Frank Turner flips the hateful rhetoric of Trump’s campaign slogan on its head in “Make America Great Again.”
Let’s set the scene: It’s the final day of The Hold Steady’s weekend-long run of “Massive Nights” at Brooklyn Bowl. Earlier that day, Frank Turner was announced as the surprise opener for the last night of the shindig. For reference, Frank Turner’s last New York show was at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre (a 2800-cap venue) with his band The Sleeping Souls. Brooklyn Bowl holds 600 people, and Turner was playing solo acoustic after flying over from London earlier that day. In addition to a few of his most popular songs, Turner announced the title of his new album Be More Kind and treated us to the title track and a stripped down, yet energetic take on a song that would be called “Make America Great Again.”
“Make America Great Again” – Frank Turner
When Frank Turner started the new song, it certainly left a number of the audience confused. Even though Turner has made a name for himself on traditional punk rock liberalism, an album titled Be More Kind could’ve been seen as a half-hearted attempt at centrism, and it wouldn’t be the first time that someone’s changed politics in a shocking direction. That being said, it’s a testament to Turner’s excellent songwriting and lyricism. I wasn’t the only person that tightened up when Turner first uttered Trump’s campaign slogan, but when he gets to the chorus, the release is so great and cathartic:
Let’s make America great again
By making racists ashamed again
Let’s make compassion in fashion again.
While Turner seeks for us all to set politics aside and be kinder to each other and try to be understanding, it’s hard to deny that that is a rabble-rousing chorus that gives a strong middle-finger to people that would want to pervert that understanding into an excuse to spew hatred. He also triumphantly sings praises to pointing out to people when they do offensive things in the song’s outro: “Let’s be a friend to our oldest friends/and call them out when they’re faltering.” It’s a song that pushes for people to educate the people they love rather than ostracize them. It feels like a little bit more of an aggressive approach to the idea to “Be More Kind.” It doesn’t seem like a half-assed “put our differences aside” argument, rather “respect people, but also fight injustice.”
Aside from the political musings of Frank Turner, “Make America Great Again” seems like the meeting point of the folk punk of Turner’s past work and the post-punk direction he seems to be heading in. Of the five songs released from Be More Kind, “Make America Great Again” fits right in the middle of them all. Turner introduces a more rhythmic strumming pattern, and there’s plenty of synthesizer in the production. It’s not a mosh-inducing tune like “1933” nor is it a Police-like dance song like “Blackout.” The production is as forward-facing as Turner’s politics.
The lone gripe to have with the song is the title. Similar to when the song was first played live that night in Brooklyn, it’s an uncomfortable feeling to enjoy it. Even though it’s a re-appropriation of the phrase, it is still used as an excuse for hatred by so many. It seems like a misguided choice on Turner’s part. While the song certainly plays with listeners expectations, it still leaves me with a sense of worry when I hear that phrase.
Frank Turner’s return to the political conversation is certainly one the punk community will welcome. While punk isn’t as politically driven as it may have once been, Turner has placed his voice in the right place, and his songwriting has only improved since some of his more politically driven folk tunes that he made his name on. Be More Kind is an album that shows where so many of us should place our feelings, and “Make America Great Again” is an excellent culmination of it all.
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📸 © Frank Turner