Can music really change the world?
In 2015 the Dalai Lama rubbished the claim as he celebrated his 85th birthday — whilst at Glastonbury's Stone Circle, of all places. He told a crowd of straw-hatted hippie’s that music alone was not enough to force change — and when asked if music made him happy he replied: “not much.”
Just a few hours later, veteran rocktavist Patti Smith presented him with a birthday cake on stage, before swearing at the government, literally tearing off her guitar strings with her teeth to a revolutionary cover of The Who’s “My Generation”, and screaming “we’re gonna change the f***ing world” to a crowd that roared vociferously in agreement.
Global Citizen believes it can. We’ve hosted music festivals from India to Germany to grapple with the world’s most difficult challenges, and another one is just a few weeks away in New York City with Stevie Wonder, Green Day, and The Killers.
But sometimes it’s not about changing the world — it’s about reflecting it. These five records from four continents do just that and, hardly by accident, happen to be the best things in music this year too.
Prepare to get fired up.
England’s most brilliantly idiosyncratic indie band are back, and Fever Dream immediately picks up from their last record’s finest moment. “No Reptiles" was the bombastically weird electronic masterpiece from 2015’s Get To Heaven, and its euphoric wall of sound marches on with album opener “Night of the Long Knives”. It’s a blueprint for the whole project: brimming with quirk and striking put-downs to the powerful. But the “fat-child in a pushchair” characterised in “No Reptiles” is now all grown up, morphed into the populist “rat king” referenced in “Run The Numbers.”
But this is far from lazy propaganda against any specific individual. It’s a nerd-rock rant against the “machine” that purrs unnoticed in the background. Whether it’s lashing out against white privilege in “Ivory Tower” or figuring out how to resist systematic power while burdened with the “pencil pusher blues” in “Desire”, the record lurches from facing the ludicrous truth of politics in turmoil to wondering if it can even be real to begin with. It’s an epic, eccentric rock opera teaching truth to power. Everything Everything can’t offer an answer that doesn’t exist. But they do ask some damning questions.
“Pin the bunting on the gallows
Dance around it with your blackface on
And we all make a vacuum, we all make a vacuum for this…
… I can think of nothing else but this, but this machine” - “Ivory Tower”
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, including Goal No.16, pressing for strong institutions. Take action with us here.
“This is why I say that hip hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years.” - Geraldo Rivera, Fox News, sampled on “BLOOD”
In name and nature, DAMN is Kendrick Lamar’s stunningly measured response to Rivera. “Alright”, from previous studio album To Pimp a Butterfly, was the protest anthem that soundtracked the rise of Black Lives Matter. This new record writhes within that context, breathlessly changing pace between race and politics to depict a home that Kendrick has never felt less familiar with. DAMN is a historic monument to hip hop as omnipresent cultural dogma, as relevant to the future as it is to the past. Kendrick even revealed in an interview with MTV News that it was actually designed to be listened to backwards.
Read More: The Many Ways Kendrick Lamar is Giving Back
In “LOYALTY”, Kendrick recruits Rihanna, fresh and in form from her work with Global Citizen lobbying world leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron to commit funds to global education. They both performed at last year’s Global Citizen Festival, and continue to carry the cause forward. A shock cameo from U2 in the gun control critique “XXX” seems less surprising in these terms — Bono founded the ONE Campaign, a partner of Global Citizen in the fight to end extreme poverty.
“The great American flag is wrapped and dragged with explosives" - “XXX”
DAMN deserves dissertations to unpack it. But in the meantime, there’s probably nothing that can be said that isn’t put better by the greatest storyteller in rap himself.
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, including Goal No.10, fighting against inequality. Take action with us here.
Solange. SZA. Laura Marling. The future is female.
And rarely has femininity been this rich in variety, or so intersectional. In A Seat at the Table, Solange expresses delicate beauty in blackness, while Beyonce, her sister, uses that beauty as a baton. SZA wrenches back control of her own sexuality in Ctrl, whilst Laura Marling questions what womanhood even means in Semper Femina. But for Lorde, the New Zealand pop prodigy who shot to legend status with “Royals” in 2013, feminism is a celebration. And she absolutely revels in it.
