Strong political opinions were inescapable during the recent election season; surely you don't need a reminder. But regardless of which side of the aisle you identify with, the seemingly endless circus sure made for great art.
One man's proverbial trash is another's creative inspiration, which is why politics have long been a driving force for musicians. Last year was rife with songs that acted as commentary on the happenings in America, and considering the recent climate, 2017 will likely follow suit.
In advance of Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, here are nine politically charged releases set to the tune of 2016.
Queen Bey kicked off the year with a simple request: "Ladies, now let's get in formation." The surprise music video, which dropped days ahead of an equally stirring Super Bowl halftime show, was lauded as the singer's most political statement to date, a piece of modern-day activism, and a nod to black history makers before her. "Formation," both lyrically and visually, touches many social issues. The video, which takes place in a post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, clearly shows "Stop shooting us" inscribed on a wall. It empowers women, it celebrates black culture and even gives a shoutout to the LGBTQ community. (Beyoncé invited New Orleans bounce artist Big Freedia, who its famously gender fluid, for a cameo in the video.)
DJ Shadow, "Nobody Speak"
At first listen, "Nobody Speak" sounds simply like a war of egos. Besides the title lyric and one about Donald Trump doing something we'd rather not mention to his kids, it could easily be telling a story separate from politics. The music video, which features suited executives sitting opposite in a board meeting, is more explicit. The fiery exchange begins with words and escalates to a physical brawl that includes using the American flag as a weapon.
"We wanted to make a positive, life-affirming video that captures politicians at their election-year best," DJ Shadow said of the video. "We got this instead."
A Tribe Called Quest, "We the People..."
Does the line "All you bad folks, you must go" sound familiar? A Tribe Called Quest returned in 2016 with the long rumored We Got it From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service to plenty of fanfare after years of silence, disbandment and even the death of one of its members. Still the group's rhymes and rhythms are as relevant as ever. "We The People..." offers a thoughtful take on inequality in America and efforts to shape the country as a one-size-fits-all kind of place. Few better lyrics depict that reality than its chorus:
"All you Black folks, you must go / All you Mexicans, you must go / And all you poor folks, you must go / Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways / So all you bad folks, you must go."
Dave Matthews, "Song for Billijo"
Several musicians rallied to help stop the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built with concerts to both raise awareness about the effort at Standing Rock and to benefit its causes. At one, called Stand with Standing Rock, crooner Dave Matthews debuted a new tune inspired by his journey to ground zero of the fight and a kindergarten teacher he met there name Billijo. The experience "exploded my brain," Matthews is caught saying in a video of the live performance. So naturally he wrote a song about it.
Neil Young, Peace Trail
Forget one song; Neil Young created a whole protest album last year that touches on the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the maltreatment of native tribes and the environment, among other hot topics. The album's tone, which is unapologetically dissenting, should surprise few fans; Young has made a habit of speaking his mind about the causes close to his heart -- 2015's The Monsanto Years is a prime example -- though his effectiveness this time around has been debated by critics. Case in point: The Peace Trail favorite, "Can't Stop Workin'," is the most autobiographical and has little to do with Young's activism.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, "White Privilege II"
To say this song was a conversation starter would be an understatement. The roughly nine-minute epic, a follow up to Macklemore's 2005 track "White Privilege," dives deep into the rapper's conscience as he struggles to find his place, if any, as a white man amid the Black Lives Matter movement. Not only that, but also as a white hip-hop artist assimilating black culture. The track received its fair share of over-analysis, but it's relevant for anyone, regardless of race, who's contemplated similar questions.
Macklemore offered another dose of politics late in the year with "Wednesday Morning," a heartfelt ballad that served as his coping method after the election -- he was a staunch Hillary support -- and offered a message of hope in the process.
Ani DiFranco, "Play God"
Folk singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco has never been one to shy away from a cause. Her latest cause: a woman's right to choose. DiFranco's argument is as straight-forward as they come.
"'Play God' is a song that recognizes reproductive freedom as a civil rights issue," she said in a statement. "As a society, it is time to acknowledge that unless a woman is in control of her own reproduction, she is not free, and it is the responsibility of our American government to protect and ensure the freedom of all American citizens."
Jim James, "Same Old Lie"
My Morning Jacket front man Jim James was explicit in his note that accompanied this dreamy pop tune. "The fact that the United States is even remotely considering the idea of a Donald Trump presidency is so very, very disturbing," he said. James was one of many musicians who joined forces for the 30 Days, 30 Songs campaign, which released one tune every day for a month leading up to the election in hopes of encouraging voters to support Hillary Clinton. "Same Old Lie" also sought to do just that by addressing voter apathy and the consequences that come with it.
Z-Ro, "No Justice, No Peace"
Some Texans responded to the shootings in July in the best way they knew how: through song. No-holds-barred Houston rapper Z-Ro and uber-producer Mike Dean conceived of, wrote and released "No Justice, No Peace" as they were watching the attack on police officers after a Black Lives Matter march in Dallas. The song, borne of frustration, sprouted fully formed as they were watching events unfold. But the blowback was just as fast with some saying the rapper was condoning violence against police.
"I don't care about naysayers," Z-Ro told GuideLive over the summer. "'Cause they're going to say nay anyway."
Dawn Burkes contributed to this report.