By Rebecca Spencer: Comment Editor
Rhys Lewis is a 28-year-old singer/song-writer with over 27 million Spotify streams on his song ‘No Right To Love You’. His songs are about heartbreak, anxiety and extremities of emotion that we can all relate to.
But Rhys Lewis isn’t just another love-song writer. His music questions and challenges the modern political climate. Rhys Lewis is an artist that is bringing to light the potential power and impact that political dialogue could have within music. He calls for a revival of musical activism, in a style reminiscent of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ with his song ‘Better Than Today’. During a chat with Rhys, he explained how the song was inspired by the election of Donald Trump in the USA. The singer said he was able to “empathise with both sides”, because every person votes for “what they believe is better for the future, we all have that in common, whether or not we agree with what that is”.
On the single ‘Better Than Today’, he sings “we’re all reaching for something, we’re all craving change, hoping tomorrow is better than today”. In Rhys’ opinion, “we need to recognise the same good intentions that we all have, of trying to hope for a better future, and not let that intention alienate and divide us’.
He compared his thoughts on the presidential election to that of the Brexit referendum. He stated that “we are all struggling for the same reasons, we are all in the same kind of fire” and to call a whole group of people “bigots or racists” doesn’t help the political situation to move forward. He hopes for a world where we can all unite, not in opinions but in hearing each other out, by trying to understand rather than ignore.
“This is a time where we need more than ever to be on the same team and to be more collective, more community based, and more understanding of each other”. In the face of global crisis and global warming, we must pull together… despite Brexit and despite Trump. His message of unity is simple, hopeful, and perhaps a tad unrealistic.
‘If I was Ed Sheeran I’d be like ‘I could change the sway of a national vote with my music, I could change the future’
– Rhys Lewis
Lewis spoke in length to me about his frustration towards mainstream superstars such as Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran and Adele. He argued that they do not use their platform, as the largest social influencers in the world, to convey key political messages and to become activists; “I don’t understand how there are so many global crises and no one with the biggest audiences are tackling them with art, with anything engaging other than ‘oh I’m doing this for Water Aid’, why are they not writing about this sh*t.” “If I was Ed Sheeran I’d be like ‘I could change the sway of a national vote with my music, I could change the future.”
That’s what Lewis is attempting to do: write songs about things that actually affect all of us, that we can all relate to, and feel passionate about. As he says “no one actually cares about how my heart got broken, but we can all relate to the fact that the planet we live on is dying.”
Lewis raised the issues of music label pressure on artists to be commercial enough, “to be Radio 1, not Radio 2” and how this affects which issues artists feel they are allowed to talk about; aware not to jeopardise their popularity. This means that music isn’t “as potent a vehicle anymore” to provide a political message, especially as people want to listen to music to escape from their problems in reality.
Let’s stop talking about the new hair extensions Ariana Grande is able to afford and start talking about the refugee crisis.
Lewis also references his icon Bob Dylan’s music and how he brought public attention to real-world issues like the Vietnam War. He says these kinds of powerful dialogues rarely occur these days within the music industry. Although, Lewis does praise artists like Stormzy who rapped the lyrics “Yo, Theresa May, where’s the money for Grenfell?”, sending a powerful message of anger to politicians in his BRIT performance in 2018. As well as praising Sam Fender’s work in discussing the tragically high rates of male suicide in today’s society in his song ‘Dead Boys’.
Rhys Lewis calls for more mainstream artists to be using their influence to make a change in political conversation and bringing these issues to the fore of public debate. Music can influence, empower, and unite the masses… so let’s stop talking about the new hair extensions Ariana Grande is able to afford and start talking about the refugee crisis.
Lewis is not wrapped up in the bubble of celebrity privilege. He is awake to ongoing global crises and political debates and he wants to use his talent in song-writing to try and voice disputes that are largely kept to the House of Commons. It is key to acknowledge the collective consciousness of the general public, and in voicing their concerns, musicians are empowering the people by producing music that we all feel a political and moral affiliation to.
With this in mind, Rhys Lewis has come to a point in his career and in his life where “just writing love songs isn’t enough for me, let alone my audience. With all the things that are going on in the world, I feel like it’s too self-gratifying to just write about your own emotion”.
Musicians should strive to be the voice of the people, especially consdiering that before the privileges of celebrity life, they were most likely one of the masses themselves.
Political movements could be perpetuated or catalysed by utilising the platforms that major super-star celebrities have available to them. If Ariana Grande cared about climate change as much as Greta Thunberg does, I’m pretty sure the school strikes could have been amplified tenfold and subsequently their impact on global politics too.
Musicians should strive to be the voice of the people, especially considering that before the privileges of celebrity life, they were most likely one of the masses themselves. They are not above political, environmental and social issues. Therefore, they should aim to represent the social-moral compass of the people, in the face of huge corporate and political power over legislation that affects everyone.
Rhys Lewis is currently working on a song about climate change, among other things, which will be released in his upcoming EP on the 26th of April. His new song ‘End Like This’ is out now.
Working his way up the industry ladder, Lewis is showing a crucial awareness of the nature of this particular beast, and the world around him. What music is to come will be much anticipated by many, but it will surely only be richer for its creator’s prescience in the social and political moment.