(ANTIMEDIA) Though it is arguably the epitome of consumerism and the darker side of the “American dream,” Los Angeles has always been a source of new waves in the music scene. Some of America’s most iconic bands and musicians were picked up from the Los Angeles area, including Rage Against the Machine, N.W.A., Tool, The Doors, Sublime, Metallica, and many more.
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System of a Down (SOAD) formed in 1994, originally as a project called Soil. After a very brief existence, Soil called it quits, and System of a Down was born from the remaining pieces. Throughout their career, SOAD has used their popular artist platform to spread political awareness and a very powerful anti-establishment narrative.
With lyrical themes that typically revolve around politics, drugs, and sex, SOAD supplies their audience with a diversified catalog of subject matter. Here, we will observe and discuss a few SOAD tunes that aptly capture the modern political world.
As a reader and a listener, please keep in mind that music and lyrics have many interpretations, and everything presented here is derived from personal understandings. It is encouraged that you engage yourself with the messages and formulate your own meanings.
“War” is a track from SOAD’s 1998 self-titled debut. Though not as successful as their follow-up release, “Toxicity,” the self-titled album introduced a fresh twist on the then-evolving genre of nu-metal. “War” is a high-energy track that discusses the justification of war by the bloodthirsty. An excerpt of the verses reads:
We must call upon our bright darkness
Beliefs, they’re the bullets of the wicked
One was written on the sword,
For you must enter a room to destroy it
International security, call of the righteous man
Needs a reason to kill a man
History teaches us so
The reason he must attain must be approved by his God
His child, partisan brother of war
We will fight the heathens
Here, Tankian discusses how people justify war and foreign invasion through politics and religion. Threats are identified across the world ─ in this case, the Middle East ─ and are then declared a danger to international security. This leads the people to believe that being rid of these “heathens” is a service to the world, making warmongers and killers righteous in the eyes of their country and/or the eyes of God.
During a 2000 performance in Denver, CO, Serj Tankian (the band’s lead singer) introduced “War” with a short speech:
“When your lives depend upon American corporate profits in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, South America, all over the world. When the CIA has gone to bed with all the companies ─ financial institutions and multinational corporations ─ your destiny has ended. Your government has sold you to the 5% of the population that controls 95% of the assets. Your lives are over in the next 15-20 years. Why? WHY? Because your environment is fucking dying. There is not enough to support the human race, and why? Why!? For fucking profits! For fucking dollars! Wake the fuck up! It is time to bring the truth back from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, South America. It is time for the United States Administration, Congress, and the Pentagon to shut the fuck up and listen to you, the American people. It’s time!”
Listen to “War” below.
Many may still recall SOAD’s breakthrough 2001 single, “Chop Suey,” from their follow-up album, Toxicity. The album launched the band’s commercial career into full-swing and gave them a platform on which to spread their messages that was infinitely louder than before. What more appropriate way to open their best-selling album to date with a tune like “Prison Song?”
“Prison Song” is a protest against mass incarceration in the United States, as well as the failed war on drugs. The lyrics read:
Following the rights movement you clamped on with your iron fist
Drugs became conveniently available for all the kids
Minor drug offenders fill your prisons, you don’t even flinch
All our taxes paying for your wars against the new non-rich
All research and successful drug policy show that treatment should be increased
And law enforcement decreased while abolishing mandatory minimum sentences
Utilizing drugs to pay for secret wars around the world
Drugs are now your global policy, now you police the globe
Drug money is used to rig elections and train brutal corporate sponsored dictators around the world
The message in “Prison Song” is almost too clear. Drug policy has failed and has been used as a tool to incarcerate the poor ─ or in Tankian’s words, the “new non-rich.” Tankian suggests the American government uses drug policy to cash in on an unregulated market and utilizes the profits to pay their way into foreign intervention. Additionally, he advocates that rather than responding to drug abuse with authoritarianism and prison, we should follow in the footsteps of other countries that have stabilized addiction epidemics through increased treatment programs.
Listen to “Prison Song” below.
“Boom!” is a social protest song against war, American apathy, and corporatism.
I’ve been walking through your streets
Where all your money’s earning
Where all your building’s crying
And clueless neckties working
Revolving fake lawn houses
Housing all your fears
Desensitized by TV, overbearing advertising
God of consumerism, and all your crooked pictures
Looking good, mirrorism
Filtering information for the public eye
Designed for profiteering
Your neighbor, what a guy
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM
Every time you drop the bomb,
You kill the god your child has born
Modern globalization coupled with condemnations
Unnecessary death, matador corporations
Puppeting your frustrations with the blinded flag
Manufacturing consent is the name of the game
The bottom line is money, nobody gives a fuck.
4,000 hungry children leave us per hour from starvation
While billions spent on bombs, creating death showers.
Tankian takes a lot of shots with the verses in “Boom!” We’ll start at the beginning.
In the first verse, Tankian takes a moment to depict the average middle-class American citizen, personifying them as “clueless neckties.” He implies that we are jaded and distracted by media and superficiality, hiding behind veils of false security like real estate, fashion, and manipulated information.
The chorus reads, “Every time you drop the bomb, you kill the god your child has born.” This line seems to be derived from the phrase “god is in the eyes of a child” — the idea that children see the world with pure and uncorrupted sight. This suggests dropping bombs corrupts the innocence of children, as they see the worst side of humanity at such young ages. This violence thus obliterates the peaceful, pure, and innocent perspective they likely once held.
The second verse expands on the political and profitable side of the organization and execution of warfare. Tankian indicates that large corporations globalize by manufacturing enemies and gaining our consent for war through nationalism (the “blinded flag”) — similar to the tactics discussed in “War.” By informing the public of who is a danger to us and who we should be angry at (“manufacturing your frustrations”), these large “matador corporations” can wage war freely while the “clueless neckties” continue on in their state of obliviousness.
Listen to “Boom!” below.
These few System of a Down songs are only a glimpse at the depth and relevance Tankian projects in his lyrics. Other SOAD songs that contain powerful messages include:
“Soil” – A song about a friend’s suicide
“Deer Dance” – The police state
“A.D.D.” – A protest against corporate America
“B.Y.O.B.” – The war in Iraq
“Cigaro” – Satirizing bureaucrats and elitists
“Hypnotize” – The events of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest
If there is an artist or band you think we should discuss, feel free to drop a name in the comment section below.
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