Best privacy songs of 2021

2021: a year in which artists from all over the world wanted to sing against surveillance capitalism, chant GDPR-inspired protest songs, and write love songs to hidden cameras. Here is a selection of their best efforts to capture the surveillant zeitgeist and/or counter privacy invasions, for all of us to enjoy, think, dance, or sing along.

  1. Evan Greer ‘Surveillance capitalism‘: ‘Once consent was manufactured, now it’s harvested for clicks – algorithms make decisions, filter bubbles make us sick’: the message is clear and the video makes it even clearer, before ending with the slogan ‘Become ungovernable’. A great song from the album with the best title of the year, ‘Spotify is surveillance‘. It is.
  2. Radio Row ‘Track and Trace‘ [Bandcamp] This excellent track from Sydney’s Radio Row does not have a video, but it is also concerned with surveillance capitalism (in a broad sense: ‘your information gives us control, from Amazon to Interpol‘, they say), plus it includes some Covid-related data processing references, just like it’s 2021. A hit.
  1. Magdalena Bay ‘Secrets (Your fire)‘: A retro delight about digital intimacy, or, according to the official sources, ‘interconnectivity, privacy, and digital anxiety‘. On fire.
  2. Trusty Bench Boys ‘There’s one I in Microsoft Teams‘ [Bandcamp] The recording of this one is rather lo-fi, but a reference to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in your lyrics can compensate everything. ‘There’s one I in Microsoft Teams, and it’s always watching you’, they sing, before adding that ‘it stores your Azure Active Directory data in America, where the GDPR and your individual rights do not apply’, and much more. Also very touching, the final verse: ‘You’re on fucking mute, Annabelle’.
  3. Modest Mouse ‘Transmitting receiving‘ [YouTube] Computers and drones are explicitly quoted in this song which could be about something like the Internet of Things, or perhaps just about the feeling of being constantly observed – Modest Mouse’s lead singer and songwriter Isaac Brock has talked about being stalked by different individuals, and also about being the subject of gang stalking, not to mention NSA surveillance.
  1. GLOR1A ‘Sad surveillance’: A track taken from the ‘Metal’ mini-album, for which the artist GLOR1A created a ‘rebel alter ego, built to shock society and ask difficult questions about our relationship with technology, race, gender and class and how technology intersects with the black and femme existence‘. Produced by Ikonika, the track is clearly trying to tell us something about being tracked.
  2. Virginia Wing ‘I’m holding out for something‘ [YouTube] This is the opening song of their album ‘Private LIFE‘, which explores privacy somehow as both protection and (self-)deception (‘How many walls can hold your unusual appetite? If you could list the ways that you hide from your desires‘). Virginia Wing also published this year ‘MORE PRIVACY‘, which helped to collect funds for Sisters Uncut, a feminist protest group fighting against domestic violence – and ‘MORE PRIVACY’, the song, echoes the lyrics of ‘I’m holding out for something’.
  3. Marcus Gad meets Tamal ‘Brave new world’ [YouTube]: About a brave new world with facial recognition, in reggae mode. ‘What about an AI come a take the world over?‘ is the question, or one of them.
  4. Ariel Pink ‘Privacy’ [YouTube] This is not exactly a 2021 song, but this year saw the reissue of the double album ‘Scared famous / FF’, in which ‘Privacy’ was originally featured – before being covered by John Maus ‎in 2018 (cf. ‘Addendum‘). 20 years later, the lyrics still ring true: ‘Headphones on tightly, privacy, privacy! Woo I’m happy alone, no one can know me, or think that they know what I’m all about, I can’t live without privacy, privacy!’.
  1. Systemabsturz ‘Daten daten daten‘: Systemabsturz, self-defined as a Datenschutz-Elektropunk-Band, continue their exploration of modern life (remember last year’s ‘Staatstrojaner‘), now with a fun but at the same time dark celebration of data sharing and profiling.
  2. Matthew E. White & Lonnie Holley ‘I’m not tripping / Composition 8‘: [YouTube] A quite tripping composition about living in the digital age, which seems to try to tell us something about computer technology management playing with our brains, if you pay attention.
