Azaria Howell

Read the essay: R.E.M. - Rock, alternative, new wave... political?

I chose this approach and this specific research as I wanted to learn more about one of my favourite bands and the political themes and messaging behind their songs and albums. I found it really engaging that I was able to pick this topic, and it especially helped that some of the 'research' for this revolved around listening to my favourite artist on repeat! I have always enjoyed R.E.M. and alternative rock music and chose this research topic as the political themes are less explicit than those found in punk music or country music, for example.

I found it really interesting that R.E.M. chose to promote political themes through means of being subtle, with the use of double meanings and metaphor to connotate political meanings, rather than being overtly political as seen in other protest songs.

Specifically, I found that the song 'Orange Crush' was protesting the use of the chemical Agent Orange in the Vietnam War, contrasting with the popular soda Orange Crush. This gave the song a poppy-upbeat feel, with an underlying message of political resistance. Through this, their music has been subtle enough to receive radio play and therefore seep into mainstream popularity, yet 'political enough' to spread underlying messages and themes against the horrors of chemical warfare in Vietnam.

With the use of metaphor, odes to political theory and philosophy, and subtle lyrics relative to their punk rock counterparts, my research proved that R.E.M. managed to receive radio airplay, notoriety, and a dedicated fanbase of millions to spread political messaging through lyrical analysis.

This assessment changed the way I view music, from merely being a means of entertainment to being a powerful tool of Political Communication. I often neglect the political lyrics music holds, and just listen to music as a means of entertainment, however, through this research I have been able to engage with the political themes of different tracks, learning more about the underlying messages many songs carry.

The assessment helped perpetuate my understanding of the course content as I was able to apply the theories and concepts I learned throughout the trimester into something I was really interested in. The practical self-directed aspect of the course really helped me engage with political and critical theories.

Overall, my favourite part of the assignment was engaging with my favourite band in a political way, merging my love for alternative rock music with political theory and my Political Communication degree. Being able to have free reign to do the assignment about just about anything was helpful, as I chose to do it about something I personally found so engaging; the only negative aspect of this research is that I now have lyrics permanently stuck in my head! I enjoyed researching the hidden meaning behind lyrics and album titles, digging deep into the artist's rendition of politics and society through entertainment means.

I would recommend this course to anyone. The course covered a wide variety of genres, artists, and themes, and I felt I learned a lot about how music is used as a form of Political Communication. It has been really positive to be able to engage with alternative forms of Political Communication in this course, as many think of protest and traditional news media as the only 'real' forms of political advocacy; however, through this course, I've been able to see the ways music has changed aspects of politics and society. This course was truly exciting and covered a wide array of topics, from musical genres, to protest songs, to censorship, and much, much more. Dr Mona Krewel presented this in an engaging way, linking music to contemporary politics and widespread political movements.