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Neil Young performs in Quebec City during Festival d'Ete on July 7, 2018.ALICE CHICHE/AFP/Getty Images

After Green Day lyrically targeted supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a televised performance on New Year’s Eve, more than one right-wing pundit attacked the punk-pop veterans.

“People are so sick of being preached at about politics from rock bands,” Fox Business anchor Cheryl Casone said. “Stick to what you’re good at.”

There is tone deaf, and then there is tone dumb. Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong had updated the lyrics of the 2004 song American Idiot, slamming the “MAGA agenda” of today instead of the “redneck agenda” of the Iraq-invading administration of former president George W. Bush. The song is the title track of a politically minded concept album that was a reaction to corporate control and the culture wars of the time.

Sticking to what they’re good at? American Idiot won a Grammy Award for best rock album and has reportedly sold more than 16 million copies worldwide. As for music fans having no appetite for politics, conservative commentators seemed to be fine with a pearl-clutching Kid Rock temporarily boycotting Bud Light last summer after beer giant Anheuser-Busch associated itself with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

Also voicing displeasure over Green Day’s power-chord activism was Lara Trump, the amateur singer and professional daughter-in-law. “This is not punk rock,” she said on her podcast, The Right View. “These people are so controlled by the mainstream. They are so controlled by the corporate, political agenda, and this is just another example.”

To be fair, she is not entirely wrong. Green Day performed on ABC’s highly commercialized Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest to nearly 30 million people. They did so to promote a forthcoming new album, Saviors, in advance of a summer stadium tour promoted by concert behemoth Live Nation Entertainment. So, let’s not make Armstrong and his band out to be Woody Guthrie and the Ramones.

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Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong performs during the halftime show at the 110th CFL Grey Cup in Hamilton, Ont., on Nov. 19, 2023. The band's rework of lyrics from it's song American Idiot slamming the 'MAGA agenda' during a New Year's Eve performance has raised the ire of right-wing pundits.Nick Iwanyshyn/The Canadian Press

But Trump went off the rails by bringing Neil Young into the conversation and lumping the Canadian-American troubadour in with Green Day. “These are the people who are supposed to be anti-establishment,” she said. “These are the people who are supposed to fight back against the Man. They are in lockstep with the Man. It is amazing to see.”

She needs to get her eyes checked. To suggest that Young is some kind of corporate establishment shill is to profoundly misunderstand his music and actions. If Young is in lockstep with the Man, then Rage Against the Machine skips to God Bless America.

This is the artist who in 1983 was sued by his label at the time, Geffen Records, essentially for not making commercial music.

This is an activist who took on Big Oil in 2014 when he spoke out against the Keystone XL pipeline and the oil sands in Alberta: “Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima.” Four years later he refused to play a festival in London’s Hyde Park that was sponsored by British multinational bank Barclays.

This is the man who in 2022 pulled his music from Spotify in a principled stand against what he perceived as vaccine-related misinformation spread by the streaming titan’s podcaster Joe Rogan. The move cost his employer, major label Warner Records, a lot of money.

This is the composer who wrote the iconic Vietnam War-era protest anthem Ohio. And this is the individual whose 1988 hit song This Note’s For You was a brassy broadside against corporate sponsorship in music:

Ain’t singin’ for Miller

Don’t sing for Bud

I won’t sing for politicians

Ain’t singin’ for Spuds.

Apparently Young does sing for Dani Reiss, however. According to fan sites Sugar Mountain and Thrasher’s Wheat, the singer-songwriter and his band Crazy Horse played a private birthday party for the Canada Goose chairman and chief executive officer at the small Rivoli club in Toronto in November. (Young’s performance fee, which may have been donated to charity, is unknown.)

What is more disconcerting than what right-wing talking heads had to say about Green Day’s politics is the ignorant sentiment that popped up on social media afterward. When American music historian and former disc jockey Donna Halper posted a sensible note on X about Green Day and the common practice of updating lyrics, a responder suggested that musicians should avoid hopping on soapboxes or getting political.

The comment came from a fan of the progressive rock band Rush. One wonders whether they grasp all of late drummer Neil Peart’s lyrics, especially the songs inspired by the beliefs of Ayn Rand.

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