Melodrama is a party record. It’s about self-love, temporary romance, and just having the best time ever. From Lorde’s playful whisper of “boom” in “Homemade Dynamite” to the merciless mockery of a former lover in “Writer in the Dark” (written while in bed with them), the whole thing is a total blast. It’s a revelation in optimism.
You can see the whole thing live on her world tour too — just by taking action on gender equality with Global Citizen.
It’s a self-aware pop masterclass, a refreshing reexamination on the female experience as something joyous and beautiful. Lorde even references her late friend David Bowie’s "Heroes"in the climactic chorus of "Green Light" — a nod to the icon that reinvented gender roles for a whole generation. Welsh disco artist Bright Light Bright Light told Global Citizen recently that pop was all about “unity.” Lorde gets it — feminism is essentially about bringing people together.
“(Feminism) is totally not about me. It's about all women — women who might not have the privileges that I have — trying to fight for better conditions and better treatment of all women… whether that be trans women, or women of colour, or women in professions that don't typically get a lot of respect" - Lorde, 60 Minutes
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, including Goal No.5, for gender equality. Take action with us here.
Songhoy Blues almost never happened.
Initially from Mali, they were forced to flee a civil war when jihadi militants refused to let them perform. Their debut album was called Music In Exile — a fitting title for a band always on the move. Resistance strikes similar themes, especially on “Mali Nord”, a track featuring South London grime MC Elf Kid. It talks about education, poverty, and the refugee crisis.
“Let's return to northern Mali, we who are driven out.
Let's go back to the north of Mali, we who have left our homes.
We are at the end of our strength,
Our children no longer go to school,
Each time the sufferings only increase,
We are reduced to hunger and cold,
Diseases surround us on all sides,
Exhausted from the begging without which we do not eat” - "Mali Nord"
Not that you’d know it. With the exception of Elf Kid’s brief break and a cameo from Iggy Pop on “Sahara”, the album is sung entirely in their native language. As a result, the entire record is jubilant and funky, the marks of a band that have found genuine freedom in creativity. Songhoy Blues first rose to prominence with Blur frontman Damon Albarn’s African Express, and their live shows turned legendary after Albarn refused to leave the stage during a mammoth five hour set in Denmark. Now, they’re bringing African music into the mainstream — and reinventing how many see the continent itself.
“I’ve seen them marketed as an African punk band,” remarked Iggy Pop on his weekly BBC 6 Music radio show. “But they’re much cooler than that.”
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, including Goal No.16, to foster peace around the world. Take action with us here.
IDLES are angry. Actually, scratch that. IDLES are blindingly furious.
Economic inequality, tax avoiders, and the Tories all get shoutouts on the aptly titled Brutalism, and it’s pretty… well… brutal. But permeating every flagrant riff and curse is a scathing sense of humour. In “Well Done” they immortalise ex-Great British Bake Off host Mary Berry as a high achieving reggae fan, and go on to burst the anarchist Christmas cracker collection with this opening line in “White Privilege”:
“How many optimists does it take to change a lightbulb?None!Their butler changes the lightbulb” - “White Privilege”
Patti Smith would approve of the English four-piece. Frontman Joe Talbot howls about the storm in his own head like it’s the Book of Revelation, and rips through issues like mental health and the NHS with typically incandescent rage. Though perhaps the most incisive moments of the record come during the moments of relative reflection.
“Sexual violence doesn’t start and end with rape. It starts in our books and behind our school gates” - "Mother"
IDLES can take full advantage of a landscape that’s finally ready to let a band like them breath. Sleaford Mods, a similarly formidable British band that previously seethed on the fringes, are now signed to Rough Trade Records — the independent label that first launched The Smiths. Meanwhile, the rambunctious punk group Cabbage made the BBC Sound of 2017 longlist (previously topped by the likes of Adele) — an impressive achievement for a band who’s EP Terrorist Synthesiser was so-named after the British right-wing press attempted to discredit opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. Now, IDLES are supporting Foo Fighters at their stadium show at the O2 Arena in London. How big can they get?
If they keep burning this brightly, expect a revolution.
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, including Goal No.3, to obtain universal health and wellbeing. Take action with us here.