My two songs, “Land of the Free” by The Killers and “Words I Never Said” by Lupe Fiasco, caught my attention the first time I listened to them years ago, with one reason being that they step out of the realm of usual themes in music and take bold stances on divisive political and social issues. In listening to both of them back to back, I realized that they are both very broad in scope, attacking an incredibly wide range of social justice topics. Each verse in both songs takes on multiple issues, with implicit stances on each issue included. Both songwriters take risks in doing this, because if listeners disagree with one opinion over the course of the song, it can turn them off to the song or the artists as a whole. However, in both songs I think commenting on such a wide range of problems in society made them that much more powerful.

“Land of the Free” bore some similarities to “Born in the U.S.A.”. While the anthemic aspect of “Land of the Free” is subdued, both songs begin with a story of what we picture as the ‘classic, blue collar American’ (“Cut coal and planted a seed/ Down in them drift mines of Pennsylvania) book-ended by a repeated phrases that in most cases invokes a sense of patriotism, but in these cases is used satirically. “Land of the Free” begins with a long, somber piano intro, but the music picks up in volume in key towards the middle of the song, and to emphasize certain lyrics (“We got a problem with guns”).

Throughout the song, The Killers repeat “I’m standing, crying”. Standing is synonymous with power and respect in our country, we stand for the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the popular phrase “United We Stand“. This is juxtaposed with the image of crying. It’s as if he still shows pride in his country, but the issues it holds are too strong to bare. I also thought it was interesting to have the chorus delivered in a chanted, gospel like tone, similar to some of the slavery anthems we have listened to. Lastly, in the outro, “Land of the Free” lingers and fades out, as if to let the listener ponder what that phrase really means.

“Words I Never Said”, was similar in structure to “Land of the Free”. The theme of the song is regret for not speaking out and protesting, with the chorus saying “As I drown in my regrets/I can’t take back the words I never said” and Lupe Fiasco’s assertion that “silence is worse than all the violence”. It pushes the listener to speak out and take action. The chorus by Skylar Grey sounds strongly auto tuned, which could signify repressed voices or an internal dialogue. Further, as it is a rap song, the music is restricted to a beat, but the beat is repetitive, possibly signifying the cyclical nature of the issues in our society.

Further, in Lupe Fiasco’s verses, it seems he introduces commentary almost every two lines. He talks about international issues, national issues, and local difficulties that he’s dealt with personally, which serves to even further humanize the problems. However, each issue he links together, whether it be by rhyme or drawing parallels. It seems as if his boldest assertions come at the beginning and end of his verses for emphasis, and the music quiets. We see this in his first line “I really think the war on terror is a bunch of bullshit”, which grabs the listener’s attention. Lupe Fiasco and Skylar Grey truly seek to intrigue the listener as Fiasco asks rhetorical questions that make the listener think introspectively about their actions (“Complain about the gloom but when’d you pick a broom up?”). Most of all however, they want the listener to use their voice and protest issues that they care about rather than drowning in regrets.