Bon Jovi’s new album is overtly political and the group’s aging front man thinks that’s a good thing. Jon Bon Jovi told “Rolling Stone” that he is now at a point in his life where he doesn’t want to create another song like “Bad Name.”
Maybe that’s a sign of maturing, or a natural consequence of growing older. It’s understandable that he doesn’t want to be stuck in an infinite loop endlessly repeating the music of his youth. (No one needs more arena rock love ballads from a 58-year-old, anyway.) But being older doesn’t automatically make the new work better. Veering into politics doesn’t make the lyrics more meaningful.
In fact, the reviews are terrible.
2020 is the group’s 15th album. It was released on Oct. 2 and as of this writing, the album only has 2.5 stars on the iTunes store. Of the 230 ratings, 132 people gave it only one star. Many of those who left a comment cited the heavy-handed, hit-you-over-the-head political lyrics as a reason why.
Bon Jovi sings about mass shootings in “Lower the Flag.” “Blood in the Water” is about disinformation. “American Reckoning” is about police brutality, and includes lines like “I can’t breathe” and “when did a judge and a jury become a badge and a knee” in reference to the death of George Floyd while in police custody.
The highest rated song on the album, “Do What You Can” is about the coronavirus pandemic. Who has been clamoring for a song about the coronavirus pandemic?
The album was ready at the start of the year, but Bon Jovi said that when the pandemic hit, he was inspired by issues happening in society and used the opportunity to rewrite a lot of the songs.
“I was willing to put it out as my way of saying I’m sorry to the community and that I’m learning like everyone else. Because if I’m not the poster boy for white privilege, then who would be?” he told Rolling Stone in an interview that was published upon the album’s release.
He’s not the first musician to turn political. The Dixie Chicks alienated fans when they protested President George W. Bush, and their fall was hard, fast, and seemingly permanent. (They recently changed their name to just “The Chicks” given the racial connotations associated with the word “Dixie.” What took you so long?)
Green Day likewise got political with “American Idiot.” Perhaps they never heard Michael Jordan’s remark that “Republicans buy sneakers too.”
Jordan stood by the comment in ESPN’s “The Last Dance.” He elaborated on it by explaining that although the comment was made in jest, “I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player.”
“I wasn’t a politician when I was playing my sport. I was focused on my craft. Was that selfish? Probably. But that was my energy. That’s where my energy was,” Jordan said.
Taylor Swift stayed out of politics for a long time, scrupulously voiding them to the point that in 2016 it became a thing on social media for liberals to ask why Taylor Swift was staying silent. (It then became a meme, with people asking why she wasn’t speaking up on all kinds of random issues.) Then in 2018, she decided to endorse a Democrat who was running for the Senate in Tennessee. The candidate lost, proving that at least in that instance, her superstar power did not translate into political influence.
Being a celebrity does not mean a person should not express political opinions. But a celebrity who doesn’t want to alienate half their fan base should not disparage those who disagree. They should stay humble, and recognize that being successful in film or music does mean they understand the nuances of complex public policy. Most importantly, the political opinions should never get in the way of the art.
And that’s the biggest problem with Bon Jovi’s new album: the music takes a backseat to the message.
If the album was good, people would listen to it even if they disagree with the political messages. (A comedian once observed that “Thriller” is such a good album that people are willing to ignore the multiple accusations of childhood sexual molestation against Michael Jackson.)
People buying a Bon Jovi album want rock, not Bob Dylan-esque political messages.
“Do What You Can” sounds like pop country. “Limitless” sounds like a subdued version of “It’s My Life.” “American Reckoning” sounds vaguely familiar, reminiscent of Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America.” The music is not very good. The political messages make listening to it worse.
Bon Jovi told Rolling Stone he expected to face some blow-back: “I’m going to be criticized because they’re going to think it’s politicized. That’s inevitable. What can I do? Edit myself so that I’m out there just to be shilling a song? If I’m doing that at this point in my career, who am I? It was far more important to me to make a record that had something to say than it was for me to try to rewrite ‘Bad Name’ 36 years later. I would have no interest in writing that song now.”