Gorillaz returned with their first new single in six years yesterday, with ‘Hallelujah Money’ being released on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration and containing a politically-charged message pertaining to the new US president. Needless to say, the strange Venn diagram overlap between Gorillaz fans and Trump supporters are coming out in their droves to criticise the track, down-voting it in their hordes while insisting that the band should keep politics out of their music.
Though it’s always inadvisable to read the YouTube comments section, after watching the track’s dislike bar steadily increase I decided to dive in and see what all the fuss was about. Inevitably, songwriter Damon Albarn’s anti-Trump message had hit a nerve.
This comment echoes an opinion that’s permeated discussion surrounding the entertainment industry for the past few years, and is most familiar to those with an ear to the gaming industry. This opinion is espoused by a very vocal group of people who believe that politics (or, to be more precise, progressive politics) should be kept out of entertainment altogether, based upon their inability to confront political views that don’t align with their own. While both the left and the right are as guilty as each other when it comes to refusing to step out of their respective echo chambers, the apoplectic comments undermining the intersection between art and politics are most commonly associated with the latter camp, with this opinion gaining more traction alongside the online rise of the alt-right and the Trump presidential campaign.
For those familiar with gaming and the community surrounding it, this is nothing new. Even a whiff of “social justice” appearing in a game over the past few years has led to widespread hysteria, with the 2013 game Gone Home still being ridiculed to this day for its “SJW agenda,” despite that “agenda” being that its story revolves around a lesbian couple. Similarly obsessive vitriol was launched in the direction of the Baldur’s Gate expansion Siege of Dragonspear, a controversy that I covered extensively last year, stemming from its inclusion of a trans character and a joke made at the expense of the online “anti-SJW” group GamerGate.
The belief among detractors is that politics and video games should be kept separately, encouraging art to be treated as a product and not as a reflection of its creators’ personalities, experiences and beliefs. This depressing viewpoint is now spilling out into other forms of entertainment, with online discourse surrounding politics in entertainment no longer limited to agreeing or disagreeing with a creator, but rather stating that they shouldn’t be injecting their politics into their art in the first place.
It’s telling that the myriad of detractors circling their wagons around Gorillaz as a result of ‘Hallelujah Money’ believe that this is a change of pace for the the band’s creators Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett, effectively overlooking literally every album that they’ve released under the moniker. From the plea for gun control in ‘Kids With Guns’ to Albarn’s inspiration for Plastic Beach stemming from him being shocked by the amount of plastic buried in the sand on a beach near his house, Gorillaz has always been a project in which its contributors have worn their beliefs on their sleeves. So why has ‘Hallelujah Money’ overstepped the mark? Is it simply because, somehow, these Gorillaz fans haven’t noticed the political inclinations of the band? Or is it because the forceful attempt to homogenise video games into an apolitical, socially unconscious industry is now leaking out into other forms of entertainment, too?
Unfortunately, this specific strain of hand-wringing surrounding politics in entertainment shows no signs of stopping. Whereas in previous years an artist would be criticised for their opinions on an individual basis, now we’re having to contend with the online hordes demanding that artists shouldn’t vocalise those opinions in the first place. Gorillaz aren’t the first to be sneered down upon by those who believe artists should be providing a service rather than art, and unfortunately won’t be the last. For creators whose views don’t align with those held by the new US president, this is going to be a long four years.