When Lemonade premiered on HBO in April, it seemed like there was nothing Beyonc\u00e9 couldn\u2019t do. If she could make the poetry of Warsan Shire and the visual aesthetic of Julie Dash\u2019s majestic, difficult Daughters of the Dust the cultural event of the year, then surely she could achieve any feat she attempted. \u00a0 But Lemonade wasn\u2019t just a vindication of Beyonc\u00e9\u2019s influence. When a musician who\u2019d spent years carefully cultivating a \u201cflawless\u201d image felt secure enough to reveal her most vulnerable self in public, the larger implication was that American culture had finally reached a moment when women could be powerful without being perfect. The album\u2019s storyline traces its protagonist\u2019s road from betrayal to independence to reconciliation\u2014on her own terms. The visual imagery that accompanies the songs suggests that she finds strength in allying herself with other women. Although much of Lemonade is specific to black, female identity, there are parts of this story that could come straight out of Hillary Clinton\u2019s biography. So it made intuitive sense to see Beyonc\u00e9 embrace Hillary at a get-out-the-vote concert in Cleveland on November 5th. But it would become painfully clear, just a few days later, that this boundary-breaking year for women in the cultural sphere wouldn\u2019t also bring the election of our first female president. We don\u2019t often glimpse the limits of pop culture\u2019s power, but amid the shocked, terrified aftermath of Donald Trump\u2019s Electoral College victory came the realization that the heaps of political music released in 2016 didn\u2019t tip the scales against bigotry. Big-name musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Katy Perry hadn\u2019t just stumped for Clinton; dozens of others had written songs attacking Trump. Dave Eggers released 30 of them in 30 days, by artists like R.E.M., Death Cab for Cutie and Ani DiFranco. Multiple publications sifted out the best examples of this new subgenre, while Vulture published some \u201ctips for writing an effective anti-Trump song.\u201d By some definitions of \u201ceffective,\u201d no one succeeded, although only a few of the songs were truly awful. (Eminem\u2019s \u201cCampaign Speech\u201d and the Black-Eyed Peas\u2019 \u201cGrab\u2019m by the Pussy\u201d spring to mind.) The bigger problem was that, with the exception of YG and Nipsey Hussle\u2019s refreshingly blunt \u201cFuck Donald Trump,\u201d none really resonated, either. While all of these artists seemed to be acting on a genuine compulsion to align themselves with the right side of history, not one made an argument we hadn\u2019t already heard repeated ad nauseam on cable news or in the endless churn of online punditry. And it was hard to imagine that any musician with less red-state appeal than Taylor Swift, who remained notoriously mum about her vote despite plenty of popular curiosity, could actually change minds. If Trump voters didn\u2019t care that every reputable newspaper in the country had endorsed Clinton, what could a Sara Bareilles song commissioned by This American Life accomplish? https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/embed\/WkZ5e94QnWk In a country as polarized as ours, the only people singing along with liberal protest songs would never have voted for a spray-tanned demagogue in the first place. Which makes it easy to conclude that political pop music, plentiful though it may be, has lost its power. But protest songs (imperfectly defined, for clarity\u2019s sake, as songs intended to drive home a clear political point) weren\u2019t the only form of political music we heard in 2016. They\u2019re just the only kind we tend to assume is capable of effecting change. During the Vietnam War, protest songs that raged against world leaders or pleaded for peace became the gold standard of political music. We\u2019re still measuring the millennial generation\u2019s output against Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and the older folk singers, like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, they looked to for inspiration. Every few months, some new thinkpiece appears to scold young people for failing to produce the next \u201cMasters of War.