Musicians And The US Election

I think it’s safe to say that a significant number of us, in the US and abroad, are terrified of what will happen if Donald Trump wins the upcoming election and so a vast number of public figures are becoming more politically vocal than they ever have before, at least as far as I can tell. People from all kinds of professions are speaking out and sharing their views, sharing information, and encouraging people to vote. And for what feels like the first time, there’s a lot less of the ‘vote according to your beliefs’ and a hell of a lot more ‘vote Biden because voting for Trump will cause irrevocable damage, including the deaths of thousands of people.’ Personally, I’m grateful for that. It’s one thing to tell people to vote for the party they believe in when the parties just prioritise different aspects of society, it’s another when people’s lives, their families, their very homes and livelihoods are at stake. This isn’t about priorities; this is about turning a blind eye to greed and corruption or putting people’s lives above all else. Because that’s what this will come down to. Donald Trump does not care for the American people and that will affect everyone in America, regardless of whether you voted Democrat or Republican.

I accidentally went off on a bit of an emotional tangent there. What I really wanted to talk about are some of the people making political statements and taking political action and how they’re going about it, specifically musicians…


Sara Bareilles – While Sara has never shied away from posting about politics, she has dedicated her social media almost entirely to politics in recent months. She tweets and retweets a lot of political discussion and resources and continually calls out Trump – and other Republicans – for their terrible behaviour. She also doesn’t just share the major, nation-wide stuff; she shares state specific stuff as well, which I imagine is really useful to her American followers. She’s unapologetically loud and it’s fantastic to see.

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She also recently started the #MoreLoveCampaign – named after her recent album but apt for the current times – encouraging people to vote…


Taylor Swift – While Taylor is relatively new to talking about politics, she is absolutely serious now. She did post about and encourage people to vote in the last election but she didn’t publicly endorse Hillary Clinton, who she’s since said she supported. During a recent interview, she said that she felt her endorsement could’ve been damaging:

“The summer before that election, all people were saying was, ‘[Taylor’s] calculated. She’s manipulative. She’s not what she seems. She’s a snake. She’s a liar,’” the pop star told Vogue. “These are the same exact insults people were hurling at Hillary. Would I be an endorsement or would I be a liability?” She described how the attacks might have gone: “‘Look, snakes of a feather flock together. Look, the two lying women. The two nasty women.’”

She’s since said that, regardless of that, she regrets not clearly stating that she was voting for Hillary.

In the last two years, she’s become increasingly political but she is very strategic about it. She doesn’t post about it a lot on social media but then again, she doesn’t post a lot on social media at all. So when she does, it’s pretty big deal, especially if it’s about politics. She publishes targeted, impactful posts that, as you can imagine, get a lot of attention, on social media and in the press. It’s a different approach to that of Sara Bareilles’ but with Taylor’s megastar status, that’s not surprising. It doesn’t make one strategy better than the other though.

She’s also recently been featured in V Magazine’s Thought Leaders Issue, which included multiple public figures and their views on the election and encouraging people to vote.

She’s also talked about the election repeatedly in interviews and has even been including ‘vote’ cards in her merchandise deliveries as reminders to fans.


Maren Morris – Maren is another musician who has been consistently posting about politics on social media. I don’t recall seeing anything that directly states she’s voting for Biden but everything she posts and reposts, tweets and retweets implies that she is: she’s talked about having a voting plan, the debates, voter suppression, publicly (and I assume privately) mourned Ruth Bader Ginsburg, shared posts about how Trump’s people were manipulating photos and videos of support, and so on. She’s not sitting back and staying quiet as country artists are so often encouraged to do.

But I think her biggest contribution has been her recent song, ‘Better Than We Found It,’ and its accompanying music video. The song itself is more general in its message, a message of always striving for a better world, but certain lyrics – “When the wolf’s at the door all covered in blue,” “America, America, divided we fall,” and “God save us all from ourselves and the Hell that we’ve built for our kids, America, America, we’re better than this” – point to this specific moment in time. It’s a very powerful song but the music video is more powerful still, highlighting three different stories, all far too common today: two young Mexican boys, beneficiaries of the Dream Act, who are being forced to return to Mexico; footage from the Black Lives Matter protests; family members of Daniel Hambrick, who was shot and killed by Nashville police in 2018, talking about his death. It’s a very emotional video. It makes me cry every time I watch it; I cried just writing about it.

