Songs of Protest : 2016 to Today


Isabelle Indelicato, Arts & Entertainment Editor

If you want to check out a recorded version of this article, head to the Welcome Home podcast.

Songs of protest. It’s a tale as old as time. 

As long as there has been conflict, as long as people have wanted change, music has been a way to express their feelings and share messages. 

From Billie Holiday’s 1939 “Strange Fruit,” which some consider to be the first best protest song, to Kenrick Lamar’s Grammy-Winning “Alright” in 2015, and everything in between, songs of protest are often written during moments of change. 

In 2017,  Vox wrote that “protest songs often skew liberal, and usually fall under two major categories: politically charged, topical songs taking issue with the government, or culturally focused songs aimed at injustices facing marginalized groups.”In the years leading up to the 2016 presidential election until now, we have seen both. Here are five songs that have been made in response to the current political climate. 

1. President – Max Frost

‘President’ came out as a single in April 2016, in response to the presidential election. Although the artist said in a Facebook post that the song doesn’t have a specific political agenda, the “aim is to show how disenfranchised my generation has become with our political system.”

The post goes on to explain that from his point of view, no matter who is in power the outcomes all feel the same. 

2. JU$T – Run The Jewels feat. Pharrell Williams & Zack De La Rocha (Explicit)

This song comes off of the group’s most recent album RTJ4, and poses the question as to how anyone can be truly free when they find themselves attached to money/capitalism.

“JU$T” is reminiscent of “The 1619 Project” from the New York Times Magazine, particularly with the piece “Capitalism” by Matthew Desmond. 

Lead by Nikole Hannah-Jones, the goal of the project is to reframe American history by “place(ing) the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.”

3. Song 32 – Noname (Explicit)

With a stream of consciousness feel which is full of cultural references that paint a picture of how America is perhaps not as great as it purports to be. The 29-year-old rapper is extremely vocal in supporting revolution and encouraging people to divest from large corporations, among other things.

In the summer of 2019, Noname started a book club that describes itself as an “online/irl community dedicated to uplifting POC voices.” The book club does this by highlighting two books each month written by authors of color. 

Click here to learn more about Noname Bookclub.

4. The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness – The National 

In an interview with Pitchfork, the band said that the song is “a portrait of the weird time we’re in.” Listen to the song, and do what you will with the lyrics.

5. This is American – Childish Gambino (Explicit)

Last but not least, “This is America,’ by Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover. The single won Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Rap/Sung Performance, and Best Music video at the Grammys.

It’s impossible to mention the song without talking about the four-minute, one-take music video, directed by Hiro Murai, a frequent collaborator of Glover’s. Each lyric of the song, already filled with thoughtful symbolism becomes even more powerful with the visual accompaniment. For a breakdown of some of the symbolism, check out this article from the Washington Post.


Want to hear the songs mentioned in this article and others that have helped us get to where we are today?

Say no more.