Marvin Gaye: Musical Protest


After reading Upton Sinclair’s protest The Jungle, exposing the horrendous conditions of many meatpacking factories in the 20th century, many protest writers came to mind. One that I was very interested in was Marvin Gaye . Marvin Gaye was one of R&B’s most talented artists. In 1971, Marvin Gaye wrote one of his chart topping songs, “What’s Going On”. This song was a strong personal protest of the periods biggest controversy, the Vietnam War. This song was meant to tell the world his views against the Vietnam War and his belief that there had to better way than sending soldiers into battle to solve problems. “What’s Going On” gave Marvin Gaye the opportunity to tell the world how he felt about the war and how it should be solved.

(Marvin Gaye- What’s Going On)

His anti-war anthem was released to make a statement to raise social consciousness and make the deaths so many felt by his immense audience. In the song, he wants people to understand how many lives were being taken for a cause most didn’t believe in. In the chorus, Gaye writes giving protesters a chance to be heard, not punished. The line “picket lines and picket signs, don’t punish me with brutality” signifies the peaceful protest against the war and pleads to let them have their opinions without worry of being quieted or attacked. The song was written to tell the government the war was wrong and there had to be more peaceful ways to solve a problem.


“What’s Going On” is an extremely powerful song. Even today, it still still evokes intense emotions when heard. Each verse displays reason why fighting is not the answer to the conflict. While the chorus shows Gaye’s view of the wat being pure chaos, repeating, “What’s going on…what’s going on”. Marvin Gaye is able to make the listener understand the sense of fear and disarray the soldiers must have been feeling. These simple words were meant to trigger our humanity and make us question if the war really should have been happening. Gaye’s goal for writing the song was to let the United States hear what considered most of the country’s views in a peaceful manner and attempt to make the government know that war was not the answer. Through his music and lyrics. Marvin Gaye made very powerful, yet peaceful political stand.



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