By Sara Karlovitch
Most people probably don’t remember the details of the 2016 Super Bowl. If asked, you probably couldn’t remember where it was played, what the final score was or even who made the winning pass. I know I couldn’t answer any of those things.
But you remember Beyoncé.
Everyone watching the Super Bowl halftime show remembers Beyoncé performing her hit single “Formation” wearing a Black Panthers-inspired outfit. Her song, and its music video invoked strong and provocative imagery, such as Katrina, the Black South and police violence. Mix that with the fact it came out during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, it was the perfect powder keg for controversy.
That concept is what embodies ‘Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics,” the new exhibit at the Newseum.
Liberal pundits praised Beyoncé for writing the protest song for the ages, while conservatives accused her of causing violence against law enforcement.
Beyoncé’s performance had power. No matter what side of the debate you were on, you couldn’t deny she was saying some powerful and political stuff.
That concept of music as a political message is nothing new. The message has changed overtime and the type of music has changed with it. But music as politics has always been here.
The exhibit takes you through every president from Eisenhower to Obama and illustrates how music was used politically during their presidency.
The exhibit opens with Jimi Hendrix playing his famous rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock and the guitar he played it on right in front of you. The song can be heard anywhere in the exhibit along with different songs from each era. The exhibit is littered with artifacts like Bruce Springsteen’s draft card, Bill Clinton’s saxophone, Johnny Cash’s famous black shirt and, of course, lots of guitars.
The history of political music is a long one and hasn’t always been used for protest. The government used Elvis Presley as the example of the “all-American” patriot during the Korean War.
This took a sharp turn in the 1960’s when the most poignant music came from the black Jim Crow south. During the Nixon era, music was anti-government and anti-establishment. Songs like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Ohio,” which was about the massacre at Kent State University, opened with the lines “tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming.” The original handwritten lyrics can be seen in the exhibit along with the flag that flew over the university the day four students were killed by the National Guard.
The Newseum was able to find a collection of amazing artifacts to tell the story of resistance and politics in this country. In a time where rebellion and resistance are used casually in conversation about the youth in this country, there could not be a more poignant, important time for an exhibit like this to exist. Beyoncé’s “Formation,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and MILCK’s “Quite” have become rallying cries for the protest raging across the country everyday.
“Louder Than Words” takes you through the protest history of this country. It tells the history of the people that struggled for change and how music was, and continues to be, a weapon more powerful than any other weapon we can think of.
The exhibit is a humbling, powerful telling of our history, a reminder of the dark periods in our country and a warning about the dark period we’ve entered. Music tells the story of oppression and of freedom, of liberty and tyranny. The exhibit reminds you of all the mistakes we’ve made and how we can never afford to repeat them.
All while the “Star Spangled Banner” plays in your ears.
Featured Photo Credit: “Louder Than Words” explores the crucial influence of rock and roll in politics and social movements around the world. Maria Bryk/Newseum
Sara Karlovitch is a freshman journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.