Living in Los Angeles, it's easy to ignore the city's vast homeless population as you move through your day to day life. The men and women who have wound up on the streets for any numbers of reasons become wallpaper at a certain point, a backdrop that only occasionally interferes as you rush around while brushing off donation requests or offering platitudes about how terrible the situation is. And it can feel overwhelming to think about how to solve the crisis, especially on an individual and artistic level -- sure, you can throw a benefit concert or make a donation, but will that actually make a difference? And will that speaking out lead to a backlash that could cost you fans?
And that's just homelessness, which pretty much everyone agrees is a bad thing. If an artist wants to speak out about a more controversial issue, there could be a very real, financial incentive to keep quiet. We live in a post-Dixie Chicks world -- the band's career was never the same after they spoke out against George W Bush and the Iraq war. Recently, more artists have been starting to make political statements in their music -- J. Cole released a track about Michael Brown, and Kira Isabella a haunting track about sexual assault and high school football. But as talented and brave as both those artists are, neither of the songs made much of dent on the charts.
Artists do need to start speaking out and let go of the fear, no matter how much they have to lose. If they don't, it's a sad state of affairs -- the people we expect to be the voices of a generation or the conscience of a population have been reduced to parroting generalities and banalities for fear they'll bear the brunt of nasty tweets. I get it -- I've held my tongue on plenty of occasions, as have most people, and you don't need to share every opinion with the world. It's easier to release another song about good times and hot girls than to try to dig deep and confront complicated issues.
But as we approach Thanksgiving, it's worth considering the cost of our silence. In previous generations, artists released songs about social issues that moved the needle while becoming massive hits; today, artists in other countries are doing the same. Sometimes they pay with their lives -- a Syrian musician named Ibrahim Qashoush released a song that criticized Bashar al-Assad and was murdered because of it. If someone was willing to give their life to release music, Western artists should be willing to lose a few Twitter followers to say what they really believe and help push change.
No one thinks that a song or benefit show about any issue will solve the entire problem. And the songs need to come from a sincere place -- writing an anthem about how the tragedy of homelessness just to write something will come across as inauthentic. But artists are storytellers, and there are so many stories that need to be told. We have more ways than ever to share our music and our thoughts -- let's use those channels to amplify the issues we care about and try to make a small change. Will speaking out about homelessness in LA suddenly move everyone off the streets? Of course not. But if it means a few more people go out and volunteer, or offer a donation, or help someone in need, that's as good a place as any to start.