Review
Culture
Music
5 min read

Welcome to the revelation, good people

Mumford and Sons team up with Pharrell Williams. Belle Tindall unpacks their new track – Good People.
Two singers peform together. One in a white suit and stetson claps their hands. The other tilts the mic stand.
Pharrell Williams and Marcus Mumford perform Good People.

Listen to Good People

Whenever I bump into the familiar sounds of a Mumford & Sons song, it’s 2013 and they’re headlining the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. I can close my eyes and see the whole scene before me; it’s all trumpets and tweed. But when I take a moment, and home in on the lyrics, it’s a different scene that I see. There’s a story in the Bible where a man, Jacob, spends a night physically wrestling with God, it’s all dirt and elbows, the created grappling with the creator. And, occasionally, when listening to Mumford & Sons’ catalogue, I feel as though I’m watching that scene play out. I’m listening to souls laid bare, I’m witnessing people gripping the divine in the dirt. I get the sense that their lyrics have been born of a wrestling match, not a writing session; they’re crafted by people who are limping out of a tussle with truth.  

Mumford & Sons – Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett and Ted Dwane - seem to have largely grown out of their 2013 selves. But, if their new single is anything to go by, they haven’t grown out of wrestling their lyrics into existence.  

From the first line until its last, this song has but one message to proclaim: change, the redemptive kind, is at hand. 

Good People is the first track that they’ve released in five long years, and offered up in partnership with the mighty Pharrell Williams, it has been lorded as the collaboration that nobody saw coming. Speaking of the collaborative process, the band wrote that,  

‘...this song came together fast. Like, in a day. We haven’t relied on immediate instincts like that, really, since the very early days of our band. It has felt fast and loose and really, really fun.’ 

The additional presence of Native Vocalists, a six-piece choir hailing from Native American Tribes within the northern Great Plains, makes this track a mosaic of musical influences. But we should have expected this, Pharrell’s insatiable creative curiosity has taken him to some unexpected places, an alternative-folk song is merely his latest destination. What’s more, it is a destination that he has come to by way of gospel music, and it shows, both in style and lyrical substance.  

Of course, the song is peppered with the band’s signature religious language – there’s plenty of references to night and day, light and dark – all of which could have slid off a page of the Bible. Plus, Jesus is outright quoted in the second verse. It’s pretty obvious that the Biblical authors have their fingerprints all over this intriguing song. 

 But that’s still not what has caught my eye. Not quite.  

Rather, it’s the message that this song is announcing, and where such a message might just derive from. Because, from the first line until its last, this song has but one message to proclaim: change, the redemptive kind, is at hand. Things are about to get better.  

The chorus goes like this:  

good people been down for so long 
(Welcome to the revelation)  

and now it's like the sun is rising 
(Welcome to the revelation)  

good people been down for so long 
(Welcome to the revelation)  

and now I see the sun is rising 

It is the inevitability of this change, which is emphasised over and over again, that has me so intrigued. This change, the details of which are masterfully omitted (meaning this song can exist as a hopeful meta-anthem, free from the confines of prescriptive context), is as unavoidable as the sunrise. This change cannot be hindered, just as the breaking of the dawn cannot be hindered. One can stare at the midnight sky, enveloped by darkness, and still know with complete assurance that the sun will return. Morning will come; it is a certainty, which is an incredibly rare thing.  

Subsequently, this song isn’t a call to arms, Pharrell’s backing-vocal response to Marcus Mumford’s words is not ‘welcome to the revolution’, but ‘welcome to the revelation’. It is a call, not to make the change happen, but to witness it happen – pointing its audience not toward action, but toward hope. Hope in a redemption that is inevitable and a prevailing goodness that is written into the fabric of reality. It will come, it will be. And this subtle, yet salient, detail places this song in a very specific category of hopeful anthems. It sits with the likes of:   

Sam Cooke, who in 1964, declared that: 

 ‘it’s been a long time coming, but I know that a change is gonna’ come. Oh, yes it will.’  

Or Lauryn Hill, who wrote in 1998 that, 

 ‘everything is everything. What is meant to be, will be. After winter, must come spring. Change, it comes eventually’. 

These songs, written in the middle of the night, speak of the coming dawn.  