As well as spreading an important political message, some of the proceeds from ‘Better Than We Found It’ are being donated to the Black Women’s Health Imperative.

You can listen to/buy the song here.


Halsey – Halsey has always been an activist but it’s never been more obvious than it has over the last few months. She marched in the Black Lives Matter protests in LA where she was hit twice with rubber bullets, going back the next day with medical supplies to help treat the injured protesters. She’s been very vocal about the movement:

“I’m mixed-race and white-passing, and part of the [Black Lives Matter] protests put me in a position where I was subject to being shot with rubber bullets, and where I was subject to violence. Part of the reason for my participation is because my family is Black. Every time I see a name in the news, it could be my family. Being subject to violence [at the protests] gave me a lot of perspective. I’ve always been a part of an activity like that since I was a pre-teen—I was in the streets for Occupy Wall Street—so I’m a seasoned protester.”

She’s since set up the Black Creators Funding Initiative to award $10,000 grants to Black artists.

She’s been featured in V Magazine’s Thought Leaders Issue and was on the cover of Time Magazine as one of their ten Next Generation Leaders. She’s constantly using her social media accounts to share information and resources about the political situation and the election, as well as challenging those who share problematic or hateful views, and she’s currently releasing a series of videos where she discusses different elements of American society with Bernie Sanders, while encouraging viewers to vote.

“You vote for humanity, or you don’t,” she says. “You vote for a racist or you don’t. That’s the black and white of it to me.”


Of course, there are multiple others in the music industry doing the same or similar, including Carole King, The Chicks, John Legend, Cher, Madonna, James Taylor, P!nk, Billie Eilish, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and so on. I chose these four because I know more about what they’re doing and so can more personally speak to their actions and motivations and also because writing about everyone who has been getting involved would probably result in this post going up after the election…


And a quick side note:

It also makes me really happy and proud that some of my favourite actors (including those behind some of my favourite characters) have also been using their platform to encourage people to vote and especially to vote for Biden. For example…

Mariska Hargitay (Olivia Benson from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) has been posting consistently about the election, endorsing Biden, and providing resources through her social media. She’s also engaging with (the respectful) people in the comments about why Biden is the better choice and why Trump getting in again will be so damaging. Given what I know of her as a person through interviews and so on, this doesn’t surprise me but it means a lot to me to see someone I respect so much putting so much effort into this.

And Chloe Bennet (the actress behind my absolute favourite character ever, Daisy Johnson from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) has also been very vocal about the election and about voting Democrat.

She’s been politically active for as long as I’ve been aware of her, and longer if you scroll back through her social media. Something I particularly like and relate to in her approach to politics is that she’s equally as emotional as she is thoughtful and strategic. She gets sad and angry and she rages about the unfairness but she also finds ways to help and engages with organisations (even co-founding one, RUN AAPI) that will improve people’s lives. I think a lot of people need to see that: that you can be emotional about it but that that doesn’t have to leave you frozen. You can both feel and act.

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She’s also been calling out Trump for almost as long as she’s had social media, the earliest one I could find being in 2013. If we didn’t know already, I think we could safely say who she’s not voting for…


It’s hard to be in the UK and not be able to do anything, as far as I can tell. We can speak out on social media, share resources for our American friends, and so on, but we can’t actually DO anything. It’s scary and I know I’m not the only one feeling helpless, waiting for this one moment that will change everything, one way or the other, without being able to affect the result.

ME/CFS Research: Photo Diary (Pre Lockdown and During Lockdown)

Not long ago, I volunteered for a research study into ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and part of it involved keeping a photo diary as a visual representation for how my life is affected by my CFS. Obviously my life before the pandemic and my life now are quite different and so the researcher asked me to include pre-pandemic photos as well, to ensure that both experiences were recorded for the study. The collection of photos (and descriptions) I sent her was very long but I thought I’d do an abridged version to post here because it was a really interesting exercise.

(It’s worth noting that this was put together before I started back at university, hence why there aren’t any current references to classes or assignments.)


