15 alternative artists using their platform and voice for positive activism
Today, there’s nothing more inspiring than seeing musicians and other public figures using their platforms to support great causes. In the alternative scene, it’s fairly common for song lyrics to offer commentary on social and political issues.
Fortunately, it’s becoming just as common to see artists taking things one step further by taking action. We’re shining the spotlight on the incredible things 15 artists are doing to make the world around them a better place.
Between his innovative electric guitar work and his outspokenness on many different political and social issues, there hasn’t been a quiet moment in Tom Morello’s career. The Rage Against The Machine legend, who grew up as a member of one of the only interracial families in his neighborhood and learned the importance of celebrating diversity and authenticity early in life, has been relentless in finding ways to support the causes that matter most to him. And, of course, where no immediate opportunities existed, Morello embraced the punk DIY philosophy and created his own. You can see how the legendary guitarist has made activism a major part of his music career in his new photo memoir, Whatever It Takes.
Neck Deep drummer Dani Washington is actively working to combat racism in rock music and in the wider community. In 2020, his clothing brand The Rain Supply launched a special product line, the proceeds from which were donated to the George Floyd Memorial Foundation and Black Lives Matter. Since then, he has continued to be a strong advocate on social media for stronger Black representation in the alternative music scene.
Former the Summer Set drummer Jess Bowen is an active supporter of The Ally Coalition, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the lives of LGBTQIA+ youth through collaborations with the entertainment industry. She has also spoken extensively about her journey as a female LGBTQIA+ musician in hopes of inspiring other young performers to follow their dreams.
Hayley Williams is becoming better known for her activism. In recent years, she has opened up about her struggles with mental health and made a point of finding ways to let fans who are facing similar issues know they’re not alone. In addition, Williams partnered with Teens 4 Equality, a nonprofit organization based in Nashville, letting the group take over her Instagram account to highlight their activist work for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Nadya Tolokonnikova, the co-founder and bona fide face of Russian feminist punk band/performance art group Pussy Riot, is keeping up a long tradition of releasing poignant tracks in direct response to political events. The group’s new EP, PANIC ATTACK, which focuses heavily on themes of dismantling sexism and rape culture, dropped in March, right after International Women’s Day. A portion of the proceeds from the EP will go to a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Russia.
Badflower frontman Josh Katz has always been a firm believer in incorporating activism into music. 2019’s OK, I’M SICK saw the band diving headfirst into social commentary, touching on a variety of heavy topics such as animal rights and sexual abuse. Plus, their first single of 2021, “F*ck The World,” calls listeners’ attention to the ongoing climate crisis. The energy and passion displayed by Katz in the song—both as a vocalist and as an activist—are exactly what the scene needs more of right now.
System Of A Down frontman Serj Tankian is a well-known political and environmental activist, using both his lyrics and his social media accounts as outlets for his strong views. In addition to co-founding Axis of Justice—a nonprofit whose primary goal is to unite musicians and fans to fight for social justice and human rights together—with Morello, he was a highly vocal supporter of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and executive-produced a documentary on the 2018 Armenian Revolution.
Zimbabwean-American singer-songwriter Shungudzo has used her platform in many ways to advocate for the rights of women of color. She made headlines with the release of her powerful 2020 track “It’s a good day (to fight the system)” and again earlier this year with “To be me,” which captures Shungudzo’s hope for a brighter future for Black Americans. Her most recent single, “White parents,” is presented as a source of comfort and solidarity for anyone who has been fetishized based on the color of their skin. All three of these songs will be featured on Shungudzo’s highly anticipated debut full-length, I’m not a mother, but I have children, due in June.
Evan Greer is another artist whose music and activism are, and have always been, closely intertwined. Exhibit A: The title of her most recent album, Spotify Is Surveillance. The singer-songwriter leads a nonprofit organization called Fight For The Future, whose work centers around securing digital rights and banning unethical technology practices. She also independently organizes workshops and campaigns for other social causes, including LGBTQIA+ rights, all of which are also discussed in her lyrics.
Shira Yevin (Shiragirl)
Known for paving the way for women on the Vans Warped Tour, Shira Yevin continued creating a stronger platform for women in music with her virtual event series “Gritty in Pink.” The livestream performances are accompanied by fundraising campaigns for other advocacy organizations. This 4/20, you can join Shiragirl in supporting ASA (Americans for Safe Access), an organization that promotes safe access to medical cannabis, by tuning into “Gritty In Pink”’s Instagram Live fundraiser.
Jordan Edward Benjamin (grandson)
If you’ve listened to even one track by genre-bender Jordan Benjamin, aka grandson, you’re likely already familiar with his mission to change the world. The young and influential artist has collaborated with many activist groups and even founded one of his own—XX Resistance. The movement focuses on connecting young people with causes and charitable organizations they care about.
With such an illustrious history of support for so many causes, there’s no denying that Ani DiFranco’s primary aim as an artist is to make a difference. She’s participated in countless marches and benefit concerts. Plus, she’s used her platform to lend support to third-party presidential candidates and encourage fans to get out and vote (even in her music—check out “Do Or Die” from her most recent album, Revolutionary Love). What’s more, the fiercely feminist singer-songwriter’s DIY label, Righteous Babe Records, has allowed many other incredible women to find success.
2020 was a huge year for indie singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers—not just musically but also in terms of activism. Somewhere in between releasing the widely acclaimed album Punisher (and snagging four Grammy nominations), recording guest vocals for several the 1975 tracks and forming her own record label, Bridgers actively supported and promoted racial justice organizations and took to social media to encourage voter turnout in the presidential election. More recently, she’s launched a unique campaign to raise money for the family of Daunte Wright, who was fatally shot by Minnesota police officer Kim Potter during a traffic stop: She will hand-write a tattoo for any fan who makes a donation.
Inciting change has always been a huge part of Architects’ guiding philosophy. When the devastating bushfires of 2019 put a halt in the band’s plans to record their ninth studio album in Australia, the already strong environmental activists were inspired to step up their efforts. Frontman Sam Carter has spoken at length about their continued desire to direct fans’ attention to the ongoing issue of global warming. He’s also the first ambassador of an ocean conservation organization called Sea Shepherd and has joined them for many amazing volunteer projects.
Australian metalcore band In Hearts Wake have dedicated themselves to protecting the planet. On their 2020 album, Kaliyuga, they continued and expanded upon the activist themes that defined their previous release, Ark, with lead vocalist Jake Taylor taking the reins on directing the accompanying music videos. Taylor is a vocal supporter of young climate activist Greta Thunberg (in fact, part of her address at the 2019 NYC Climate Strike can be heard on “Crisis,” the opening track on Kaliyuga), and he’s instrumental in the band’s overall creative process—including finding creative ways to show support for the causes they care about.