It's a battle cry almost as old as music itself: "Stick to music!" Or, these days, #sticktomusic.
That's the persnickety tweeter's plea when a musician dares speak out on social issues or political topics. Nevermind that speech is one of those inalienable rights we in this country theoretically enjoy. Forget about the First Amendment.
Let's not silence our musicians. It's ignorant for songwriters to stash their political thoughts in a drawer. Whereas too many artists use social media as merely a tool for commercial promotion, it's refreshing to watch musicians share a relatable personality 140 characters at a time.
Jason Isbell, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter who has the gift of insight and observation in his music, often tweets with logic that cuts to the core. Following Meryl Streep's politically-infused Golden Globes speech, Isbell posed a question to those who were telling Streep to "stick to acting":
In a hilariously hypocritical instance, '90s country star Travis Tritt took to twitter to rip into Streep following her impassioned acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards. It didn't seem to occur to the "Country Club" singer that by instructing "all actors, musicians and entertainers" to "stick to your crafts," he was breaking his own holy decree. Such confusion and idiocy is inevitable when one begins telling someone else what to say or how to express themselves.
It's one thing to disagree. It's another entirely to tell someone and to stop speaking out on certain matters altogether.
Recently, Ryan Adams, the social media-loving, eccentric songwriter few would ever mistake for being anything short of outspoken, performed a killer cover of Radiohead's "Karma Police" for BBC Radio. He said the choice was inspired by the "awful person who just got elected in the United States."
Of course, snark-filled barbs were waiting once the recording of the song hit twitter.
It wasn't the actual performance of the forever-relevant 1997 global hit that riled people up, of course, it was the fact Adams bothered to give his opinion. The political nature of his twitter feed has increased, and as a result, so too has the pushback. After an annoyed twitter follower let Adams know he would no longer "support or listen" to his music, Adams took a sarcastic tone in response by requesting "Somebody get Keith his blankey. Poor baby."
It's disingenuous to allow musicians to express views only through their chosen medium.
And so much of the best music, as well as almost any other form of art, is fueled by powerful emotional responses: love, loss, joy or anger. Politics and social issues can become a part of that list, especially when the news is dominated on a seemingly daily basis with divisive developments touching lives across the globe. Are we really suggesting an artist refrain from acting on their convictions and only promoting their latest album or sharing kitten videos?
Let's say an accountant shared his thoughts on a recent concert. We wouldn't urge him to #sticktoaccounting, would we? If a barista didn't like a book she just finished, let's not minimize her to #sticktocoffee.
Great songwriters have a gift for expressing themselves in ways most of us cannot. We need to let musicians speak, or tweet, their minds. We may not like everything they have to say or sing, but that's the beauty and power of freedom.