PRE-LOCKDOWN

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1. During my BA, I frequently took naps in quiet corners of my university between classes and then at my best friend’s flat when he moved onto the same street as the university. I found the commuting exhausting and the classes were long (some of them three hours) and took a lot of concentration. By the end of the semester, I was often really struggling to wake up to go back for the next class. A few times, I slept straight through both my alarm and my class. Fortunately that only happened a couple of times!

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2. I’m currently doing a Masters Degree in songwriting part time and pre-lockdown, I’d go up to London usually once or twice a week for lectures, workshops, and cowriting sessions. This is an example of one of the assignments we had during the first module, which was called Creative Process.

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3. Because living alone would be too much for me – I wouldn’t have the energy to look after myself, let alone do anything more – I commute to university (pre-pandemic anyway), involving lots of underground travel and multiple train journeys a week, something that I find exhausting. This is one of the reasons I chose to do my Masters part time because it reduced the amount of travelling and therefore allowed me to spend more energy on the course/work rather than on travelling.

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4. At the end of any day that involves hard work or anxiety, I’m utterly exhausted and usually end up horizontal on the sofa or going to bed as soon as I get home from wherever I am. In this instance, I’d just done the assessment presentation for the first module of my Masters – which I’d been incredibly anxious about – and was completely exhausted. Plus the day had involved practicing it in the morning as well as travelling to London and back. I was so tired that I could barely stay awake long enough to eat dinner before going to bed.

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5. I spent most of my days out of uni on the sofa, working on music, my mental health blog, or catching up with my diary, a favourite movie or TV show on in the background because I work better with background noise. I’m usually joined by a cat or two.

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6. As a singersongwriter, I try to perform as often as I can, both in terms of opportunity and having the energy (I once played three gigs in three days after which I could barely function for over a week because I’d just used up so much physical, mental, and emotional energy). That’s not a common problem – managing my energy around the amount of gigs – as there aren’t a huge number of opportunities with so many aspiring singers in the two cities I perform in, London and Brighton. I love performing. It’s the place I most feel myself, especially if I’m singing songs that I’ve written. I don’t feel any fatigue while I’m performing – I’m feeling so much joy that it’s like I’m flying – and I don’t feel any fatigue until the adrenaline wears off, anywhere between thirty minutes and several hours later.

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7. Since getting an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, I’ve been able to get access to disabled seats at concerts, which does (in certain ways) improve my concert experience. It can be more stressful and it can make no difference at all but at the very least, it makes me feel better. I am in the disabled section and therefore no one can judge me or think that I don’t deserve to be at the show because I’m not dancing around, not ‘enjoying myself enough.’ That makes me feel more able to sit as I need to, which does make the concert experience easier on me and my body. Having said that, I’m not always so sensible out of sheer enthusiasm.

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8. Before the pandemic, my best friend, Richard, and I had almost weekly writing and production sessions. My current EP was made almost entirely by the two of us in various rooms in the various places we’ve lived in over the last few years. These sessions are so fun and invigorating and even when it’s a struggle to find the right words or get the production to sound exactly how I want it to sound, it always feels right. I often feel very drained afterwards because it involves a lot of concentration and communication and we often work for four hours or more at a time. We have had sessions that last all day where I’m barely coherent by the end.

SINCE LOCKDOWN

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1. We have five cats in the house and I’ve been spending a lot of time with them. They’ve always been really good for my anxiety – probably because they are so mindful and live so fully in the moment – but they’ve been an extra comfort during these stressful times. I always try to get a good cuddle in the evenings since I get particularly anxious before bed because I’ve been sleeping so badly and having lots of nightmares during lockdown.

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2. I generally drink at least two Red Bulls a day to keep myself awake and somewhat alert, although I don’t think they work as well as they used to. I’m sleepy all the time, but whether that’s from the CFS or the side effects of my anti-depressants or both, I don’t know. I hate feeling like I need to drink it and I worry about the effects on my health but it’s currently the only way I can stay awake for at least most of the day. My Mum and I are investigating other options, or we were until the pandemic brought everything to halt. We haven’t given up though.

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3. This is my usual day-to-day view at the moment. I have a desk designed for bed or sofa use so that I can work from the sofa, which is more comfortable for me than working at my desk since I’ve been have problems with pain during lockdown (I’ve been referred to various hospital departments but I’m still waiting for the appointments). I’m usually working on my laptop – on my mental health blog, on my diary, on music stuff, etc – and there’s usually a cat draped over me.

