Everyone’s now an activist: Yi-Lynn’s music promises anger, not answers
Every day, I wake up and remind myself: It’s more important to be useful than to be seen.
It’s a little habit I picked up to keep me out of fights on the internet. Don’t argue with that guy. Don’t obnoxiously retweet that article without reading it, and don’t bait your extended family members. Go donate some money, or do something for someone who needs it. It’s better to be useful than to be right.
Unfortunately, I am a musician.
Music is, contrary to popular belief, not that useful. It is enriching, sure. Music can be reflective of our times, our cultures and our beliefs. It can be cathartic sometimes. But is music useful in a real, tangible sense? Not in the grand scheme of things, no.
Image: The author Yi-Lynn, taken by Luke Cafarella
Like all things, once marriage became less exclusive, it also became less cool. So, in need of a new trendy hobby, straight people revived one of their old favourites: sweeping things under the rug. What homophobia?
As a thousand blossoms bloomed, Bob Katter became a meme, as though he wasn’t saying the same thing uttered by parents, teachers, doctors and bankers all over the country. At least Bob said it with a bit of flair.
As the mountain of dirt under the national rug grew larger, I became more and more furious. I was consumed by righteous indignation, the sweetest of all emotions.
So I began to write. I wrote the first song on my EP, ‘Pixelate’: an ode to redacting and scrubbing things out of the history books. Then I wrote ‘Just to Feed’ and ‘Cut it Loose’, two songs that begin with a narrator describing her anxiety and malaise, and end with her razing towns and setting castles alight.
I became fixated on capturing the parts of queer experience that were erased during the plebiscite debate, so I wrote a 1950s style ballad, ‘Cast’, about getting rooted after going to a queer club.
But writing songs born of a specific political environment does not make me a political activist.
It seems these days that everyone is an activist; the term has been diluted so much as to be positively homoeopathic.
Straight white weddings between straight white people are apparently now a form of activism. ‘Actor/activist’ is the fastest growing occupation in the global north, growing at a faster rate than ‘musician who claims to have synaesthesia’.
It is much easier to be something than it is to do something.
The internet has played a major role in our fixation with personal representation. We love a face much more than we love a fact. It’s much easier to notice a lack of Asian faces in a group photo than it is to read a lengthy article about labour rights – particularly if it implies something sketchy about how our favourite products are made.
Artistic expression – particularly from a member of a minority or disadvantaged group – is activism. Queer artists create queer art, which – by virtue of existing – is queer activism. Ipso facto, the queer artist is automatically a queer activist.
But we forget that it takes action to be an activist. It’s about being useful, not just about being seen.
In terms of being ‘an activist’, the slippery ways in which social media algorithms work are bad for everyone. They let privileged people pat themselves on the back for a repost. They let companies congratulate themselves for launching diversity employment initiatives where they pay ethnic minorities peanuts.
‘Giving a voice’ to someone becomes as good as giving money to someone, which in turn becomes as good as giving rights to someone.
Ultimately, assuming that all art is activism is bad for artists. Activism is about pragmatism; it’s about dealing with the practical realities of the world. It requires you to engage with the material you’re fighting for – whether they be Centrelink payments, reparations or funding for health and housing. It’s not just about concepts or values, but about effort, resources and compromise.
When I make music, I am the ultimate unreliable narrator. Everything is doused in my personal perspective.
Should my lyrics ever try to fend for themselves, or try and point to evidence to show their working, they’d fall over immediately. They’d stumble in a slick pool of subjectivity.
My music is dedicated to the execution of concepts from a single perspective. It’s not about balance, facts or niceties. It should be neither didactic nor democratic. I’m not here to teach people about an issue, nor to cater to every point of view.
As a musician, I’m interested in expressing sentiment, not convincing people. I’m not in the propaganda business.
I’m an artist, sure. I’m angry, definitely. But an activist? Not yet.
Gothic and unapologetic, Melbourne’s Yi–Lynn dissects bloody topics: gore, the apocalypse, and love. With a strong hold on the technical elements of folk, classical, indie and pop song writing, Yi–Lynn has garnered praise from triple j and community radio across Australia. Yi–Lynn’s new EP Foul Water encapsulates everything that makes Yi–Lynn such a special songwriter. The arrangements may be gentle and beautiful, but there is no coyness to this record; Yi–Lynn is flexing her power here, knowing that she only needs to whisper to command the attention of the room. Listen to Foul Water right here.
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