10 times pop music got political

Protest songs and pop with a message that hit the Top 40…

It's not all love affairs, breakups and dancing, you know. Pop can be a serious business.

The highest new entry on this week's Official Singles Chart comes from Captain Ska with their anti-Theresa May single Liar Liar.

It's certainly not the first protest song to make the Top 10 – although it's certainly one of the least subtle – and there have been quite a few hits with a political or protest edge. We look at some big ones and a few that may have slipped under the radar.

Same Love

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis shot to fame with Thrift Shop but it was their 2012 hit Same Love that earned them their political credentials. Teaming up with singer-songwriter Mary Lambert, and adapting one of her songs, the duo took on LGBT rights when it was a hot topic – as politicians in the state of Washington voted on whether to legalise same-sex marriage. Madonna and Queen Latifah lent their support, performing the track with the band at the Grammys in 2014 as a group of LGBT couples got MARRIED right there.


Grime has long had its political leanings, thanks to the attempts to control gigs and parties by police and local authorities over the years – its continued existence and success are political acts in themselves. Perhaps one of the most high-profile rejections of backward thinking, and speaking out for young people who just wanted to have a good time and felt misunderstood, was Skepta's Shutdown. The track peaked at 39 but was hugely influential – when Skepta performed the track at the Mercury Prize he dedicated it to the Black Lives Matter movement. (Performance is at about 8:35 below, but the speech is pretty cool too.)


Beyoncé has never been afraid to stand up for anyone, calling out weasly men, and supporting put-upon women and independent ladies since way back in her Destiny's Child days. Probably her most overt political battle-cry, however, came as the first single from 2016's Lemonade. Formation shows Beyoncé directly addressing racism, stereotyping, prejudice and police corruption in one of her most outspoken videos to date, reaching Number 31. 

Two Tribes

1984 was Frankie's year, and Two Tribes, the follow-up to their huge debut Relax, spent a massive NINE consecutive weeks at Number 1. The song spoke out against the Cold War and its video featured then-President Reagan duking it out with Chernenko, the then-leader of the Soviet Union (most of which is now known as Russia). It's sold 1.26 million copies and is arguably the biggest selling politically themed song of all time in the UK.

Ghost Town

Britain in 1981 was a bleak place to be in you were young and disadvantaged, thanks to mass unemployment and decaying inner cities. London group the Specials tapped into this mood with Ghost Town, which spoke of riots the previous year and happened to go to the top of the Official Singles Chart the same week another wave of riots swept the country.

A Design for Life

You wouldn't have to search too hard through Manic Street Preachers' back catalogue to find a song with a political bent. Their first Number 1, 1998's If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will be Next, for example, looks at going to fight in a war for something you believe in and how difficult it is for younger generations to relate. A Design For Life also captured the mood, talking about what it really meant to be educated and working-class in '90s Britain. It reached Number 2 in 1996.

MORE: See all Manic Street Preachers' hit singles and albums in their archive

Paper Planes

MIA is an artist who uses her work to speak her mind, and she's a hugely political artists who's not afraid to cause a controversy if it makes people sit up and take notice of the message. Here, in this hard-hitting and darkly satirical track, she takes a swipe at capitalism, the American government and the treatment of immigrants or refugees, taking it to Number 19 in 2008.

MORE: M.I.A's complete Official UK Chart history

Glad To Be Gay

No idea what this one could possibly be about, have you? OK, in 1978 new wave rockers Tom Robinson Band – who shot to fame with 2-4-6-8 Motorway – released this track as part of their Rising Free EP and ruffled more than a few feathers. Enough to furnish everyone at Pride with feather boas, probably. Radio wouldn't play it and grannies didn't like it, but it still got to Number 18 and was an unofficial LGBT anthem for many years.

Shoot the Dog

The late great George Michael was not a big fan of George W Bush, Blair or the Iraq War and used this song to get his point across, going to Number 12 in 2003.

Ding! Dong! The Witch Is Dead

While not massively political in content – although if you think about it the Wicked Witch of the East was a brutal dictator – this tune from classic 1939 movie The Wizard Of Oz took a new meaning when it was used by critics of the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher upon her death in 2013. A Facebook campaign saw the track – which ran at just 0:51 – make a serious play for Number 1, but fell at the final hurdle.

It wasn’t the only Baroness Thatcher-themed song campaign to make its mark on the charts: Notsensibles’ 1979 single, I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher, made its Top 40 debut some 34 years after it was first released. The track, which featured in Meryl Streep’s 2011 Margaret Thatcher biopic, The Iron Lady, was adopted in the wake of the Ding Dong! uproar by supporters of the late Prime Minister and landed at Number 35.

Check out our gallery of what happens when pop and politics collide:

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Darren Wilson


The Specials weren't a London band; they're from Coventry. Terrible journalism.


Brian Quinn


Music should not be used for political ends. Music should be apolitical.


Richard Crampton


What a dumb thing to say. People can and should make music about whatever they want to make music about. Some of Lennon's best known songs are political. Happy Xmas, Imagine, Give Peace a Chance. In fact some of the best rock/pop music ever made has been of a political nature. Think of the Smiths; the late, great Kirsty Maccoll; all of the 'Red Wedge' artists of the 80s like the Communards, Style Council and Billy Bragg; Sinead O'Connor; Neil Young; Joni Mitchell... even Michael Jackson. Some of us want to hear songs that aren't about relationships, love, sex or dancing.


Darren Wilson


Try telling all the best bands of all time that.




Where is Black Sabbath's "War Pigs"????


I Am A Stegosaurus


Killing In The Name?




That was an X-Factor thing. Not politics.


I Am A Stegosaurus


The song itself is about political issues though