Protest songs have always been as much about the time in which they're written as the people writing them. Jenny O.'s "People," from her album Peace And Information, out today, is a song written in the midst of a cultural shift that has thrown the Western world into a state of panic. How did this happen? What world are we living in? "People" goes back to the basics with a core message that those in power so quickly and easily forget that they are not superior to those over whom they have power. It is a breath after a crash, a memory test to reorient ourselves.
"The song is about equality," Jenny O. tells NPR. "I was trying to write about racism, authority — how can anyone feel superior to anyone else? We are all suffering, here for a moment, and then gone. When people are protesting for their lives, listen to them. We see civil rights demonstrations condemned by those who don't understand how change happens, or those who fear it ... or more likely, those who haven't needed to fight for their own survival. Change is a long game, but it begins with dissent and compassion."
The video, animated by Brazilian artist Caco Neves, takes on the style of a classic propaganda film in collage. As Jenny O.'s voice floats like early Rilo Kiley Jenny Lewis over warm '70s mid-tones, photographs from different eras of oppression are cut out and played with, interacting and telling a zoomed-out story of a world desperately clinging to the arc of justice, trying not to fall off.
"People" plays up the axiom that the political is personal. It was written in a cabin once owned by Jimmy Buffett outside of Nashville, where Jenny O. recused herself to dive deeper into issues of trauma, loneliness and her place in the world at large. "People" is a personal clarion call set to a melody like a summer breeze, daring us to take one final look inward before going out into a world that needs all of us.
Peace And Information is out now via Holy Trinity.