Shut Up and Sing

Recently, I watched while conservatives told Taylor Swift to shut up and sing, i.e., stay out of their politics, i.e., stay in her lane. Of course, Republicans and Trump are afraid of her—so they try to intimidate her. 

This worn-out trope sounded all too familiar to me.

For decades, I was told the same thing by Evangelical pastors. My job, they said, was to sing. It was THEIR job to preach. One particularly sordid example that comes to mind was when I invited a young, extremely talented singer to be the guest artist at a revival at my church with a famous Evangelical evangelist. 

When the singer began to thoughtfully set up his song, the evangelist callously got up, took the mike away from him, and said, “What this young man does not understand, is that it’s his job to sing and it’s my job to speak.” You could have heard a pin drop as the embarrassment for the young man was palatable. I was seething. Later, my pastor defended the asshole evangelist. 

Note: This evangelist infamously appeared on the front page of Time magazine saying God does not hear the prayer of a Jew. He was mocked and ridiculed, but never fully apologized or retracted his statement. Maybe he was the one that should have shut up. 

A counselor once explained to me that the reason conservative preachers and politicians treat artists like shit is because they are deathly afraid of them. A person who has the power to look at things in different ways and illustrate them by capturing the emotions of an audience is a threat to close-minded ignorant right-wing authoritarians. 

That is why so many artists have been slaughtered, imprisoned, and neutered by dictators like Trump and the evangelist I mentioned throughout history. Artists are dangerous to them and threaten their control. 

It was ironic to read a conservative pundit’s take on the Oscars this past Sunday. The comment was, “That for the most part, actors stuck to acting and stayed away from politics.” And to the pundit that was a good and proper thing. For some unknown reason, it was the pundit’s job to comment on politics—not an artist. Let’s ignore that the actors he mentioned are almost certainly more well-read, well-traveled, and well-educated than this loud, nationalistic, and close-minded talking head. And therefore, in reality, the artists are far more qualified to comment on political subjects. Sigh.

That is one more reason I love Jimmy Kimmel. He is an artist’s artist. His opening Oscars monologue was brilliant, and his timing as host was impeccable. And guess who ridiculed him on social networks, essentially, telling him to shut up. Yep. But Kimmel is not one to shut up. He is an exceptional artist who is not intimidated and knows exactly how to handle bullies. And he did so in brilliant fashion. 

As did Scarlett Johansson as she brilliantly parodied a very ignorant Senator Katie Britt this past weekend in a skit called “Scary Mom” on Saturday Night Live. Johansson’s take was spot-on as she pointed out Britt’s obvious lies while mimicking her faux drama. It should be noted that Time named Johansson one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2021.

Shut up and sing. I don’t think so, and I’ll be surprised if we’ve heard the last from Taylor Swift. She does not seem to be one that can be cowed by right-wing bullies. We’ll see. I won’t shut up either. Taylor, Jimmy, Scarlett, may your tribe increase. In the words of artist Emile Zola, “‘If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.”

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2 responses to “Shut Up and Sing”

  1. Andy Milligan Avatar
    Andy Milligan

    I’ve often remarked that no one remembers the sermon, but they sing the songs all week… usually to other musicians while the senior pastor is present. The first time I did it the assembled musicians seemed to hold their breath as all attention turned to the senior pastor (who in more than 30 years of experience is among the least insecure executives I’ve worked with in a church or business)… He paused and replied, “He’s not wrong. What you all do matters more than you might realize…” They all (including me) exhaled and appeared relieved. There are some truths that can be more easily shared in the company of others, that one in particular seems to go over better with an audience…

    1. randy Avatar
      randy

      Andy,

      Thanks so much for the comment. Art is so powerful. And I’m grateful for your positive experience. And for that pastor’s open-mindedness.

      Randy