Cult of Personality – Living Colour

Everybody is susceptible to following a charismatic leader. A few times every century, time and time again, a major issue of some sort will occur — whether a revolution in Russia, a thirst for the end of British imperialism in India, civil rights movements, or the Cold War — heating up until conflict is just about ready to boil over. No matter what the situation, the story is always the same. Someone, whether a humanitarian or an opportunist, will take charge of the situation and direct the needs and desires of the people towards a cause. And because the people believe that this person can give them what they desire, whole nations will follow a charismatic leader to the ends of the earth, even if it turns out that their interests were never truly with the people. It is those that see a need and fulfill it (or at least claim to) that bring about change in the world, for better or for worse, and are written down in history textbooks as benevolent champions and liberators or as megalomaniacal tyrants and oppressors.


Today I venture away from my usual terrain of 60’s and 70’s music into the 80’s and 90’s to discuss “Cult of Personality”, signature song of the band Living Colour. Their lineup at this time includes Corey Glover on lead vocals, Will Calhoun on drums, Muzz Skillings on bass, and Vernon Reid shredding on the guitar. This New York-based band dabbled in numerous genres, leading many people to call them the pioneers of funk-metal (yes there is such thing). Their lyrics are loaded with all sorts of political and societal messages, anything from criticizing commercialism to protesting racism. With its heavy, driving riffs coupled with punchy, in-your-face lyrics, “Cult of Personality” is no exception.

“Look in my eyes, what do you see?

The cult of personality

I know your anger, I know your dreams

I’ve been everything you want to be

I’m the cult of personality”

One cannot be a charismatic leader if there is no one who wants to follow you. The most influential leaders in history who have had the greatest followings have somehow made themselves appealing to the masses. A leader recognizes what the people want. By showing people that they can give them what they want, leaders gain support and loyalty. If someone truly has the answers to your problems, then he or she is a hero. A true champion of the people. Not everyone has the concerns of the public in mind, however, when they rise to power riding upon the support of their followers. If ambition is the driving force behind a person’s actions, they will use the fact that they “know your anger” and “your dreams” against you. A leader who knows what people desire and become “everything you want to be” all of a sudden has a personal army that will blindly do his bidding at whatever cost. A dangerous leader appears in the form of a servant, offering the people what they want most, but in the end he may have the people serving him.


“Like Mussolini and Kennedy

I’m the cult of personality

The cult of personality

The cult of personality”

Throughout the song, the names of two recognizable political figures will appear side by side, juxtaposed to each other, one with a negative connotation and the other a positive. This is done intentionally to show that all of the most influential figures throughout history — both good and bad — have successfully utilized the cult of personality, which is actually a political/psychological term used to describe the use of media and propaganda to gain support. All leaders, whether their intentions are good or evil, have to get their messages out somehow if they want people to support them.

Mussolini and Kennedy

“Neon lights, a Nobel Prize

Then a mirror speaks, the reflection lies

You don’t have to follow me

Only you can set me free”

The leader has used the bright “neon lights” of the media and flashed his credentials at you. “A mirror speaks” refers to the fact that the potential leader has shown you what he believes you want. Now it is all up to you. Living Colour reminds the listener that you can choose follow this person, or you can choose not to. This decision is what makes or breaks the candidate, because a leader is nothing without followers.

voting ballot

The choice is yours.

“I sell the things you need to be

I’m the smiling face on your T.V.

I’m the cult of personality

I exploit you still you love me

I tell you one and one makes three

I’m the cult of personality”

Unfortunately, it is sometimes those with bad intentions that rise to power. Behind the benevolent facade, the leader you put your faith and trust in may actually be manipulating you. Slowly, people are reeled in — first they gain the public’s approval, then its support, then its loyalty, and then suddenly people are willing to go to extreme measures for the leader they have grown to love. Over and over, whole civilizations fall into this trap. Even when it becomes blatantly obvious that something is wrong, people will do nothing because all they see is “the smiling face on your T.V.” Even today, when most of the world is considered to be run on the free will of the people, there are still countries in which the citizens are fed lies to keep an oligarchy or single dictator in power.


The media knows what you want, and it is willing to give it to you… For a price.

North Korea2

“Like Joseph Stalin and Gandhi

I’m the cult of personality

The cult of personality

The cult of personality”

Here it is again, two completely different people with completely different sets of ethics and goals. And yet both can be considered members of the cult of personality. Stalin lead the Russian people to believe that he had a plan for a society far superior to the failed reign of the late tsarist regime. Ghandi’s fasting and salt march were both bold campaigns that gripped the media, despite being completely pacifist in nature. In spite of their differences, both Stalin and Ghandi had one thing in common: loyal followers who were willing to do anything for their cause.

shepherd leading sheep

What can the shepherd do without his sheep?

“Neon lights a Nobel Prize

A leader speaks, that leader dies

You don’t have to follow me

Only you can set you free”

Once more, the listener is reminded of his/her free will. The message that the final line conveys  is obvious yet insightful. “Only you can set you free” means that surely as the people have the power to give a leader power, they can take also take it away. If the oppressor no  longer has the followers to enforce his policies, he has no power. We are our own liberators. If we want to rid ourselves of oppression, we must make a stand.


“You gave me fortune

You gave me fame

You gave me power in your own god’s name

I’m every person you need to be

Oh, I’m the cult of personality

I’m the cult of, I’m the cult of, I’m the cult of, I’m the cult of

I’m the cult of, I’m the cult of, I’m the cult of, I’m the cult of personality”

As human beings, we are all vulnerable to blind loyalty. “Cult of Personality” is not discouraging the support of those in authoritative positions, but rather warning us to be cautious of who we give our support to. We have the power to raise a person into positions of greater status, so let’s make sure that we are empowering the Ghandis and the Martin Luther Kings, not the Stalins and Kim Jung Uns. By being aware and informed of the occurrences in the world, people can be trusted to make these decisions. Do not just let the media drive your decision making, as appealing as it may be. To have unique and individual thoughts is a beautiful thing, and it is what keeps the human race from falling into the clutches of tyrants and dictators for eternity. It is up to you now. Look to yourself, not the media, when it comes to decision making, because it is your own cult of personality you should be following.

living colour2


One thought on “Cult of Personality – Living Colour

  1. Reblogged this on MyGradeDependsOnThis and commented:
    The blogs that I love to read are the ones that present an issue, and then provide a great way to deal with that issue, and how it ties back into our own lives. When I write about an issue that relates to our own lives, I approach it straight up. What I really like in this blog is that the author finds a song that advocates the issue, and and then the author analyzes it to present the subject, then make it meaningful. The author presents the issue which is known as the cult of personality. The author analyzes the song to explain that a cult of personality can be used by anyone from leader of an activist group to a dictator. What I took from this post was that we as humans have the choice and free will to make our own decisions. We should as humans make the right decision. We should condemn those who blindly follow a leader whose only goal is his own greed, and we should be the one who stands up against them. Everyone has the ability to be a leader, but not many people can be a good leader. But I know for a fact, that every sane man or woman has the capability to make the right decision, of their own free will. So do the right thing, and check out this post.


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