We're Putin this in your hands, Elton

With the surprise news that Elton John is meeting with Vladimir Putin to discuss LGBT rights in Russia, Iqra Choudhry explores the moments when musicians use their fame for good

Iqra Choudhry
24th November 2015

Following reports that Sir Elton John met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, to urge him to support the LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans*) community, and then met with business leaders to ask them not to turn away LGBT+ employees, it’s safe to say that he may be onto something.

Sir Elton has his sights set on a meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin, to discuss the anti-gay propaganda laws in Russia that support prejudice against LGBT+ Russians, and isolate them as a community. “That’s probably the only power I have: to use my fame and fortune to bring people together with music and spread the message of peace and acceptance and inclusion afterwards,” he said. He has admitted that he is likely to be dismissed by the Russian leader, but is determined to try and talk sense to him.

“I think we can all agree that sneaking U2’s last album onto everyone’s iTunes without our permission may have been a violation of our human rights”

Several members of the punk-rock outfit Pussy Riot were jailed after protesting Putin’s government and his involvement with the Russian Orthodox Church, which is assumed to have influenced the passing of the anti-gay laws currently upheld in Russia. Their case was publicised by Amnesty International, an organisation which supports and tries to resolve cases of human rights abuse the world over.

Politics and music have always been intertwined in the punk ethos, with bands like Rage Against The Machine, Anti-Flag and Rise Against singing songs that protest everything from sweatshop labour to modern-day warfare. Rage Against The Machine’s guitarist Tom Morello’s side project The Nightwatchman has acted as an outlet for his political views, using his fame to draw attention to protests such as Occupy Wall Street in 2012.

Rise Against have advocated progressivism, using their influence as a Billboard Chart-topping band to lend their support to organisations like Amnesty Internationa; the It Gets Better Project, which raises awareness to the suicides of LGBT+ teenagers who face bullying on a daily basis. The band also responded to 2012 Tohuku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, raising awareness with their song ‘Help Is On The Way’.

Even musicians we all love to hate have used the platform that their music provides to fuel humanitarian work. I think we can all agree that sneaking U2’s last album onto everyone’s iTunes without our permission may have been a violation of our human rights, though. Say what you will about Bono, you can’t deny his work as a philanthropist – his guest edit of Vanity Fair in 2007 drew attention to humanitarian work in Africa undertaken by various politicians and musicians.

Maybe Sir Elton John won’t make a difference over in Russia, if he sits down with Putin for a cuppa and a chinwag. But music is something special when it’s a force for good, and fair play to him for giving it a go.

Iqra Choudhry

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