Although school shootings are a fairly new phenomenon, there have been plenty of songs discussing and addressing the social issue and what causes such a tragic event. I would like to discuss the lineage of Metallica’s “Ronnie” → P.O.D.’s “Youth of the Nation” → Ill Bill’s “The Anatomy of a School Shooting” → The 1975’s “Looking For Somebody (To Love)”.

“Ronnie” by Metallica

 “Ronnie” by Metallica came out in 1996, just three years before the deadly Columbine shooting shocked the United States. However, the song itself was inspired by a “1990’s school shooting in Washington state”, according to Genius. Even though school shootings may not have been happening as frequently as they are now, it certainly made enough of an impact to inspire Metallica to write a song about it. In the very first verse, the artist sings “Small town boy, big time frown / Never talks, never plays”. The song goes for a narrative approach, opting to delve more into the character’s backstory and upbringing and what may have caused him to do such a thing, similar to “Looking For Somebody (To Love)”. In The 1975’s song, the verse “But the boy with the plan and the gun in his hand” mirrored the way “Ronnie” focuses on the shooter as a person, describing him first as a boy. This could also play into the toxic masculinity discussion, and how little boys are often taught violence is the answer. 

“Youth of the Nation” by P.O.D.

P.O.D.’s “Youth of the Nation” debuted at the turn of the century in 2001. In this song, the lyrics almost directly line up with the lyrics (and title) of The 1975’s song. One verse in “Youth of the Nation” reads: “Maybe this kid was reaching out for love”. I’m not sure if The 1975 knew of this song and was directly trying to call back to it (there is no evidence that I could find that they were) but either way I believe it reveals a lot about both artists. They aren’t just writing off school shooters as inhuman, but rather trying to find a real, logical reason for their behavior. The question is whether they’re leaning too far into sympathy/empathy. 

“The Anatomy of a School Shooting” by Ill Bill

Ill Bill’s “The Anatomy of a School Shooting” released just 3 years after “Youth of the Nation”. Ill Bill crafts a rap song that tells the story of the Columbine High School shooting from Eric Harris, one of the shooters’ perspectives. In one of the verses, he says “That’s why I had a smile on my face when I started blastin’”. This reminded me of the verse in “Looking For Somebody (To Love)” that says “You should have seen it, man, I was all, “Bang, bang, bang, bang””. I think that both these lines attempt to examine the spectacle factor in school shootings, and how often the media glorifies and desensitizes us to it. Many academic sources and experts agree that a “contagion” effect often occurs in these situations, wherein one mass shooting increases the likelihood of another. More information on contagion is explained in this National Library of Medicine article

Studying each of these songs all together reveals connections between the social justice issue they are protesting against, but it also gives me a more comprehensive understanding of how artists have approached the issue as time has gone on and this has unfortunately happened more frequently. We see how Metallica and P.O.D. are more interested in how a school shooter is made/formed, whereas Ill Bill focuses on a specific shooting and how the perpetrators wanted fame as well as violence.  For such a disturbing but important matter, I believe it’s important to understand all possible facets.