A List of Songs that Explain International Relations

For several years now, I’ve been slowly putting together a (semi-serious) list of songs that I think can help explain various IR concepts and theories.  Although it’s still a work in progress, I am now sharing it with the world.

A few opening disclaimers:

  • Any such list is obviously going to be highly idiosyncratic, so YMMV.  My main criteria for inclusion were: did I like the song, and did the song and/or music video make me think differently about the world.  My list skews heavily towards the United States; pop, rock, and rap; music made since 2000; and contains mostly (but not entirely) English language songs.  If my suggestions don’t do it for you, feel free to check out these two other “IR Playlists” by Michael Tierney and Stephen Walt, or feel free to come up with your own and send it to me!  As you’ll see, there’s a couple spots where I’m still looking for particularly good fits.
  • I’m linking to my preferred version of the songs on Youtube, but given the fleeting nature of music on Youtube, a lot of the links will go dead within a few weeks or months.  If a link is dead, try searching for the artist and song title using Youtube’s search engine.
  • For some of the songs (especially more recent ones) watching the official music video helps understand the message much better, whereas for others I think it’s mostly just the lyrics that matter.  I encourage you to watch both the music video and a lyrics video if you enjoy a given song.
  • Several of the songs have a great deal of profanity (I’m looking at you, Korn!), deal with painful topics in quite brutal ways, depict extreme violence in their music video, or might otherwise trigger strong emotions.  That is part of their point, so caveat auditor.  My listing a song here is not necessarily an endorsement of it.


[Still looking for a good example]


War” by Edwin Starr (1969)

Masters of War” by Bob Dylan (1963)


Happy Nation” by Ace of Base (1992)


[Still looking for a good example]


Running the World” by Jarvis Cocker (2006)


Guerrilla Radio” by Rage Against the Machine (2001)

Critical Theory:

They” by Jem (2004)

Imagine” by John Lennon (1971)

Where Is the Love?” by the Black Eyed Peas (2003)


If I Were a Boy” by Beyoncé (2008)


Earth Song” by Michael Jackson (1995)


Cambodia” by Kim Wilde (1981)

Travelin’ Soldier” by the Dixie Chicks (2002)

Zombie” by the Cranberries (1994)

Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)

A Chance for Peace” by Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes (1974)

Interesting Examples of Contemporary Militarism:

The Choir of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs’ cover of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” (2014)

The choral anthem of the Cyberspace Administration of China (2015)

Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)” by Toby Keith (2009)


“Hilltop” commercial (1971), for Coca-Cola, which proved so popular that its jingle was re-recorded as a full-length song

Korean commercial (c. 2006), featuring a remix of Pachelbel’s Canon in D (c. 1700) w/ Korean traditional instruments, beat-boxing, and break dancing, in order to sell television sets

Violence Within Nations:

Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People (2010)

Youth of the Nation” by P.O.D. (2001)

Violence Across Nations:

[Still looking for a good example]

Economic Inequality Within Nations:

I Will Buy You a New Life” by Everclear (1997)

Common People” by Pulp (1995)

Economic Inequality Across Nations:

Prayer of the Refugee” by Rise Against (2006)

Borders” by M.I.A. (2015)


Handlebars” by Flobots (2008)


Make It Bun Dem” by Skrillex & Damian Marley (2012)

Uprising” by Muse (2009)

Political Representation:

Give the People What They Want” by the O’Jays (1975)

Get Up Stand Up” by Bob Marley (1973)

International Negotiations:

Nobody Speak” by DJ Shadow (2016)

Soft Power:

“U.S. Boy” by Jena Lee (2010) [French lyrics here, or the music video gets the point across even if you don’t speak French]


Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd (1979)


Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” by They Might Be Giants (1990)

North-South Solidarity:

We Are The World” by USA For Africa (1985)

South-South Solidarity:

Hello India” by Sasi The Don (2014)

Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” by Shakira (2010)


Changes” by Tupac Shakur (1998)


Y’all Want a Single” by Korn (2003)

Please Use This Song” by Jon LaJoie (2014)

The Financialization of the Global Economy:

“R.M.I.” by MC Solaar (2001) [French lyrics here, music video with a good English translation here]


Born Free” by M.I.A. (2010)

The United Nations:

Jan Egeland” by Ylvis (2012) [with Egeland‘s reaction here (use the auto-translate closed captioning option)]

American Foreign Policy:

Political Science” by Randy Newman (1972)

National (In)Security:

Kenji” by Fort Minor (2005)

Nuclear Weapons:

“Neunundneunzig Luftballons” / “99 Luftballons” by Nena (1983)