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4. I usually have the TV on in the background because I seem to be more productive with familiar background noise, like a familiar TV show or movie. But I’ve also been watching new things during lockdown, both to escape from all of the stress around the pandemic but also as inspiration for my music as not much is happening in my personal life to draw from for songs. This is the very last episode of Agents of Shield, my favourite TV show and I was hugely sad to see it end although the ending was as perfect as the end of something you love can be.

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5. Since face-to-face writing sessions aren’t safe at this current time, I’ve been doing all of my writing sessions via Zoom. I’m currently doing about two a week, mostly with my writing partner, Richard. We alternate sessions: one on my songs and then one on his songs and so on. It’s harder work and not quite as fun or productive as a normal pre-pandemic session (who would’ve thought that not being able to point at something would trip up the creative process?) but it allows us to keep creating, which I’m grateful for. I’m always careful not to plan anything too difficult afterwards because these sessions are really draining and after about four hours, my ability to concentrate starts to fade.

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6. I’ve been playing a lot of piano during lockdown. It distracts me from all that’s going on, I want to improve my skills, and I just genuinely love playing, especially in the lower octaves. I find them very soothing. I can play for hours without noticing the passing time; it’s lovely. Playing and singing for hours is, of course, tiring but it’s worth it because I get so much enjoyment out of it.

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7. Because of my fatigue, I spend a lot of time on the sofa, which can get boring and frustrating, but it’s not so bad when I have my Mum (she’s self-employed, primarily working from home – especially now) and the cats around.

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8. Most days consist of sitting on the sofa, working on my laptop. I’m writing a lot of posts for my mental health blog at the moment, preparing for when university starts again and I have less time to write. My Mum often does emails similarly, keeping me company even if we aren’t actively engaging with each other.


So that’s my condensed photo diary for the study. There are, of course, other areas of my life and other areas of my life that my CFS affects, like food and exercise but I don’t have any photos relating to those. For example, swimming is my main form of exercise but pre-pandemic I wouldn’t take my phone further than the locker room and since lockdown began, I’ve been struggling to find a way to swim that feels safe. I may have found one but I’m trying not to get too excited: I’ve missed it so much and I’m so desperate to get back to it, for my physical health, my mental health, and my relationship with my body. I was also reluctant to include other people; my exception was Richard because our work and social media presence are so intertwined. So there are obviously gaps but I tried my best to give an overview. Hopefully it will be a useful contribution to the research.

Seeing Yourself in the World Around You

When it comes to TV shows, movies, and books, I see myself fairly regularly in the physical sense: I’m a young white woman. But when it comes to the things that I most associate with myself – being Autistic and struggling with my mental health – there is very little. Depictions of neurodiversity and mental illness are usually very stereotypical and often downright wrong. And that only adds to the stigma around mental health.

Now, I’m a twenty five year old woman with ASD and several mental health problems (including anxiety, depression, and BPD). I recognise that my experience is very specific. I’m not asking for a fictional version of myself; I just want some characters that I can really relate to. That isn’t an unreasonable request, is it? Seeing yourself in the world around you is so important, at least it is in my experience. It validates my emotions, my experiences, and makes me feel less alone when those things often make me feel very isolated and, if I’m completely honest, broken.

I’ll give you an example:

In Season 2 of Supergirl, the character Alex Danvers comes out as gay and a major part of the season is dedicated to her coming to terms with that and her relationship with another character, Maggie. This storyline meant a lot to a lot of people but the thing that I really connected to was Alex’s emotional journey and her relationship with being happy. In episode 9, her sister is abducted (said sister is Supergirl so she gets into trouble a lot but that’s beside the point) and her reaction is: “I was happy for five minutes,” revealing a belief that she doesn’t deserve to be happy, that somehow she is being punished for trying to be happy. This is brought up again later when she says, “I feel like the universe is just magically smacking me down from being happy.” These two moments were huge to me. This is something that I really, really struggle with and I have never seen it anywhere but inside my head. So to hear it from a character I admired meant everything to me. It made me feel less alone and less ridiculous for feeling this way. Because if this woman (who is more or less a superhero) feels like that, then it’s not unreasonable for me to feel that way, is it? Of course, I’d love for it to be revisited because it’s not something that goes away overnight but the fact that it was mentioned at all kept me going for days – weeks – and even a couple of years later, I can watch that episode and feel better.

