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People and Planet: Hozier captures essence of women under attack with new song ‘Swan Upon Leda’

Content warning: This article discusses violence and sexual violence.

Hozier has a long history of using his music to comment on social issues and politics. For instance, "Nina Cried Power," on his 2018 sophomore album "Wasteland, Baby!" is a protest song full of blues and gospel influences, in which he collaborates with Mavis Staples, a gospel singer who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The song recognizes the challenges faced by activist artists such as Bob Dylan, James Brown, BB King and Nina Simone, as well as their accomplishments.

"Moment's Silence (Common Tongue)" is a social commentary on powerful figures, specifically those in the church, and the frequent scandals of sexual abuse that plague those with less influence. Most famously, Hozier's breakout "Take Me To Church" protests homophobia in the Catholic church and the music video addresses the life-threatening danger of being queer in Russia.

On Oct. 7, Hozier released "Swan Upon Leda," which is noticeably different from his other politically charged songs. Hozier explained that the song was initially inspired by Egyptian journalist and author Mona Eltahawy's reference to global systems that control and endanger women as "the world's oldest form of occupation." 

Hozier said he was tracking it in the studio when the overturning of Roe v. Wade was announced, and he saw it as an opportunity to show solidarity. The song was released following the protests in Iran over the murder of Marsha Amini in the custody of the Iranian morality police.

There is typically a driving streak of disdain and anger in his protest songs, but "Swan Upon Leda" is softer, sadder and more sensitive. While the fight for bodily autonomy and women's rights is a fiery one worldwide, he provided space for sorrow instead of anger, as it has been expressed countless times in protest music.

For many women, alongside rage is deeply held powerlessness and fear, but one that runs so deep and heavy that it comes out as anger and frustration towards the entire situation: the men in charge, your personal experiences, your sadness. So many believe sadness equates to weakness, but Hozier embraces this in a way that is refreshingly cathartic for women who have felt forced to stifle their fear.

In typical Hozier auteur, the lyrics are beautifully abstract as he writes in metaphors and allusions. The song's title is a reference to Greek mythology, also a commonality in Hozier's music. "Swan Upon Leda" refers to the story of "Leda and the Swan," in which Zeus rapes Leda. 

One of the song's first lines is, "A crying child pushes a child into the night," likely referencing the banning of abortion in some states even in cases of rape and incest in children. Perhaps it refers to the 11-year-old Ohio girl that narrowly escaped being forced to give birth after being raped by a 26-year-old man multiple times. This line particularly resonates. 

Do you remember being 11? Could you imagine the physical and emotional pain of not only being repeatedly raped but then forced to give birth at 11?

Hozier ends the song with another poignant stanza: "The gateway of this world/ was still outside the reach of him/ Would never belong to angels/ had never belonged to men," referring to how religious institutions and men in power try as they might, will never be able to control women, the source of all life. 

As women everywhere are under attack, Hozier does an impeccable job of conveying how it feels, especially from a man. He has clearly been listening to women much more than any church official or politician. He once again expresses empathy that comes only with an undying love for humanity and willingness to understand, something we all should aspire to express and do more often.

Megan Diehl is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Have something to say? Tweet Megan @megandiehl02.

Meg Diehl

Assistant Opinion Editor

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