Writing Climate Culture, for me, can often feel like a shout into the void. A quiet call from little old me to the massive entertainment and cultural industry to step up and do a better job including the climate crisis in art. Well, this week, I was bolstered when I remembered that no matter what I think, movement art is just plain popular. Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than oneself, and as humans, we respond to powerful art about powerful ideas.
This hopeful realization came from an unlikely place — the cold, hard stats of Rolling Stone’s “500 Best Songs of All Time” list. In 2004, the magazine put out their first iteration of the list, and just this week, they updated it. While entirely unscientific, the list was voted on by over 250 artists, industry figures, and critics. So, while there is no way to be definitive about taste, this list is nothing to slouch at either. It is wide-ranging, including artists from Taylor Swift to TLC, The Beatles to Billie Holiday, Carly Simon to Kanye West. There are amazing songs that span genre, time, and subject matter. Whether you need a pop banger or punk rock, you’ll find it on this playlist.
There was something defining about the list. The podium positions (yes, I’m an athlete in another life) were all occupied by songs that were important to justice movements with #3 being “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, #2 being “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy, and #1 being Aretha Franklin’s version of Otis Redding’s “Respect.”
These songs are all about how everyday people deserve better, how we all deserve justice. While none of the songs are about climate, they are also older. We know that climate change is a major justice issue of our time, and I can only hope that more art about it will be forthcoming.
Great art can be many things, but this list suggests that often what elevates art to legend status, cultural saliency, or timelessness is an association with something bigger than oneself. No matter where we are in time and space, we can all appreciate, relate to, and be inspired by people fighting for good over evil, justice over injustice, and togetherness over division. Movements inspire beautiful art, and beautiful art inspires movements. They have a rich history together.
Pop culture should join the climate movement. If not for our future, if not for the sake of me and my little climate culture newsletter, then at least for greatness and the bottom line.
Relatedly, if you’re interested in these issues or have been a fan of climate culture thus far, I would highly recommend you check out the virtual Hollywood Climate Summit happening next Thursday-Sunday. Tickets are now free with code FRIDAYSFORFUTURE.