Which got me thinking, what taught us to do that? What taught us to believe that if it’s not good, it’s not the end? That if it’s not redeemed, it’s not over?  What taught Sam Cooke, amid such injustice and violence, to have such a defiantly hope-filled message to declare? What taught Lauryn Hill to simultaneously lament over the struggles faced by black, inner-city, communities in America, and yet affirm that ‘after winter, must come spring’? And what has taught Mumford & Sons, and Pharrell Williams for that matter, to announce that after such a ‘long night’, they can see that 'the sun is rising’

On what grounds can we possibly believe such a thing to be true? 

It's a big question. Perhaps one of the biggest. And while I’m weary of declaring that I have the answer (at least, on anyone’s behalf but my own), I certainly have a theory.  And I feel relatively confident putting it forward, considering his words pop up in the second verse of Good People.  

My theory, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Jesus; the ‘light that shines in the darkness’, the one that we’re told darkness has not, and cannot, ‘overcome’. The one whose entrance into the world was, as the Biblical story goes, as preventable as the dawn (these themes sound familiar to you?). The one who, for thousands of years, has had communities of people looking into the darkness and declaring ‘I beg to differ’.  

My theory is that Jesus taught us to believe redemption to be true. The things he did, the things he said, the things he fulfilled, but more than that – I think it is his death, and ultimately, his re-established life. I sense, in these songs, a hint toward the great story which underpins every other story. I hear the reverberations of Jesus’ resurrection in these lyrics.  

I’m just not convinced that we’d be so sure that redemption will get the final say if something, or rather someone, hadn’t shown such to be the case. And so, I suppose what I'm ultimately suggesting is that any 'revelation' that this song intends to welcome us into has a distinctive flavour of Jesus about it. 

I wonder whether Marcus, Ben, Ted and Pharrell would really believe that if something isn’t good, it isn’t over, had Jesus not taught them to.  

Watch Good People Live

Good People was first performed live at Pharrell Williams' Men’s Fall-Winter 2024 fashion show for Louis Vuitton. Williams is the creative director at the fashion house. Nativist Vocals perform first, followed by Williams and Mumford & Sons.

Review
Culture
Music
1 min read

Beyoncé’s breaking barriers

Cowboy Carter sees the star crack her whip in the temple of the music industry.

Krish is a social entrepreneur partnering across civil society, faith communities, government and philanthropy, He founded The Sanctuary Foundation.

Side by side, two rodeo riders on horses trot toward the camera. One is Beyonce, the other a cowboy
Beyoncé at the Houston Rodeo.
Beyoncé.com

I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat with flashbacks of one terrible swimming lesson at school. I had accidentally forgotten to forget my kit, so was forced to face not only the freezing water, but the spouting of ignorant prejudice from my teacher.  

“Kandiah, you’re useless,” he said, as I heaved myself out of the pool at the end of the lesson. “Although I guess it’s not your fault you can’t float like the white children. Your bones are heavier. Look at the Olympics – you never see black and Asian swimmers, do you?” 

I opened and closed my mouth a few times, like the fish out of water I suppose I was, but inside I was seething.  

Being told I couldn’t do something made me all the more determined to do it. Back in I jumped.  

Last week, in another splash aimed at proving people wrong, Beyoncé’s magnificent album “Cowboy Carter” became the first album by a black woman to top the country charts. 

On her Instagram feed she said: “the criticisms I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to propel past the limitations that were put on me.” 

It was a brave move. Back in 2016, she had received heated and hate-filled reactions when she performed her song Daddy Issues at the 50th Country Music Association Awards with the country music group Chicks, formerly known as the Dixie Chicks. Many country music fans were outraged, calling it an act of cultural appropriation. One response on social media put it starkly: “SHE DOES NOT BELONG!!”.  

But as a Texan who had been brought up around country music, Beyoncé disagreed. She would spend the next five years planning her response. Cowboy Carter proves her country credentials beyond all doubt. It’s not only about the music. It also does three important things that show the world what can be done when faced with barriers of prejudice and ignorance. 

She honours the past

The album is clearly an act of tribute to trailblazing country artists before her. Beyoncé included notable guest appearances and feature tracks and took the unusual step of sending flowers to all who had inspired her.  

