Bob Dylan once wrote, “… you better start swimmin' / Or you'll sink like a stone / For the times they are a-changin.’”
It’s important to note the obvious — Bob Dylan was not actually calling for behind-the-times folks to actually drown. Sometimes artists use metaphors. And sometimes they use what seems to be violent language to denounce violence.
The Beatles sang “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” Jimi Hendrix sang the tale of a friend named Joe who shot his ol’ lady and ran to Mexico. In “Folsom Prison Blues,” Johnny Cash seemed to confess to shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die. In “Stan,” Eminem tells a story about an obsessed fan that kills his girlfriend to please the iconic rapper.
None of these songs actually advocate violence. In fact, they’re all advocating against violence.
Would anyone have a problem if any of these legendary artists wanted to perform at Hanford High School? Probably not. (Most of them being deceased notwithstanding).
And yet, some members of the community (some not even parents themselves, according to one TV news report) are clutching their pearls and demanding that a contemporary artist not be able to perform locally due to using similarly violent lyrics in a decidedly anti-violence message.
Hanford High School recently won a Chegg Music 101 grant of $10,000 to showcase and support music in schools. The grant comes along with a special performance and Q&A with British musician Yungblud.
Yungblud is an immensely talented artist who vehemently speaks out against violence while raising awareness for issues relating to mental illness. Sometimes he does this with shocking lyrics and imagery.
After an outcry from a small but vocal segment of the community, Hanford High School officials announced in a now-deleted Facebook post that they don’t want Yungblud to perform — yet they still want the $10,000.
This is a terrible case of hypocrisy. For Hanford High School to accept a large and generous sum of money meant to support and showcase music while shutting down a musician sends a terrible message to students. Your artistic expression doesn’t matter, students — money does.
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Protesters latched onto one Yungblud song in particular, “Kill Somebody,” because it’s an easy scapegoat. The song and accompanying video is violent on the surface but is actually a song detailing a dark time in the artist’s life and his own suicidal thoughts. The “Somebody” in the song is Yungblud himself (I think anyway; his lyrics are admittedly tricky).
On his YouTube page (which has 1.1 million subscribers), Yungblud wrote, “this song is about a pretty dark place I found in my mind. at first it really scared me. but i learned to talk about it. mental health is finally being taken seriously and this song helped me free myself from the weight of it for a while. i wanted the video to visually represent the internal feeling of anxiety and depression from an outward perception.”
(Those are his capitalization errors, not mine.)
This vulnerability and openness in addressing important and controversial topics has made the musician popular among young people (and the features and sports desks of the Hanford Sentinel). Parents outraged by the content of the video and high school officials unwilling to let students hear the artist’s message only further the taboo around the topics of suicide and mental illness.
A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year revealed that in 2017, teen suicides were up by almost 50 percent from the 2000. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 15-19.
If authority figures tell Yungblud that it’s not OK to express himself about his own thoughts of self-harm then won’t the children of the community feel equally shamed? By telling Yungblud that there’s no place at Hanford High School for him to talk about depression and anxiety, aren’t we also telling the students that they can’t talk about these things either?
On Tuesday, Yungblud announced to his 1.7 million Instagram followers and 268,000 Twitter followers that he will, in fact, perform in Hanford.
The artist captioned his video with the following, “people are going to judge you, before they even know who you are and what you represent. but don’t let that stop you being who you are. let it be their ignorance. hanford high school i will be there. even if i gotta play outside the fookin gates.”
Twitter user @ms_believer_27 replied to Yungblud’s post saying, “I’m the mother of a Hanford High student, and I hope you’re really coming. These kids need to know some of us are capable of looking beyond surface level to see the good where others may not. They need strong voices like yours! Would love to help organize.”
Whether it’s at Hanford High School or “outside the fookin gates,” I look forward to seeing Yungblud in Hanford and I hope that some parents (and non-parents apparently) come see him perform as well to look past the shocking imagery and see how their kids respond to what is actually a positive message.