Comparing Political Commentary in Miguel’s “Now” and CCR’s “Fortunate Son”
By THEO DAVIS | April 12, 2018
Miguel’s critically-acclaimed fourth studio album, War & Pleasure, was released in December 2017. While the entire collection of songs was a gem for both fans and radio-listeners, Miguel’s outro song “Now” arguably stood out the most for its blatant political statements. By using the track to criticize US President Trump, he continued the trend of alienation and division present among different Americans. Many elements of the song further reflect those of its counterpart, the 1969 classic “Fortunate Son” by the Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR). It is often considered the epitome of the anti-Vietnam war movement that swept through the US in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. While Miguel’s “Now” differs in genre, content, and popularity, we can draw an interesting parallel between the two songs that transcends the vastly different political contexts that both react against.
CCR’s “Fortunate Son” was released in the midst of the Vietnam War, as public sentiment began to favor anti-US intervention in Vietnam. Because the song was immensely popular on the radio, a primary media outlet at the time, it certainly contributed to the shift in public opinion. With its simple message and clear lyrics, the song quickly became popular. Instead of criticizing the overarching need for war, the song narrowly focuses on army draft recruitment as the key issue. This is especially apparent in one line of the song, “It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son.” Here, CCR abhors the privilege of the rich young men who typically finagled their ways out of the draft and avoided being sent to the terrifying fight in Vietnam.
Miguel’s “Now,” however, doesn’t narrow in on one specific issue. While CCR focused on the drafting process, Miguel’s message remains vague. Unlike Creedence Clearwater Revival’s opponent as the Vietnam War, Miguel’s antagonist is the current US President. Miguel makes this reference clear in his line “Cause it's plain to see a man's integrity, by the way he treats those he does not need.” Miguel goes on to beautifully plead with the President, asking him to realize his role as the leader of all Americans, especially those outside of his core voter base which he usually relies on. Like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Miguel does not try to hide his message. Within the first lines of the song, he preaches “CEO of the free-world now, should we teach our children hatred?” In case the message wasn’t clear enough, he later specifically identifies the Black Lives Matter movement, the Dreamers, and other alienated and marginalized communities in Puerto Rico, Houston, Flint, and Standing Rock. Both songs do a fantastic job of explicitly communicating their political messages to the American people.
Despite the nearly 50 year gap between the two musical works, the ideals that CCR and Miguel stand for are surprisingly similar. They both represent youth-led movements that challenge the existing generation and political systems, and question what it means to be patriotic. In the ‘60s, many individuals felt conflicted about their senses of patriotism, and both publicly and privately opposed the war effort and American troops. The Silent Generation was horrified by the notion that civilians could not support their own American military. Today, we see similar challenges to the patriotism of racial minorities, especially those who choose not to stand for the national anthem because they are not granted the same American experience as many white people.
Both musicians also represent the progressive ideals pushed forth by those with limited political voices. The ‘60s arguably represented the first time that a significant number of lower and middle class Americans rose in protest against a war that was supported and perceived as most beneficial to the upper-middle and upper classes. While poor Americans fought in war for a cause that they didn’t necessarily believe in, the sons of the economically advantaged were privileged to stay home. Today, a different and rapidly growing group of Americans are rising up against the establishment: minorities. Many feel as though they are not treated equally, a similar sentiment to the true patriots who were unwillingly drafted into the jungles of Vietnam around 50 years ago.
The difference in the success of these songs is also worth discussion. Although “Fortunate Son” was incredibly popular in its day, “Now” is a mostly overlooked song in Miguel’s album “War and Leisure.” The album is a compilation of hits; even the title is a commentary on the redefinition of patriotism and inequalities. Success is often attributed to the song’s catchiness, reception among target audiences, and the musical genre. While these may all be important factors, the scope of each song is an equally valid explanation for the differences in the success of both songs. “Fortunate Son” focuses on a specific issue that was relatable to nearly all men in America during the time: the potential to be drafted into war. Magnifying this one issue makes it harder for critics to dismiss or deny the political message. In “Now,” however, Miguel broadly attacks the President’s attitude towards various marginalized groups, rather than a specific issue or minority; thus, it’s easier to ignore or criticize the song. While this reasoning is only a theory, it may suggest why “Now” never reached the same critical-acclaim as “Fortunate Son,” despite the similarities between their political messages.
Both Creedence Clearwater Revival and Miguel uses their roles to establish phenomenal precedents for political commentary in music. While they may have experienced different levels of popularity, they both represent responses to similar, albeit evolved, struggles in America to redefine patriotism and challenge injustices. “Fortunate Son” was an instant classic and remains one of the best examples of political protest in music. Yet, you may also find that “Now” is one of the most beautiful pleas for dignity that you have ever heard.