Beyoncé sent flowers to Mickey Guyton, the first black female artist to be nominated for a Grammy Award in the Country category. She also sent flowers to K. Michelle and featured Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer and Reyna Roberts on the Cowboy Carter track Blackbird, a song that Paul McCartney wrote as a response to the case of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American schoolchildren initially barred from attending a previously racially segregated school in Arkansas. It took the direct intervention of then President Dwight Eisenhower in 1957 to make it possible for these children to attend their school. She also included guest appearances from country music royalty Dolly Parton and Linda Martell, who both introduce songs on the album. Dolly’s introduction to Beyoncé’s reworking of Jolene is particularly poignant: “Hey Queen B it’s Dolly P”.  

The song Jolene sticks faithfully to the guitar riff from the original, but the words and the tone of this song are completely different. Dolly’s original Jolene was begging another woman not to take her man from her. But Beyoncé will have none of that. She is full of threat and menace:

“I’m warnin’ you, don’t come for my man… don’t take the chance because you think you can.”  

As Beyoncé pays her dues to the greats that have gone before, she also offers a very different picture. She can recognise the past, and yet not be imprisoned by it. She can appreciate those who have laid the foundations for a new era, unbound by cruel stereotypes.  

She challenges the present 

We don’t have to look far to see the way that western society is splintering. It is becoming harder to find common ground, harder to move from one tribe to another.  Beyoncé’s album is political in that it is deliberately breaking down a wall and smashing a division. She refuses to accept that there are no-go areas for people of colour. The album feels like Beyoncé’s famous baseball bat from Lemonade, but this time it isn’t smashing cars, but preconceptions and prejudices instead. 

There’s anger in this record. The first song is “American Requiem” and includes the line:  

“They used to say I spoke ‘too country’./ And the reaction came,/ said I wasn’t country ’nough / If that ain’t country / I don’t know what is?” 

Full of confidence and rage she asks over a bed of country music guitar chords:  

“Can you hear me? / Can you stand me?”  

Beyoncé does not disguise the ironies. The fresh anger and challenge weaves into classic forms and tropes of country music. The artist that some wanted to exclude from the genre tops the charts. The pop icon becomes an iconoclast.  The smashing of divisions makes way for the building of something new.   

She opens a door for the future

It is within living memory of many that black people were prohibited from sitting at the front of a public bus or drinking from the same water fountain as white people. Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter is not just a smash hit it is a smash down of the boundaries of genre that had excluded her and others. With this boundary smashed the opportunity is opened for others too.  

For example, there was a recent stand-out performance at the Grammy awards watched by millions around the world – the duet between the country star Luke Combs and Tracy Chapman. Luke, a young white man, is part of a new generation of country singers with a huge following. The legendary black artist Tracy Chapman recently turned 60. The joyful performance was particularly touching as the two of them looked genuinely delighted to be singing together. The video went viral and lead to a huge uplift in Chapman’s sales. The song Fast Car rocketed to the top of the charts some 36 years after it was first released.  
 
Cowboy Carter is Beyoncé using her voice and talent to push back against prejudice and push forward to a new era. She is cracking her whip in the temple of the music industry. She is driving out those who have commandeered the space that rightly belongs to those from any and all backgrounds.  She is righteously angry at the injustice. She is declaring that country music be reclaimed as a meeting place for all nations to enjoy.  

When Jesus unleashed the whip against the tables of the moneychangers in the temple who were excluding the non-Jews the space rightly belonged to, he fiercely declared: “My father’s house is to be a house of prayer for all the nations.” He was not only breaking the barriers of the past but ushering in a new future, a future where everyone could gather together before God on equal footing. Jesus would eventually die on a cross to ensure this free access to God was available to everyone - wherever they were from, whatever they had done and whatever they looked like.  

I welcome this album by Beyoncé in that spirit of challenging prejudices, breaking down barriers, and clearing the decks for a new future equally available to all.  

If only I could have whipped myself into shape, I believe I could have been the Cowboy Carter of the swimming world forty years ago.  

 

Beyoncé in her own words

“Ain’t got time to waste, I got art to make/ I got love to create on this holy night/ They won’t dim my light, all these years I fight.”  

16 Carriages 

“Say a prayer for what has been / We'll be the ones that purify our father's sins / American Requiem / Them old ideas (yeah) / Are buried here (yeah) / Amen (amen) 

 Amen