Music During World Wars

Since Trump has taken office America now has salty relations with several foreign countries, including, and definitely not limited to, Australia, Mexico, and North Korea (the latter is literally flaunting their ability to launch Nuclear missiles at us).

With all of these countries starting to bicker, WWIII doesn’t seem too crazy of a hypothesis for our future.

During the World Wars, music played a huge part—not only patriotically, but also in empowering the people and comforting them. Musicians like Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin created the big band and swing genres during WWII. The Gestapo even put a restriction on swing music and groups would rebel by secretly meeting up and swing dancing.

Elihu Rose, former adjunct associate professor of Military History at New York University and Columbia University, tells BTRtoday that music played a very different role back then.

“You don’t really hear popular music talking so much about the immigrant crisis or ISIS or something like that,” he points out. “Popular music took a different form in prior years.” He adds that during WWII almost 100 percent of the U.S. population was either involved or supportive of the war, unlike during the Vietnam or Iraq Wars, so that very much affected the type of music becoming popular.

Martha Raye entertaining troops during WWII.

This explains why the music scene changed so drastically during those times. Think about it, the Vietnam War came after WWII, which was a war seeping with patriotism and support—so the music reflected that. The Vietnam War was wildly disapproved of, so the songs that sang about winning war and being tough changed to protest songs and songs about peace and justice.

If you think about it even further, it also explains why punk music was needed so badly around the time it exploded into the popular music scene. Though it wasn’t during a World War, peace was still not achieved, and punk rockers are just a bunch of angry hippies. So when singing about peace and opening your mind didn’t work, the hippies got frustrated and turned into punks singing about anger and pent-up aggression.

Even in the early 2000’s with the Iraq War going on, pop punk found it’s way into popular music, so bands like Anti-Flag and Green Day came to light and sang about how our government has blinded us and is betraying us.

In fact, the only time patriotism made a come-back into the music since WWII was after 9/11.

During WWII, songs were disseminated through the same mediums as the news, Rose explains, which were radio and television—so it wasn’t just music to swing to, it was music that sang about military life, civilian life during war, men missing their women back home, and women missing their men. “War songs were part of the popular medium of songs,” he says. “That is to say, when big things were going on, they were recorded in popular music.”

Now, popular music is mostly used as a way to forget about your troubles—pop stars sing about shaking ass, getting ass, drinking, being rich–basically living a life that most people in ordinary scenarios could never achieve. I think it’s safe to say that it’s popular because it’s a type of escapism or setting standards that people want to reach for.

Irving Berlin’s “Ragtime.”

So, during a time where songs entitled “24k Magic” or “Bad & Boujee” are topping the charts, what could possibly change if a WWIII were to break out?

If you know anything about the past, it’s that history repeats itself.

Before WWII, it was the roaring ‘20s. People were also singing about living the… well… bad and boujee life (of course, different terms were used then). Women hiked their skirts up and rolled down their stockings, while men showed their money off by throwing extravagant parties and buying the best (illegal) liquor they could buy!

People had a lot to celebrate during the ‘20s. Then the Great Depression hit, and music began to change drastically. Before people could start celebrating the end of the depression, WWII struck, and that’s when the people needed war music—not propaganda, but music that felt relatable and supportive to what they were going through at the time.

Welcome to 2017, where a fascist Cheeto has taken over the White House, and music is again changing.

Though love songs and dance music currently flood the charts, popular musicians are already starting to write songs that have to do with what is going down in politics. The Gorillaz, a very popular band in the early 2000s who haven’t released anything since 2011, recently released a song entitled “Hallelujah Money,” which is a heavily political song condemning President Trump for his actions. Even indie music sensation Arcade Fire, another group who hasn’t released anything for several years, came out with “I Give You Power” just last month, a song about freedom and its fragility.

If history has taught us anything and a WWIII breaks out, or if we get close to it, we can expect a change once again in the music being put out—perhaps a brand new genre will even emerge. Music has already started to morph to the needs of the people, because music is for the people. Whether we survive this fascist president or not, we can be sure that music will be by our side, even if its censored!