Musical identities based around resistance are a fairly conventional trope of the popular music industry. Entire generic categories are devoted to resistance; whether it be punk’s ideological resistance (Grimes, 2015), or resistance to generic monotony from genre-clash albums such as ‘City of Thieves (Boom, 2009) or ‘Roots, Rock, Riot’ (Webbe, 2007). However, I have always had an issue with ‘resistance music’. Either, the impact of the release/performance isn’t large enough to be seen as ‘resistance’ or it is too overt in its resistance, to the point where it loses authenticity and comes across as contrived. Using a contemporary case study of ‘resistance music’, I look to justify my thoughts on ‘resistance music’ whilst connecting to the concept of identity.
My case study revolves around musical resistance to the American presidential election, more specifically resisting Trump’s nomination. ‘90s alt-rockers Third Eye Blind played a charity gig in close proximity to the Republican National Conference. The band refused to play their bigger hits during the concert, instead playing songs with anti-republican lyrical content to boos (TMZ, 2016). This was followed swiftly by a CNN interview and a surprise social-themed single release, promoting their newly-announced EP.
It is clear to see how one could argue both for and against Third Eye Blind’s ‘musical resistance’. Their antagonistic stage-talk (Smith, 2016) implies a legitimate gripe with Republicans, yet the subsequent Black Lives Matter-themed ‘Cop vs. Phonegurl’ (Jenkins, 2016) release implies a promotional motive. This is furthered by the band refusing to play a similar event in the past (Jenkins, 2012).
I would argue that the motive behind the band’s actions is much simpler: identity maintenance. The band are known musically for several reasons, but perhaps at the forefront is their liberal philosophy. ‘Semi-charmed Life’ (Jenkins, 1997 b) refers to heavy drug use (a cultural signifier (Hunt, Milhet and Bergeron, 2011)); ‘Jumper’ (Jenkins, 1997 a) encourages homosexuals to ‘step back from that ledge’ and ‘Non-Dairy Creamer’ (Jenkins, 2008) is explicitly anti-republican, with the lyrics sarcastically stating ‘two young, gay Republicans’ brought marriage to an end.
Continuing from this, one could argue that, in a comparable way to The Huns appealing to their punk demographic (Shank 2006), Third Eye Blind simply appealed to their own demographic in their performance. Their demographic may not have been in attendance, but in antagonising a specific audience, they have appealed to their own, and maintained their identity.
Of course, this indicates a lack of ‘true’ resistance; this ‘resistance music’ hasn’t been written solely to resist, it has been written to maintain an identity, a pillar of which happens to be the band’s liberal-leaning political stance. It would seem, in a commodity-focused and oversaturated music industry (Wikstrom, 2009), identity has become more crucial to an artist’s commercial survival, and the notion of ‘resistance music’ has simply become another promotional avenue for producers to reach consumers with.
- Boom, B. (2009). City of Thieves. [CD, online] Manchester: Rebel Alliance Records.
- Grimes, M. (2015). Call it Crass but there is no Authority but Yourself: De-canonising punk’s underbelly. Punk and Post Punk. 4, No. 2. pp. 189-204
- Hunt, G., Milhet, M. and Bergeron, H. (2011). Drugs and Culture. 1st Burlington, Vt: Ashgate
- Jenkins, S. (1997 a). Jumper. [CD] Marylabd: Elektra.
- Jenkins, S. (1997 b). Semi-Charmed Life. [CD] Maryland: Elektra.
- Jenkins, S. (2008). Non-Dairy Creamer. [CD, online] Maryland: MRI.
- Jenkins, S. (2012). Why We Aren’t Playing at the RNC. [online] The Huffington Post. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephan-jenkins/third-eye-blind-rnc_b_1839576.html
- Jenkins, S. (2016). Cop vs. Phonegirl. [Online] Texas: Megaforce Records.
- Shank, B. (2006). Punk Rock at Raul’s – The Performance of Contradiction. In: A. Bennett, B. Shank and J. Toynbee, ed., The Popular Music Studies Reader, 1st London:Routledge. pp. 114-120.
- Smith, N. (2016). Third Eye Blind baits Republican Audience at Cleveland Fundraiser. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/20/third-eye-blind-republican-national-convention
- TMZ (2016). Third Eye Blind – Trump Supporters Didn’t Deserve Our Greatest Hits in Cleveland (VIDEO). [online] Available at: http://www.tmz.com/2016/07/20/third-eye-blind-stephan-jenkins-rnc-donald-trump/
- Webbe, B. (2007). Roots, Rock, Riot. [CD, online] Florida: Bieler Bros Records.
- Wikstrom, P. (2009). The Music Industry. 1st London: Polity.