\u201d This hand-wringing is an insult to the political music that already dominates the pop charts and thrives in the underground but barely resembles the polemical anthems that fueled the \u201860s. Instead of preaching, many of these songs and albums document the politicized lives of people Trump promised to oppress in service of making America great again. At least three of 2016\u2019s #1 charting albums\u2014Lemonade, Solange\u2019s A Seat at the Table and A Tribe Called Quest\u2019s We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service\u2014meditate on black identity. Tribe may be the only of these artists whose lyrics would work on protest signs, but in tracks like \u201cDon\u2019t Touch My Hair\u201d and \u201cFormation\u201d (a far bolder statement than co-signing Hillary), Solange and Beyonc\u00e9 used their personal experience to celebrate and vent frustrations about daily life as black women. Beyond the Billboard Top 40, Blood Orange\u2019s Freetown Sound situated itself within an ongoing Civil Rights Movement by weaving in the voice of other black artists, past and present. Helado Negro murmured about being \u201cYoung, Latin and Proud\u201d as though he were sharing a beautiful secret. Swet Shop Boys\u2019 \u201cT5\u201d recounted how the brown-skinned MCs \u201calways get a random check when rock the stubble.\u201d On her album Blood Bitch, Jenny Hval used menstruation as a metaphor for everything that\u2019s empowering and terrifying about being a woman. Mitski wrote a love song about how coming \u201cfrom different worlds\u201d can ruin a relationship. The queer punk duo PWR BTTM\u2019s single \u201cProjection\u201d summed up the isolating effects of perceived difference in the devastating lyric, \u201cmy skin isn\u2019t made for the weather.\u201d G.L.O.S.S. disposed of respectability politics with a hardcore EP titled Trans Day of Revenge, whose opening track exhorted members of their community to \u201cGive Violence a Chance,\u201d even as \u201cWe Live\u201d exalted in the way that community cares for its own. \u00a0\u00a0\u00a0\u00a0 More than any other album released this year, Moor Mother\u2019s Fetish Bones sounded like the kind of protest music that could actually resonate in the 21st century\u2014the heir to pained pre-hippie dispatches like \u201cStrange Fruit\u201d and \u201cMississippi Goddam.\u201d The noise, rapping and snatches of gospel on Camae Ayewa\u2019s sui generis debut evoked the cruelty of police violence and the righteous anger of the Black Lives Matter movement in the same breath. Rather than encouraging us to take to the streets, it made us feel like we were already there, which is one way of reminding people to stop fucking around on Spotify and start fighting. Embodied experience is crucial to this music, too. \u201cYou can see my dead body at the protest,\u201d Ayewa chants on \u201cDeadbeat Protest,\u201d accusing so-called allies of \u201ctrying to save my black life by fetishizing my dead life.\u201d https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/embed\/asYtTRfkbn8 There is a strain of cultural criticism that dismisses identity-centered art as \u201cboutique activism\u201d or some new form of narcissism (never mind that it isn\u2019t so new, and no one seemed to be complaining back when it was the Beatles making all those \u201cI\u201d\/\u201cme\u201d statements), often without bothering to differentiate between an album like Fetish Bones and, say, a disposable earworm about how dudes like your big butt. Like white, male writers\u2019 post-election pleas that the left give up identity politics, this is an argument that gravely underestimates the power of representation. Art may not constitute activism in and of itself, but the music of Blood Orange and Mitski and Jenny Hval is a refuge for the communities it represents. By rendering visible the experiences of everyone who\u2019s different from the straight, white men our future president panders to, it helps us survive. But it\u2019s also our best hope of reaching people who don\u2019t seem to care about anyone who doesn\u2019t look, or love, the way they do. As the same-sex marriage movement confirmed, the empathy we develop through exposure to those we perceive as different really can affect policy. For the 75% of white Americans who don\u2019t have a single non-white friend, albums like Lemonade and A Seat at the Table can be revelations. Instead of bombarding these listeners with opinions that would instantly alienate them, Beyonc\u00e9 and Solange do what the most effective political artists have always done: speak honestly about their own lives in a medium that is accessible enough to reach millions of people. It doesn\u2019t seem like a coincidence that these two albums, which combined the personal and the political in very different ways but both served as powerful counterpoints to white, male supremacy, are dominating music publications\u2019 \u201cbest of 2016\u201d lists, including SPIN's. If any kind of music has a chance of getting through to the other half of America, it\u2019s going to be music that makes them see the rest of us.