Politically charged music often orchestrates a certain sense of adrenaline, emotion and self-defined integrity, regardless of one’s personal beliefs. Although it is not a surprise to find music that provides an outlet for political thought, it is rare to find music whose political relevancy spans several decades — something Green Day proved to have accomplished at this year’s Global Citizen Festival on Sept. 23.
As darkness cloaked the stage in preparation for the penultimate act of the festival, Jason White’s iconic “American Idiot” guitar solo pierced through Central Park with much nostalgia. The wearied crowd immediately forgot their exhaustion and jumped to their feet, ready to sing every word.
The iconic punk rock band has always found its way into the political atmosphere — most famously with “American Idiot,” bashing what they saw to be a lack of individuality brought on by the George W. Bush administration’s heavy use of propaganda. With this background, it was no surprise when Green Day altered the lyrics from “I’m not part of a redneck agenda” to “I’m not part of a dumb Trump America.”
This moment during the festival is a perfect example of the importance of music and its place in the political sphere. While many may not remember New York Times or Washington Post articles about Bush in 2004, everyone certainly remembers “American Idiot.”
“American Idiot” is an invigorating and thunderous revolution piece delivered with indignation. It was originally written concerning the Bush administration in 2004 in response to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “That’s How I Like It,” a song expressing contentment with the state of America and being “proud to be a redneck.”
Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong eloquently states that there is a problem with what he sees to be a corrupt government and a media industry chock full of propaganda. Not only this, but he also articulates this song to be a call for Americans to change their apathetic tendencies toward this atmosphere. The alteration of the lyrics shows that Green Day is just as anti-Trump as they were anti-Bush — and for many of the same reasons.
Both Green Day and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s songs provide an outlet for two sides of an ongoing political discussion, creating a conversation that is still being put to action decades later. By changing absolutely nothing except for four words, Armstrong is proving that everything in “American Idiot” is just as relevant to him now as it was when it was released. This indicates that the band sees the U.S. as somewhat in the midst of the same political conversation that it was in four presidential terms ago.
Music has represented political conversations for over seven decades, from “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday in 1939, to “Revolution” by The Beatles in 1968, to “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy in 1989. Each of these songs, along with many others, is attached to a political or social movement. The release dates and lyrics in each allows one to understand their respective movements and what different groups of people thought of them on a very intimate level.
The fact that Green Day’s performance at Global Citizen still gave the left wing audience an adrenaline charged sense of shared enmity and exasperation 13 years after its release shows that the song is just as relevant now as it was in 2004. It is safe to assume that songs with opposing lyrics, such as “That’s How I Like It,” would have a similar impact on a right-wing audience. This corroborates the idea that the U.S. is simply in another phase of the same political conversation, just waiting to see where it leads — while music provides an in-depth and comprehensive view of it along the way.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 5 print edition. Email Dyanna Fleites-Cruz at [email protected].