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Music and Community: An Opportunity for Activism

The music community has always offered a unique setting for artists and listeners alike to find their own type of niche. Different music scenes throughout the world embody listeners of all ages and types. Music has always acted as an outlet for struggles found throughout the world, unifying groups of people acting toward a greater good.

The 1960s saw music transform into a political machine, covering topics like war and racial segregation. Artists like Bob Dylan transformed into glorified protestors, rallying millions of people behind one political theme. Or Sam Cooke, whose 1964 single, “A Change Is Gonna Come” supported a political revolution in the midst of the Civil Rights era. Even today’s music can still be seen as activism. Pussy Riot have received national support after acting out against the Russian church and government. Music seems to reflect what’s happening throughout society, and that continues to be true as LGBTQ rights are being discussed more and more throughout the world.

Recently, renowned R&B lady-killer Frank Ocean released a letter to the public acknowledging that his first true love was with another man; a shock coming from a member of OFWGKTA, a hip hop collective experienced in the use of all types of slurs. Even more of a surprise considering the song “Songs for Women” from Ocean’s unofficial debut, nostalgia, ultra.

Any themes of love or lust on that album were directed towards women. The closest he came to anything other than that on nostalgia, ultra were his lyrics on “We All Try” where he sings, “I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and woman, but between love and love.” It wasn’t until Ocean’s first official commercial release, Channel Orange, where his songs started incorporating pronouns for both men and women when discussing love.

Ocean of course received a lot of support for the decision he made. Posts throughout the blogosphere praised him for bravery and he received coverage from the Guardian, New York Times and a number of other major news networks. Of course, with all of this he also received the usual absurdities: a loss of listeners, gay insults, death threats.

Ocean’s decision is far from new in the music community — it’s simply the most recent. This theme has been supported throughout music as early as the 70s by artists like Bowie and Lou Reed. Today the theme can even be found within hip hop, the very music scene that has been most discriminatory towards the LGBTQ community. Pitchfork did a very intriguing feature on an underground hip hop scene in NYC that’s sole purpose is geared towards celebrating LGBTQ.

And none of this is to suggest that Ocean’s struggle is anymore celebrated or anymore troublesome than any other situation that millions of people have undergone. But a step like this from an artist so close to peaking over the wave and into the mainstream is certainly a strong one for the LGBTQ community. What’s most important to remember throughout all of this, however, is that people are people, and sexual orientation is certainly not a definition of character.

“A person who loves is a righteous person,” Fiona Apple wrote in a personal letter to a young gay fan back in 2000. “And if someone has the ability and desire to show love to another– to someone willing to receive it, then for goodness’ sake, let them do it. Hate has no place in the equation; there is no function for it to perform. Love is love, and there will never be too much.”

Point being: music has always had its way of providing an outlet for those themes, ideas, and struggles throughout society. Music (the best kind of music, that is) can be a direct reflection of what’s happening in the world, and when music takes a step, society takes that step as well.

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