for millions of people to see. But not much has changed, for the better, since its release in 2018.

Hozier “Nina Cried Power” 

Hozier released Nina Cried Power in 2019, and unlike the other songs in this lineage, he avoids directly talking or confronting a direct problem. Rather, he focuses on how to fix these problems. The first line of the song “It’s not the waking, it’s the rising” is a call to action post all of the injustices that have been going on, especially since Trump’s inauguration. After seeing the state of society, like in Gambino’s video, the song looks to call people to action. You’ve seen it, now do something about it. He references people who have done this with success in the past, hoping to inspire and light a fire in the youth of today.