What’s it like to be a woman in the music industry? How will you give a voice to the needs of the African American community? What do you have to say to all the members of the LGBTQ youth who look up to you? Questions like these plague minority musicians in interviews all the time.
And while the answers to these questions might result in interesting or worthwhile responses, interviewers might not be aware that they are patronizing their subjects or unfairly throwing several ton weights of entire marginalized communities on one person’s shoulders.
While it’s great if women, transgender people, Asian Americans or other minorities speak to the concerns of their communities, whether in interviews or on social media, they shouldn’t be required to do so in their art. However, if any of these musicians openly express that they don’t care about the wellbeing of their communities, that’s not okay either.
The point is that straight white male musicians can sing about love, relationships, death, friendships or other general life topics without anyone batting an eye. Think about it. Do you think Bono or Dave Grohl have ever been asked in an interview why their music doesn’t reflect the male experience? Of course not. They’re big stars who aren’t from marginalized communities and they sing about whatever they want with no one expecting them to sing about their race, gender identity or sexual orientation. In fact, maybe they should be pressed on this question, particularly as it relates to toxic masculinity, men’s role in the #MeToo movement or the rise of male suicide, but if they just want to write about other things instead, that’s fine too.
Since this expectation isn’t placed upon straight white men, it shouldn’t be placed upon others, especially when, for example, capturing the black experience in a song is an incredibly daunting task. Also, the black experience for one person may not reflect the black experience of others. Much like how the gay or female experience or any other minority experience isn’t necessarily universal. These are complex issues and the second a musician sings about a hot-button issue, they are put under a microscope, asked to comment about it relentlessly and are expected to be experts on the topic.
A woman or non-binary person or any other minority should be able to pick up a guitar, microphone or drumsticks without it having to be some kind of symbolic social or political statement. They’re artists. Let them make art and then judge them on the merits of their art rather than their demographics or lack of a grand manifesto.
It’s great when minorities write immensely genuine, passionate songs about the plight of their community like Childish Gambino’s “This is America” or Against Me!’s “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” because people relate to those lyrics on such a personal level. We’ll always need songs like these, but the most important thing is representation. If young people are able to see a musician that looks like them, it makes them think that they too can become a successful musician. This is why films like Black Panther and Wonder Woman matter because it’s about visibility and letting young people know that despite your demographics, you can succeed in any industry you want as long as you work hard.
So stop asking minority musicians patronizing interview questions or pressuring them to sing about feminism, gay rights or mass incarceration. Illuminate their voices and make sure you’re contributing to causes that make it easier for people like them to succeed in their industry and every other industry. Stream and buy records from minority musicians, go see them in concert, buy their merchandise, call out discrimination wherever and whenever you see it. Support them in any way you can, make sure you’re not part of the problem and just sit back and enjoy the music.