A Lot’s Gonna Change: Music in the Era of Climate Change
by Annie Wojnarowski
Historically, artists have always been the best at examining our world’s current struggles. Bob Dylan did it with “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” Marvin Gaye crooned it with “What’s Goin’ On,” and The Cranberries screamed it with“Zombie.” In 2019, our struggle might be the most important of them all: climate change.
I’ve never been able to fully wrap my mind around climate change; I don’t know if we really can. However, I think musicians have always had a talent for turning intangible things into the art we can digest. Over the past year, prominent artists have tackled the existential fear starting to hold a permanent place in our brains.
I see this with the album Titanic Rising by Weyes Blood. That record, a beacon of inquiry, reflection, and fear, ruminates on the condition of being alive at a world that seems to be coming to an end. It opens with a song that sounds like it’s bursting through the seams of its own medium: “A Lot’s Gonna Change.” It starts with a call to past innocence and the hopelessness of not being able to get it back with lines such as, “If I could go back to a time before now / Before I ever fell down / Go Back to a time when I was just a girl / When I had the whole world / Gently wrapped around me.” With a want to be naive about the world, to experience everything for the first time, Weyes Blood wants to go back to a time when she felt like the world was hugging, not choking, her. As the song continues, Weyes Blood writes about perseverance in an unsustainable time. She sings, “Falling trees, get off your knees / No one can keep you down.” In an interview with NPR, Weyes Blood says the theme of the record is “learning how to cope with these changes in a way that doesn't completely bog you down in a sense of hopelessness.” I find that statement to be fully exemplified in tracks such as “Wild Time.” In this song, she laments over our dying world while also trying to find a purpose to keep going: “Running on a million people burning / Don’t cry, it’s a wild time to be alive.”
While Weyes Blood has more of an introspective angle on how climate change affects the human psyche, Lana Del Rey’s “The greatest” (off her 2019 record, Norman Fucking Rockwell!) seems to admit defeat. Lana softly sings, “L.A. is in flames, it’s getting hot,” a reference to the California wildfires, while later admitting that “‘Life on Mars’ ain’t just a song.” Seeking a second chance at humanity, Lana talks about what was once an optimistic look at human travel; today, it’s seen as a necessity to keep civilization alive. One of the most prolific lines in the entire album happens in the chorus though: “The culture is lit, and if this is it, I had a ball / I guess that I’m burned out after all.” Speaking to NME, Lana said that with our current culture in America, “it’s probably no coincidence that it’s raining fire everywhere.” This matter of fact attitude exudes the angst of our generation and this song seems like the pinnacle of Generation Z thought on climate change.
In a similar way, The 1975 also seem to voice the feelings and emotions of Generation Z, however, their approach isn’t as melancholic. In their upcoming album, Notes on a Conditional Form, they seek to explore what it means to be human. In every album thus far, the band has named the first song after their namesake; however, what makes this particular version stand apart from the rest is that lead singer Matty Healy doesn’t sing— instead, Greta Thunberg takes the mic. Thunberg, a sixteen-year-old environmental activist, talks about a climate emergency with a calm, yet stern tone. While she talks about our dying planet, calming electronic tones are played in the background. She lists facts about how long we have to fix this, the amount of oil we have burned, and how our best isn’t good enough. She ends the song with a call to action, saying, “Everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience. It is time to rebel.” ‘Rebellion’ may as well be the theme of the album because in the next song, “People,” Matty screams at the top of his lungs, “Wake up, wake up, wake up,” as blunt of a call to action as any. What these songs convey is a sense of urgency and a want to make a meaningful change (something Weyes Blood echoes) while also acknowledging the defeat that what we have lost will never come back (a tone that Lana Del Reyexudes).
When artists analyze the current state of the world, we begin to understand it more. These artists are using something as beautiful as art to explain something as terrifying as ecological breakdown. Although climate change is one of the most disarming and paralyzing events in our history of human civilization, I find at least some comfort in listening to someone else try to rationalize it.