  3. Yelawolf x DJ Muggs ‘Privacy ft. Del The Funky Homosapien & DJ Paul‘ [YouTube] Anti-surveillance hip hop at its best: ‘All I want is some privacy’, nigga, get the fuck away from me’.
  4. MESH ‘CIA mind control’ [Bandcamp] A great little punk-rock song about the government scanning brains.
  5. Tin Fingers ‘Privacy’ [Soundcloud]: A gently melancholic dialogue with a camera.
  1. Cadence Weapon ‘On me (feat. Manga Saint Hilare and Strict Face)‘: CCTV, VPNs, Google, facial recognition (& bias) explained, and much more. One thing is for sure: they are on him.
  2. Boyracer ‘Digital friends’ [Bandcamp] Digital friends remember all the things you try to forget. Digital friends, they let you down in the end. Listen to Boyracer because they always knew best.
  3. The Mind ‘Surveillance’ [Bandcamp] It could be that the singer is singing about terabytes of fame, and wearing surveillance like a costume. The track is taken from the album ‘Open Up The Window and Leave Your Body and it is a bit floating, in a good way.
  4. Matter ‘Data’ [Bandcamp] Back to Zuboff, this time with a surveillance-capitalism-inspired electronic concept album for the always solid Ant Zen label. Read more, and check for instance also ‘Algorithm‘, here.
  5. Human Impact ‘Recognition‘ [YouTube] Human Impact are fronted by Unsane frontman Chris Spencer, and featuring Jim Coleman (Cop Shoot Cop), Chris Pravdica (Swans) and Phil Puleo (Cop Shoot Cops/Swan) – mentioning all this in case you wouldn’t recognise them in the video because of the quickly overlapping images. The lyrics say inter alia ‘Optimize! Humanize! Recognize!’.
  1. TerryTheVoice ‘Under Surveillance‘. TerryTheVoice is Nigerian Terrence Odenigbo. According to the text accompanying the video, ‘Terry’s hope is that ‘Under Surveillance’ sheds further light on this evil and brings about accountability and an end the impunity and brutality being endured by the Nigerian youth’.
  2. Snail Mail ‘Valentine’ [YouTube] Surveillance is not the main theme of this song, but it includes the fundamental question ‘Those parasitic cameras, don’t they stop to stare at you?’.
  3. Shook ‘System’ [Bandcamp] Shook’s album ‘System‘ has a variety of songs about a system being in control (while we are not), including this one and others like ‘Data‘. Don’t miss the accompanying videos.
  4. Lambert Windges ‘Watching me (watching me) [Bandcamp] Somebody is always watching Lambert Windges, somewhere in Düsseldorf, and maybe they have a point.
  5. Backspace ‘Surveillance is like centipede’s feet’ [Bandcamp] Chinese pop with interesting lyrics – in Chinese, but the translation is available here.
  6. Isolation Berlin ‘Private Probleme‘ [YouTube]: Isolation Berlin are from Berlin, and they have their own private problems they don’t really want to talk about.
  7. Hollow Sinatra ‘My favorite hierarchy‘ [YouTube]: A dance-oriented track asking you to ‘look up at the camera’s height’ because ‘it looks down at you‘. Its introduction on Bandcamp refers to ‘data collection‘ and ‘tech giants in court’. There’s even some reference to the metaverse. All powerfully relevant.
  8. Cochonne ‘KGB’ [Bandcamp] At some point somebody shouts ‘Social control!‘. She does not seem to like it at all.
  9. Katie Dey ‘Data (Tomberlin cover)’ [YouTube] You might remember last year’s ‘Data‘, a romantic song about data and love. Here comes a cover, with even more feeling.
  10. Collistar ‘Surveillance Era’ [YouTube] A dusky reflection on the current generation.
  11. Composer 4 ‘Data Protection Directive‘ [Bandcamp] Somebody still remembers the Data Protection Directive.
  12. Soaps ‘Total surveillance’ [YouTube] Who needs money or anything else when you can have great fun recording your own Suicide-like surveillance song and film an accompanying video at home, with almost nothing.
