As the drama of the presidential election played out in 2016, musicians were a constant presence on the campaign trail. Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear and Killer Mike drummed up support for Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary, while Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, JAY-Z and Beyoncé all stumped for Hillary Clinton in the general election. “We were fully engulfed just trying to keep Donald Trump out,” recalls rapper Pusha T, who sat with vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine to discuss criminal justice reform at an October 2016 event.
Trump’s victory last November created an unexpected quandary. “People were in shock,” continues Pusha T. “It put everybody on pause.” Some stars seemed to turn away from politics, with Perry, for instance, shifting to a broader narrative of emotional healing for the release of her Witness album in June. But others have doubled down on using their platforms for social change -- often sharpening their focus on key policy issues like criminal justice reform, immigrant rights and climate change instead of the president himself.
While there wasn't one singular, high-profile anti-Trump anthem in 2017 to match YG and Nipsey Hussle’s searing 2016 song, “FDT,” many artists found more direct ways to advocate for the causes they support. “You see Chance the Rapper talk about racial injustice and the inequities in public education, donating to schools and showing up at city council [in Chicago],” says Carolyn DeWitt, president of Rock the Vote. “You have Kesha on her album [Rainbow] talking about sexual harassment, misogyny and the power that women have to create change. JAY-Z authored an op-ed [in The New York Times] getting into criminal justice reform. You’re seeing a lot of artists step up.”