News and Politics

A Political History of Green Day

During their song “American Idiot,” Billie Joe Armstrong changed the lyrics to the song from “I’m not a part of the redneck agenda.” to “I’m not a part of the MAGA Agenda.” 

This upset some people, accusing the band of “being political.” However,

Green Day has never been silent on their politics and their beliefs. 

Emerging in 1987 under the name Sweet Children, Green Day has deep roots within the East Bay Punk scene, notably centered around the influential 924 Gilman Street.

Gilman Street

The non-profit, all-age, alternative music venue came into existence in 1986, primarily being put together by Tim Yohannan, a punk fan and a self-proclaimed Marxist. Yohannan’s leftism would show through in Gilman. Gilman operated as a cooperative democratically run venue. 

People can join Gilman as a member by buying a 2-dollar-a-year membership. With the membership comes voting rights. As a group, votes are cast on everything, including rules, costs at the venue and positions on whether or not to appoint a person to be a “Gilman Worker”(this is not a paid position). At its essence, it is a worker’s co-op or what can be called a form of Market Socialism, where the workers own the means of their production in the framework of a market economy.  

Gilman Street has set-in-stone rules that have been in place since the beginning. No Racism, no sexism and no homophobia might seen as quite tame today. However, it is something quite progressive for 1980s America. At the time, the US government would govern in a racially discriminatory manner against Black Americans. The objectification of women was a regular occurrence in all forms of media, ranging from music to print to advertising. The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s had spiked homophobia, with violence occurring regularly.

Punk

Gilman would attract punk bands primarily because of Yohannan’s interest in punk and his non-profit fanzine, MaximumRockNRoll, which focused on punk and hardcore music and culture.

Punk is heavily left-wing due to its rebellious and anti-establishment nature. A rejection of societal norms and authority, punk embodies a countercultural movement that challenges the status quo. Its ethos promotes individualism, freedom of expression and social justice. 

Many punks advocate for progressive causes such as anti-racism, LGBTQ+ rights, feminism and economic equality. Lyrics often critique political systems, institutions and societal injustices, reflecting a desire for change and a distrust of traditional power structures. Moreover, punk’s DIY (do-it-yourself) ethos aligns with leftist principles by encouraging self-reliance, community support and grassroots activism.

Both punk and Gilman play important parts in Green Day. Green Day were regular members before forming and playing at Gilman Street, becoming a punk-inspired band. 

War

Anti-war themes are the strongest message that Green Day puts out. “American Idiot”, criticizes the public and the media for buying into George W. Bush’s lies, particularly regarding the Middle East and the US’s invasion of Iraq.

“Holiday” is their clearest anti-war song as it explicitly calls out the Bush administration, criticizing the unjust invasion of Iraq, and comparing the pro-war/invasion individuals to Nazis in a satirical manner. It does not stop there, calling out Democrats for allowing it and, in some instances, supporting it. 

“21 Guns,” off of their 2009 album, 21st Century Breakdown, calls into question the point of war when you do not know why or what you are fighting for. 

“Back in the USA,” released in 2017, criticizes American patriotism. Americans turn their head away from issues of the United States, both domestically and internationally, with numerous lines criticizing wars that the United States was engaging in at the time and the lack of care about the wars. 

Sexuality

Green Day has taken a pro-LGBTQ stance numerous times. For songs, we can look at “Coming Clean,” off of the 1994 album Dookie, about Armstong accepting his bisexuality and detailing his worry about his parent and others not being able to understand it.

Another example comes from 1997’s album Nimrod in “King for A Day.” The song details the life of a cross-dresser who started at a young age before being thrown into therapy by their father. The song justifies the right to do and wear whatever a person wants, or “Sugar and spice, and everything nice/Wasn’t made for only girls.”

Anti-Establishment

Throughout their career, Green Day has created numerous songs against the establishment, criticizing the system and the structure. 

“Warning” off the 2001 album, Warning, pushes back on the establishment/government, questioning if they have good intentions for the average person, citing the police, an arm of the establishment, as an example. 

Most recently, the first single off their new album, “The American Dream is Killing Me,” is criticizing the current formation of government, calling out both parties for their role in this decline. The crunch of capitalism on the middle and lower classes. Homelessness is rampant, and house prices are too high. Suicide rates are at an all-time high.

Donald John Trump 

Green Day has always been political. Since the arrival of Donald Trump, they have seemingly gotten more political. 

In 2016, at the American Music Awards, during their performance of “Bang Bang,” a song from the viewpoint of a mass shooter who did it for the attention of the media, Armstrong added to the breakdown of the song with a chant of “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA,” an altered chant from “No war, no KKK, no fascist USA,” a line by the Hardcore Punk band, Millions of Dead Cops or MDC.

In 2019, at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, Armstrong changed the lyrics to “American Idiot” from “I’m not a part of the redneck agenda” to “I’m not a part of the MAGA Agenda.” 

The band released a charity t-shirt with Donald Trump’s mugshot overlayed with a sticker covering his face that says Nimrod, similar to the two faces on their album Nimrod.

In the music video for “Back in the USA,” a presidential address is depicted with a zombie version of Donald Trump, who is lying to the nation.

Green Day has consistently espoused and reflected left-leaning or progressive ideologies throughout their career. There should not be a recurring cycle of renewed anger after they make a politically charged statement.

Comments

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23 thoughts on “A Political History of Green Day

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