  13. Partiboi69 ‘Feed Me Data‘ [YouTube] Data-hungry floppy disks and some concentrated 80s vulgarity, in party mode.
  14. Amythyst Kiah ‘Fancy drones (fracture me)’ [YouTube] Imagine if we were just fancy drones, part of a bigger machine, which is like about to be broken.
  15. Porcelain Lovecraft ‘Surveillance theater’ [Bandcamp] A band called Porcelain Lovecraft had to have some psychedelic tendencies, and they do. This track floats around multiple moods to conclude that ‘Privacy’s for sale (…), agencies terrorizing the citizens (…) that they’re infantilizing (…), data’s (the) Holy Grail (…) for companies subsidizing (…) subconscious media that they’re sexualizing’, among many other things.
  16. Vor die Hunde ‘Irgendwas mit Daten‘ [Bandcamp] German grindcore in German, with lyrics about data synthesis as a lucrative research field and feeding the algorithms to send you ads from Orion. In German.
  17. Binalog Frequency, ‘Biometric authentication’ [Bandcamp] An instrumental about biometric technology, followed on its album by a song about ‘Robots‘. From Greece.
  18. Viagra Boys ‘Secret canine agent’ [YouTube] A song about a secret canine agent.
  19. Grand Invincible ‎’Surveillance capitalism’ [Bandcamp] Yes, more about surveillance capitalism. This time in the shape of an instrumental with a quote from Ned Beatty speech as Arthur Jensen in the 1976 movie ‘There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.’
  20. Bocca ‘Privacy capitalism’ [Bandcamp] Yes, now this would be privacy capitalism (?).
  21. Tuesday ‘Datenschutz (The class of 1986) – Censored Version‘ [Bandcamp] The interesting case of a band called Tuesday who recorded a song with the phone numbers of pupils, and then remixed it in an attempt to be compliant with data protection law.
  22. Rise Against ‘The Numbers‘ [YouTube] Should you rage against the machine or rise against the numbers. I don’t know. The song is slightly predictable but the video does try to warn everybody against mass surveillance.
  23. Mary Everhart ‘Peace and privacy’ [YouTube] A comforting blues from this blues woman who published in 2021 about staying at home and telling you it’s really none of your business, and your facts are wrong.
  24. Radiax, Swift ‘CCTV[Bandcamp] Representing Hong-Kong, and proclaiming that their sound is universal.
  25. YULLOLA ‘Is it love or a pyramid scheme‘ [Bandcamp] A song about love or a pyramid scheme, including the sentence ‘Take it slow, before we feel like the Truman Show’.
  26. Tony Shhnow ‘Privacy‘: [Soundcloud] ‘I roll exotic up so I don’t get anxiety, I don’t even feel no more, some days I just want privacy’. That’s it.
  27. Near Tears ‘Love under surveillance‘ [YouTube] This one could be about algorithmic love, or just plain stalking.
  28. Anti-Trust ‘No Privacy‘ [Bandcamp] ‘All the information it’s right up there online, opening up a world hurt for computer crime, research your life, and spy on neighbor Sam, who’s got his eye on you with his digi-cam…’. Big Brother is laughing, they say, and they aren’t.
  29. Jane Weaver ‘Circles of privacy’ A delicate extra track in the bonus section of a special ‘Flock’ issue.
  30. L.O.T.I.O.N. Multinational Corporation ‘Unsecure network’ [Bandcamp] ‘I was the top programmer in the NSA, I’ve placed wire taps all across the land, I know your personal data like the back of my hand’: L.O.T.I.O.N. Multinational Corporation bring fiction to another – darker – level.
  31. Mother Nature ‘TREEHUGGAZ‘ [YouTube live] Is this really about privacy, I am not sure, but they sing ‘privacy my policy‘ and it sounds alright.

For more songs, check the Best Privacy Songs of 2020, the  Best Privacy Songs of 2019, the Best Privacy Songs of 2018, or the more comprehensive DJ’s Soeur Veillance Another privacy & surveillance playlist.