British pop music has a fraught relationship with Queen Elizabeth Since the 1970s, the UK's punk, alternative and hip-hop artists have used music to share their feelings about the late monarch and what she represents.

British pop music has a fraught relationship with Queen Elizabeth

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AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has elicited empathy from some British pop artists. Elton John, for instance, paid the late monarch a musical tribute in a concert earlier this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELTON JOHN: And we celebrate her life tonight with music, OK?

(CHEERING)

RASCOE: But as NPR's Chloe Veltman reports, the relationship between British music and the late monarch has long been much more fraught.

CHLOE VELTMAN, BYLINE: Until the 1970s, the queen of England pretty much only made innocuous cameo appearances in British pop songs, like the Beatles' "Penny Lane."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PENNY LANE")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) Penny Lane, there is a fireman with an hourglass, and in his pocket is a portrait of the queen.

VELTMAN: That changed after the Sex Pistols released "God Save The Queen" in 1977.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN")

SEX PISTOLS: (Singing) God save the queen, the fascist regime.

PAUL MCEWAN: It really is an indictment of the system, right?

VELTMAN: Paul McEwan is a professor of media and communications at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, where he teaches a class on pop music history.

MCEWAN: By using the title "God Save The Queen," obviously, you're invoking the national anthem and making it about more than just her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN")

SEX PISTOLS: (Singing) ...Dreaming...

VELTMAN: McEwan says a slew of songs that followed in the 1980s - a time of high unemployment and unassailable class divides in the U.K. - continued to attack the queen for her symbolic status.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE QUEEN IS DEAD")

THE SMITHS: (Singing) So I broke into the palace with a sponge and a rusty spanner. She said, I know you, and you cannot sing. I said, that's nothing, you should hear me play piano.

VELTMAN: The Smiths' 1986 track "The Queen Is Dead" pokes fun at Elizabeth, seeing her as the figurehead of a dissolute empire.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE QUEEN IS DEAD")

THE SMITHS: (Singing) The queen is dead, boys, and it's so lonely on a limb.

VELTMAN: McEwan says this wave of anti-monarchy music was largely driven by white people. It subsided in the 1990 as this segment of the population's economic prospects started to improve.

MCEWAN: And so there's a little less of that deep anger, as much as there's still plenty of poverty in Britain.

VELTMAN: But the financial pressures and racism faced by the country's many citizens with roots in Britain's former colonies largely continued to grow. A new batch of songs targeting the queen have emerged in recent years from the UK's hip-hop community. "England's Ending" by the band Bob Vylan begins with an F-bomb-laced order to kill the queen and goes on to explain why.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ENGLAND'S ENDING")

BOB VYLAN: (Rapping) Because England's ending, death's still pending. Where's that money you spent? Work all week, still work on weekends, still can't pay my rent. Times are tough. I've had enough.

VELTMAN: Frontman Bobby Vylan says the late monarch still owes a debt to Britain's Black and brown families.

BOBBY VYLAN: She never came to my house personally and took food out of my fridge. Do you know what I mean? But our families, our community, our ancestors suffered at the hands of this monarchy.

VELTMAN: Vylan says the band plans to perform the song on their upcoming U.S. tour this fall. Now that Elizabeth has died, they're considering updating the lyrics to talk about King Charles. Chloe Veltman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ELIZABETH MY DEAR")

THE STONE ROSES: (Singing) Tear me apart and boil my bones. I'll not rest till she's lost her throne. My aim is true, my message is clear - it's curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear.

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