The war in Iraq is prompting musicians including Madonna and the Beastie Boys to use their songs and videos to speak out against the conflict. Here’s EW.com’s breakdown of what some are saying, why they’re saying it, and where you can hear and see their handiwork.
ARTIST System of a Down
ANTIWAR STATEMENT In addition to lyrics like ”Every time you drop the bomb/You kill the god your child has borne,” the song’s music video (directed by ”Bowling for Columbine” auteur Michael Moore) drives home the band’s point with statistics. Footage from the international antiwar protests of Feb. 13 is interspersed with not-so-fun facts: ”500,000 projected civilian casualties,” ”Pentagon orders 77,000 body bags.” To lighten things up, an animated segment shows President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Ladin joy riding on missiles.
WHY PROTEST? ”Taking out Saddam Hussein isn’t a matter of making an incision and taking [one person] to jail,” lead singer Serj Tankian says. ”It’s the death of many innocent people who just happen to be living there, and it’s a travesty.”
WHERE TO FIND IT The video can be seen at the band’s official site, systemofadown.com. The song is also featured on their compilation CD, ”Steal This Album.”
ARTIST Beastie Boys
SONG ”In a World Gone Mad…”
ANTIWAR STATEMENT While there are plenty of serious lyrics like ”Now how many people must get killed?/For oil families’ pockets to get filled?” the Boys haven’t lost their sense of humor. Thumbing their nose at Bush, they taunt, ”You and Saddam should kick it like back in the day/With the cocaine and the Courvoisier.” Now THAT we’d pay to see.
WHY PROTEST? Longtime Buddhist Adam Yauch wants Bush to give peace a chance. ”We felt it was important to comment on where the U.S. is heading now,” says Yauch. ”A war in Iraq will not resolve our problems. It can only result in the deaths of many innocent civilians and U.S. troops. If we are truly striving for safety, we need to build friendships, not try to bully the rest of the world.”
WHERE TO FIND IT The song is currently a free download on the group’s website, http://www.beastieboys.com
SONG ”American Life”
ANTIWAR STATEMENT According to a statement from Maverick Records, the song’s video portrays a fashion show that devolves into a ”mad frenzy depicting the catastrophic repercussions and horrors of war.” Madonna reportedly lobs a hand grenade to kick things off.
WHY PROTEST? Madonna, who describes herself as ”pro-peace, not anti-Bush or pro-Iraq,” says through a statement: ”As an artist, I hope this provokes thought and dialogue. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my point of view. I am grateful to have the freedom to express these feelings, and that’s how I honor my country.”
WHERE TO FIND IT Fans who preorder the digital single will receive it via e-mail March 24. The CD version will be available April 8.
ARTIST Lenny Kravitz
SONG ”We Want Peace”
ANTIWAR STATEMENT Kravitz is more of a make-love-not-war protester than a thoughtful politician: The chorus — ”We want peace/We want it/Yes, we want peace/We want it/Yes, we want peace/We want it fast” — doesn’t exactly shed new light on the situation. But there’s something to be said for a lyric like ”Why are we kicking our own ass?” Kravitz goes an extra step by collaborating with Iraqi pop star Kadim Al Sahir, Palestinian musician Simon Shaheen, and Lebanese percussionist Jamey Hadded on the track.
WHY PROTEST? If he can bring representatives from three Middle Eastern countries together, why can’t world leaders? ”This song for me is about more than Iraq. It is about our role as people in the world and that we all should cherish freedom and peace,” says Kravitz.
WHERE TO FIND IT Download the track for free at http://www.rockthevote.org.
SONG ”The Final Straw”
ANTIWAR STATEMENT The lyrics to ”The Final Straw” are ambiguous. Though they express feelings of frustration and helplessness, they don’t finger the war specifically as the cause: ”As I raise my head to broadcast my objection/As your latest triumph draws the final straw/Who died and lifted you up to perfection?/And what silenced me is written into law.”
WHY PROTEST? On the official R.E.M. site, lead singer Michael Stipe explains: ”We had to send something out there now. We are praying and hoping for the lives of all people involved, the troops, the Iraqi civilians, refugees, POWs, families of troops, the innocents — that they are safe and okay. Safe home, all.”
WHERE TO FIND IT Listen to the track at http://www.remhq.com.
ARTIST George Michael
SONG ”The Grave”
ANTIWAR STATEMENT A cover of Don McLean’s Vietnam-era protest song ”The Grave” still packs a punch after three decades. The lyrics tell the story of a naive young soldier who is killed at war, and point an accusing finger at the powers that sent him to the front line: ”He’s gone/But eternity knows him/And it knows what we’ve done.”
WHY PROTEST? Michael hasn’t been shy about his distaste for both Blair and Bush: In his animated video for ”Shoot the Dog,” Blair was portrayed as a dog playing fetch with the President.
WHERE TO FIND IT The song is available as a free MP3 download at Michael’s official site, http://www.aegean.net
ARTIST John Mellencamp
SONG ”On Washington”
ANTIWAR STATEMENT A damning overview of Bush’s presidency that covers the election scandal, Sept. 11, and beyond, the song accuses the President of finding excuses to invade Iraq: ”And he wants to fight with many/And he says it’s not for oil/He sent out the National Guard/To police the world/From Baghdad to Washington/What is the thought process/To take a human life?”
WHY PROTEST? It seems safe to assume Mellencamp didn’t vote for Bush in 2000. ”I think the song is relevant, irrespective of the ticking of a war clock,” Mellencamp said in a statement issued by his publicist.
WHERE TO FIND IT Currently available for free download at http://www.mellencamp.com, the song will be featured on the singer’s upcoming album of traditional folk and blues.
ARTIST Billy Bragg
SONG ”The Price of Oil”
ANTIWAR STATEMENT English singer-songwriter Bragg has never pulled punches with his topical lyrics, and this song is no different: ”If it’s freeing the Iraqi people you’re after/Then why have we waited so long?/Why didn’t we sort this out last time/Was he less evil than he is now?/The stock market holds the answer.”
WHY PROTEST? Bragg fears the war in Iraq could lead to more terrorist acts both in the U.S. and abroad. ”I think people are starting to articulate their worries that the war is playing into the hands of the evil men who flew those airplanes on Sept 11. Giving them what they want, which is a war between Islam and the West, is really not the best way to achieve what we all want to achieve. In fact, it is a way to make it happen again.”
WHERE TO FIND IT The song is part of the ”Peace Not War” CD compilation, which also features tracks from Chumbawamba and Ani DiFranco.