And recently, Chyler Leigh – who plays Alex Danvers – has revealed that she lives with Bipolar Disorder. She first started experiencing symptoms at twelve years old and struggled through her teens and most of her twenties: “The mania would come and go, but the depression felt like it was always there. There are a lot of different ways mania manifests: I had extreme irritability and felt like an engine running on overtime; I couldn’t sleep at all; and I felt disconnected from reality, almost like I was high. As a teen, I did a lot of drugs, and that made me feel better, but crashing was devastating.” She tried to be the one in control of everything when she felt so out of control. She was diagnosed in her late twenties* but before her diagnosis, she says she felt like she was drowning and saw multiple medical professionals and multiple medications that just made her feel nothing: “[They] made me feel nothing, and that to me was more important than feeling happy or feeling sad. I withdrew and I shut down… I just didn’t know how else to function. And so I lied about a lot, I hid a lot. I kept to myself. And that caused an incredible amount of chaos and just destruction in the family.” Eventually she hit an awful breaking point, a mania so high that she couldn’t sleep at all and ended up hospitalised. Once she was released, she talks about how she needed to start fresh and find what worked for her. It was “very, very difficult” but now she’s in a good place: “I did find a medication that works that I still take, which keeps me very level, much more even. There are not really big peaks and valleys. It makes me function as a human being where I feel like, ‘Okay, I can manage when things are really hard and I can also really celebrate victories.'”

Ten years later, she’s ready to talk about it and use her platform to support others and raise awareness: “It’s something that’s terrified me for a long time because it feels like I’m admitting some sort of secret, or some sort of way that people are going to look at me differently or judge me but I’ve been met with nothing but acceptance and love and support, which is just amazing.” Her story is complicated but unfortunately very common and she and her husband are raising three children who either have mental health problems or are neurodiverse. The link to the initial interview (I believe) is here in case you want to read more about it. She also talks about talking about mental health and mental illness with her children in a healthy way that isn’t scary and that’s really incredible. She’s now teamed up with the Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health movement to advocate for mental health awareness and acceptance: “We have an incredible opportunity to change the narrative and change the conversation, and lead people to places that can encourage them and really take them where they need to go… It’s OK to not be OK. And it’s incredibly important to reach out. Be willing to let your guard down a little bit to be able to find that community. And also know that if you’re really struggling that there are so many resources.”

*”When I first got the bipolar diagnosis it was sort of like, ‘Oh my gosh, if that was me, how on earth am I going to deal with this? Am I in the same place? Am I equipped? Do I have what it takes to actually really genuinely take care of myself?'” I find this quote really helpful because that’s how I feel everyday. I wonder EVERYDAY if I’m ever going to be equipped to look after myself.

And here’s another example:

One of my favourite fictional characters is Daisy Johnson from Agents of Shield (which will be ending soon, something I am genuinely devastated over – it’s going to take actual therapy time to adjust to such a meaningful change in my life). Again, she’s practically a superhero (there’s a theme, I know) and ever since I started watching the show, I’ve been very inspired by her and her storyline. She’s a force of nature. She’s experienced great tragedy and each time, she uses it to reinvent herself, searching for ways to do good and make positive change in the world. She might be a fictional character but she means so much to me. And that led me to following the actress that plays her, Chloe Bennet, on social media. A few months after I started watching the show, she did an interview where she talked very honestly about her mental health: “I suffer from anxiety, I’ve had depression… it’s hard.” She talked about having panic attacks. She talked about the importance of mental health. And she talked about having therapy: “I see a therapist on a regular basis and that has helped me so much.” Reading all of that meant a lot to me. Knowing that someone I admire has had a similar experience makes me feel less alone in that experience.

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It goes without saying that I wish none of us had to deal with these challenges but hearing people talk about these experiences really helps me. It makes all of this less lonely, less isolating. And seeing strong, smart, insightful, compassionate people (real or fictional) deal with the same things I do, reminds me that I can be those things too, that my mental health problems don’t make me less of a person with less of a future. Seeing people succeeding in what they do, while living with these challenges makes me believe that that’s possible for me as well. Representation is a powerful thing.