For ages, music has been a mirror to world happenings. It's a historical marker telling stories from various times. There is a song that is still sung in black churches now called Wade in the Water that contains real instructions for runaway slaves. It was a way to send messages to other slaves as to how to escape to freedom. Jump to the 1980's and you'll hear hits by Michael Jackson like Black or White and Stevie Wonder's Jungle Fever that tell us that interracial dating was not accepted and that it did indeed matter if you were black or white. The state of politics, race relations and religion can all be found in and documented within music.
There are two hit songs currently in rotation that have people talking about race. Music can be a subtle way to get a point across or it can be a very bold statement. Justin Timberlake's That Girl can be viewed as the modern day Jungle Fever. It's a song about him being in love with a black girl from "the other side of the tracks" that goes on to say "don't be mad at me." The music is written in a way that makes it sound like he sings "I'm in love with a black girl." He's almost defending his love, unlike Wonder's take on the issue in 1991. Timberlake sings "so what, the world don't think we match...people are always staring but I don't care, I'm in love with that girl and she's in love with me." What does it say about our society if 22 years later, artists are still experiencing negative effects of interracial dating? Many will argue that we're past that but music continues to tell our story for us.
Very different than a song with affectionate lyrics toward another race is current single, Royals, by New Zealand artist Lorde. Many believe that these lyrics:
But every song's like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin' in the bathroom.
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin' the hotel room,
We don't care, we're driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
But everybody's like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your time piece.
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
And we'll never be royals (royals).
It don't run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain't for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.
are used to openly criticize black people and hip hop culture. Despite the lyrics, Lorde says she is a fan of hip hop. Is that kind of like saying, "I have a black friend?" Some musical acts like Run DMC and Aerosmith have tried to team up to show that different races and genres can collaborate and make really great music. Other duos like LL Cool J and country artist Brad Paisley tried and failed with their lyrics "If you don't judge my do-rag, I won't judge your red flag." I think they may have missed the point.
It's up to artists, it's the job of the artist, to tell the world the state of the people. Music tells our story. Good, bad, racist or indifferent.