How Songwriters Criticize By Creating

“My name was in the newspaper in my home town.

Yeah, they ruined my reputation because I didn’t bow down”

I’m a big fan and believer in the idea of criticizing by creating. There’s plenty to criticize in our world. But there’s probably something a bit skewed in our ratio of criticism-without-action to actually-doing-something-to-improve-your-situation.

I came across a particular song in my Spotify rotation that I thought it was a pretty good story of how a songwriter turned a personal injustice with a local police department into a personal win. “F*** the Po-Po” is the story of how Corey Smith ended up in jail and featured in his hometown’s newspaper for saying “f***” to an over-aggressive cop who pulled over him and his wife at a roadblock.

The police department later dropped the charges because it’s, well, not illegal to say that sort of thing around a cop. But they kept on harassing drivers like Smith around town for arbitrary power flexing and fine collection, so he decided to write a song about it.

NSFW and NSFG (Not Safe for Government) language in this video, kids.

Smith could have spent a lot of time complaining about it to his friends or going to city hall meetings. He could have spent a lot of time complaining about libel or suing the local newspaper for ruining his reputation. He could have talked his friends’ ears off to gain their sympathy. He could have indulged in self-destructive behavior.

Instead, he wrote a hit song.

This song gives people a lot of pleasure. It highlights something which we all recognize. It’s a pretty non-divisive message (OK, maybe for an anti-authoritarian like me, this is a little on the mild side) about standing up for your rights. There’s piss and vinegar in it, but little I would call hate. It’s catchy as hell.

The cops got to keep this guy in jail for one night. He wrote a song which hundreds of people sing along with him every night. No one’s questioning Smith’s side of the story any more. He won.

Corey Smith: 1. Corrupt cops: 0.

Songwriters get it. Creating something great is one of the most honest ways to process negative emotion and move past it. Generally, I’d say that I hope your motivation for creativity isn’t centered on avenging yourself, but doing creative work is not a bad way to get in your own last word and flip a narrative of defeat on its head.


James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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