Off Key: How Some Popular Music Is Spreading Antisemitism
As the number of hate crimes targeting Jewish people around the globe soars, an area that is receiving less attention is the existence of anti-Jewish stereotyping in the music industry. In this article, I’ll explore how Judeophobia has subtly crept into both lyrics and live concerts, how musicians abuse their fame to spread anti-Jewish conspiracies, and how online music platforms are having an effect on the spread of antisemitism in the 21st century.
One of the most blatant ways in which crude stereotypes are influencing the mainstream music industry is through the inclusion of harmful lyrics about Jewish people in popular songs.
The following are some of the most egregious examples of antisemitism and anti-Jewish prejudice in contemporary music:
- Michael Jackson’s 1996 hit “They Don’t Care About Us,” which features the lyrics “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me / Kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me.” Jackson later apologized for the lyrics, and re-released the song with the words “Jew” and “kike” removed. Nevertheless, contemporary covers of the song still retain all or some of the original lyrics. The American rock band Saliva’s 2016 cover kept the words “Jew me, sue me” and the hit European band Beast in Black’s 2021 version maintained both offending lyrics.
- Famed hip-hop artist Jay-Z’s 2017 song “Story of O.J.” features the lyrics: “You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit / You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it.”
- Described as “what the Protocols [of the Elders of Zion] would sound like with a sax accompaniment,” Van Morrison’s 2021 song “They Control the Media” implicitly references the classic antisemitic trope of Jews controlling the media, with such lyrics as “They own the media, they control / the stories we are told / If you ever go against them / you will be ignored.”
- Rapper B.o.B’s 2016 song “Flatline” included the lyrics, “Do your research on David Irving / Stalin was way worse than Hitler / That’s why the POTUS gotta wear a kippah.”
- In his 2016 song “N.E.R.D.,” the rapper Lupe Fiasco includes the words, “Artists getting robbed for their publishing by dirty Jewish execs who think that it’s alms for the covenant.”
- Even the world of opera isn’t immune from antisemitism and anti-Jewish stereotyping. “The Death of Klinghoffer,” which is based on the 1985 Palestine Liberation Front hijacking of the Achille Lauro and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, has been accused of glorifying terrorism and perpetuating antisemitic stereotypes.
- Antisemitism in popular music is a global problem. In 2018, the German equivalent of the Grammys stirred up controversy when it awarded a prize to hip hop duo Kollegah and Farid Bang, known for a song that includes the words, “My body is more defined than those of Auschwitz inmates.”
- In 2022, the popular K-pop group EPEX released a song that included lyrics featuring the words, “Crystal night,” a reference to the Nazi pogrom of Kristallnacht. In the accompanying music video, the members of the group were dressed in Nazi-style uniforms.
Aside from lyrics in popular songs, another way that antisemitic prejudice has entered the world of mainstream music is through the use of anti-Jewish symbols and tropes at concerts and live shows. Some notable examples include:
- During a performance in 2016, Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo performed a Nazi salute and shouted the words “white supremacy.”
- Similarly, during a meltdown at a 2021 show, Steve Harwell of Smash Mouth twice raised his hand in a Nazi salute to the crowd.
- At a 2016 performance, members of the popular Japanese girl band Keyakizaka46 appeared dressed in Nazi-style military uniforms.
- In 2014, the Seattle-based rapper Macklemore apologized after he showed up to a concert in a disguise that many claimed was an antisemitic caricature of a Hasidic Jew.
As influential role models, musicians can be a force for good, drawing attention to important causes and helping those in need.
However, some famous musicians have used their fame and influence to peddle antisemitic conspiracies and anti-Jewish prejudice. Examples include:
- Pink Floyd member Roger Waters has previously expressed his views that the US was controlled by Jewish-American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, that the “Jewish lobby” controls the music industry, and that Israelis are comparable to aliens.
- In 2020, during a Twitter rant full of conspiracy theories, the rapper Ice Cube posted several controversial images, including one that ties the Jewish people to the 9/11 attacks and another that portrays a group of Jewish bankers playing Monopoly on the backs of others.
- In 2021, the rapper Wiley was suspended from social media after he publicized a number of antisemitic posts that included the tweet, “In fact there are 2 sets of people who nobody has really wanted to challenge #Jewish & #KKK but being in business for 20 years you start to understand why,” as well as an image of him in Hasidic garb alongside the words, “The Jewish faces that control hiphop and mainstream black music.”
- Chuck Maultsby, the frontman for the country band Chuck Wagon and the Wheels, has expressed a number of conspiracy theories including that Jewish members of the CDC are responsible for “the COVID terror,” and that the 9/11 attacks were conducted by Jewish operatives.
And others trends are equally alarming.
With the rise of music-sharing platforms like Spotify and SoundCloud, it has never been easier for independent artists to share their music with the world. However, this expansion of the music industry has also provided fertile ground for antisemitic musicians to spread their hate to a wider audience than was previously possible.
In a 2021 investigation by the UK-based Israel Advocacy Movement, it was discovered that Spotify was allowing tracks with obscene antisemitic lyrics to be shared on its platform.
One such example is the song “Secret War” by rapper K-Rino, an artist with over 50,000 monthly subscribers, that features the lyrics “And fly you through the circle of Zionist entitlements / Top rabbis and pedophile Jews / Get their values from the Babylonian Talmud.” The song was later removed, but K-Rino still exists on the platform as a verified artist.
Another example is the song “Goy Boy” by the Spotify-verified artist Payday Monsanto. This song includes the lyrics “Prove to me the Holocaust ain’t a fraud / And I’ll give you a six million dollar reward.”
These are just two samples of what some experts have deemed Spotify’s “dark side.”
As we have seen, the modern music industry is no stranger to antisemitism and anti-Jewish prejudice. Whether it’s musicians turning classic Jewish conspiracy tropes into songs, performers displaying anti-Jewish symbols at live shows, or artists using their influence to spread antisemitic conspiracy theories online, the industry should be concerned about the relationship between antisemitism and popular music.