In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking our favorite songs of protest and dissent.
Tune-Yards’ second full-length, Whokill, kicks off with a dizzying interpolation. Even if you’ve never heard the song, you know it: “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty,” Merrill Garbus yell-sings over a drilling polyrhythm. She follows it up not with a saccharine dedication but with a serious question: “How come I cannot see my future within your arms?”
Hearing that old patriotic refrain atop the band’s signature spirit, its collision of styles and influences, sets up a perfect parallel to the stale pall of the “American dream” hanging over a dynamic, diversifying, and disillusioned population. It’s a disingenuous promise, like “Make America Great Again,” that “My Country” knows has caused more harm than good for everyone and that rings hollow for anyone paying attention.
The song argues it’s only a matter of time until the lie is revealed, and we’re past that point now. As we face down our very ugly, exposed realities, the song’s brand of real talk and calls for unity (“I’ve got you, you’ve got me”) are what we need, and it captures the dissonance of waking up every day to pursue happiness in this “land of liberty” where not everyone is afforded the same opportunities:
We cannot all have it
Well, why did you say so!
With my eyes open, how can I feel happy?
With my eyes open
And that’s to say nothing of waking up in the land of “alternative facts.” “My Country” sees the everyday families stuck in line at the Salvation Army while the few at the top take all that they can, and it calls bullshit on the whole scene: If “we cannot all have it,” then “why is there juice dripping under your chin?”
It’s a song that says we all know and deserve better than what we’re being sold and that fights to love its country by challenging it to catch up. “I told myself I’d have to jump higher / If I was gonna get over your shit,” Garbus sings resolutely of the opposition, inadvertently now also calling to mind Michelle Obama’s “go high” speech. “My Country” is a berserk, brazen rallying cry that says not only will we out-jump and out-work you, but we will have a shit-ton of fun doing it, too.