The potential for music to effect social change, or at least to be a meaningful catalyst for it, was one of the more salient takeaways of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' performance of "Same Love" at the 2013 Grammys. From the antebellum South to the cultural revolution of the 1960s and beyond, music has agitated the national consciousness, shaped public perception and directly affected the lives of millions.
But can independent artists performing cover versions of mainstream hits have the same capacity for affecting lives? A new collaboration by an emerging pop/rock band and a Top 20 Billboard recording artist suggests they can.
NYC-based indie band Fancy Reagan recently released a cover of A Great Big World's "Say Something" featuring singer/songwriter Kelly King. All proceeds from the recording, which is available for download on iTunes, benefit the Ali Forney Center, the nation's largest and most comprehensive housing program for homeless LGBTQ youth.
LGBTQ teen homelessness is an often-overlooked aspect of the national struggle for equality. Of the nearly 2 million teens affected by homelessness each year, an estimated 40 percent of them identify as LGBTQ. The mission of the Ali Forney Center is "to protect [them] from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood."
For Fancy Reagan frontman Sean Michael Murray, it's an issue that's close to everyone in the band:
Some have gay and lesbian relatives and we all have gay friends. We have seen firsthand the struggles they have gone through to gain acceptance, not just in society at large or with their families but being able to accept themselves and be comfortable in their own skin.
The track and accompanying music video have garnered a lot of attention. As of this writing, the video had more than 48,000 views on YouTube with an average of nearly 3,500 new views each day. And it's not hard to understand why.
If the original recording, which featured an uncommonly restrained Christina Aguilera, struck a subdued and almost mournful emotional tone, Fancy Reagan's "Say Something" pulls no punches. The understated, desolate piano of its predecessor still haunts, but here it bookends a stirring rock narrative -- once the stuff of great power ballads now decidedly and disappointingly absent from much of today's popular music.
Soaring vocals and tight harmonies also punctuate this version, which makes grand use of Murray's impressive range and agility and particularly of King's impeccable mix and trademark whistle-tone register.
This is the first collaboration between the two vocalists, but it needn't be the last. The duo, romantic partners in life, have instruments as well matched as any of the better-known pop/rock collaborators that have preceded them, and the band has a robust complement in King's versatility.
I obviously have a huge fight in the LGBTQ equality battle. We ultimately felt [the Ali Forney Center] was a perfect fit for our overall message of tolerance and anti-bullying content... The struggle that LGBTQ youth faces is devastating.
The project was produced entirely in-house, according to Murray. The track was arranged/produced/recorded/mixed by keyboardist Jason Krebs, and the video was directed/shot/edited by bassist Bobby Kay.
Many prominent and successful musical artists serve as straight allies and advocates for LGBTQ issues through their creative work and activism, and the value of that work cannot be overstated. But there is something especially significant about up-and-coming artists devoting the full scope of their talent and limited resources to the service of a dramatically underserved community of children.
"It's important to us to recognize we're all equals and to do our part, however little, to help," Murray said. "Even if it's just through raising awareness."