Things you can’t say aloud — Songs for a Sunday

Can’t say what you need to say aloud? I don’t mean like changing “say out loud” to “say aloud” to please the fickle Gods of SEO. I mean muzzling yourself to escape negative consequences.

Sometimes the only way to say what you need to say is by singing it.

Take Captain Von Trapp at the end of the movie The Sound of Music: He wanted to say something to his fellow Austrians, now under the heavy thumb of the Nazi regime that swept in from Germany. He wanted to make a political statement. But saying something—ahem—aloud would have put him and his family in even greater danger than they already faced. So he sang a song to stir up patriotic feelings in his audience, a song about a beloved Austrian flower:

He got the audience to sing along, gave them a safe outlet for their national pride—even as the Nazis looked on helplessly. The round-faced, sour-looking man is the lead SS Officer who’s come to forcibly enlist Captain Von Trapp in the German Navy. Instead—spoiler alert—the family leverages the power of the sing-along to escape. [Note: Despite what we learn about the song from the musical, Edelweiss is not a beloved Austrian folk tune. It’s purely the creation of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote the music and lyrics.]

Two words that rocked the internet

Last week’s Super Bowl LI featured two performances that delivered political messages. While many people were expecting a political statement from Lady Gaga, the more overt statement came from actresses Renée Elise Goldsberry, Philippa Soo, and Jasmine Cephas Jones. Though dressed in modern clothes, they were introduced as “The Schuyler Sisters”—the characters they played in the original cast of Hamilton.

They sang “America the Beautiful”—you know, the song that asks God to “crown Thy good/With brotherhood/From sea to shining sea.” They sang those lyrics, but they added two words—words that seem essential in this age when women’s rights are under seige. They sang “with brotherhood and sisterhood.” The crowd went wild.

What can Lady Gaga say aloud?

Unless you’ve recently crawled out from under a rock, you’re aware that Lady Gaga is a fairly outspoken person. So when she performed the Super Bowl halftime show, people were prepared for her to make a political statement.

Did she? Well, that depends on what side of the aisle you’re on. Consider these two headlines:

“Lady Gaga Super Bowl halftime show had no political statement”

That was the conservative-leaning Washington Times. The folks over at Billboard saw something completely different:

“No, Lady Gaga Didn’t Burn Trump In Effigy, But Her Super Bowl Set Was Still Political”

But my favorite analysis came from Teen Vogue, which has found a strong political voice as the Republicans take aim at its readers’ rights—reproductive and otherwise:

Things you can't say aloud? Sing them instead.

Great subtitle there: “And also: You’re probably straight.”

Billboard analyzed the opening of the set:

First, she melded a fairly jingoistic patriotic classic with a socialist folk tune. That itself is a choice that reminds a divided nation that two radically disparate political anthems are still both inherently and inarguably American. We contain multitudes.

Secondly, and most significantly, the fact that Gaga sang “Born This Way” in front of millions can’t be underplayed. Teen Vogue absolutely called it — if you don’t see the inherent political heft of someone singing “No matter gay, straight or bi / Lesbian transgender life / I’m on the right track baby / I was born to survive” in the midst of a football game, you’re probably straight. Sure, “Born This Way” was a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, so it’s not exactly a risky song to sing. But saying those words to millions during the nation’s premier entertainment event — which itself is an uber-hetero celebration of male ego and virility — absolutely matters. Because representation matters.

Yes, representation matters. And speaking your truth matters, too. As we careen toward totalitarianism, it’s important to know how to say aloud things the state would prefer you not say at all. Take a cue from Captain Von Trapp and Lady Gaga: Sing them instead.

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