Beyond the Beat: Music of Resistance and Change (Level 1 Gallery)

Ground-breaking and history-making moments when music made a difference

February to September 2024

A digital illustration showing a crowd clapping and raising their hands. The background shows a pixelated green soundwave shape and blue and black graffiti-like designs with neon-coloured diagonal lines radiating out from the center. Partially obscured.

Exhibition details

Music connects and transforms. It can be a powerful force for social and political change.

An album or even a single lyric can deeply affect a person, an audience or an entire generation. Beyond the Beat showcases artists who have used their talents to promote equality and freedom.

Rhythms, melodies and lyrics move us – to tears, to dance or to rise up against injustice.

Popular music has a long history of uplifting and supporting collective movements and personal struggles for human rights. Beyond the Beat presents historical and contemporary examples of how musicians and audiences have used music to make a difference.

Explore ground‐breaking and history‐making moments where music played a pivotal role in social and political transformation. See legendary instruments and remarkable stage outfits. Interact with dynamic music and video exhibits and experiences. Learn about music that changed the world.

Elton John’s theatrical and emotional performances celebrate 2SLGBTQI+ culture. Nina Simone’s deep vocals spur resistance. Tegan and Sara’s songwriting gives voice to the lived experiences of 2SLGBTQI+ youth. Neil Young’s steadfast commitment to the planet challenges corporate greed. Les Colocs’ eclectic sound and powerful social commentary resonates with Québécois youth. Jeremy Dutcher's singing in Wolastoqey powerfully resists colonialism and inspires Indigenous cultural resurgence.

Elton John

The back of a shiny yellow, quilted satin jacket decorated with the words “Elton John” above a beach scene with a purple sky, large white cloud, blue sea, dark yellow sand, a palm tree, a dark pink radio with music notes flying out of it, and a pair of round sunglasses in the foreground.

Elton John became one of the most famous and popular entertainers in the world while advocating for 2SLGBTQI+ rights. See one of his amazingly flamboyant performance costumes.

Photo: Museum of Pop Culture

Tegan and Sara

Two young people with their hair in messy topknots. One wears a black leather jacket, the other a white jacket with a pattern of black splotches.

Tegan and Sara are an iconic Canadian musical duo. Their music address 2SLGBTQI+ issues and experiences and they are outspoken critics of misogyny and homophobia. See the hand‐painted leather jacket Tegan wore in the “U‑Turn” video and the air organ Sara played on their seminal So Jealous album.

Photo: Eluvier Acosta

Chuck D

The back of a deep orangey-red bomber jacket decorated with “Public Enemy” in large yellow capital letters.

Chuck D’s lyrics and rapping in Public Enemy and as a solo artist helped define political and activist hip‐hop. See one of his iconic bomber jackets and learn about his social and musical legacy.

Photo: Museum of Pop Culture


A woman singing at a microphone, gesturing widely with her arms. She wears a dark red, sheer dress with long arms.

Inuk musician and filmmaker Elisapie sings in English, French and Inuktitut. Her genre‐crossing work has been popularly successful and critically acclaimed. See the dramatic red outfit she wore to perform at the Polaris Prize awards in 2019.

Photo: The Canadian Press, Nathan Denette

Bruce Cockburn

A close-up of a man with glasses and white hair playing a guitar.

See one of Bruce Cockburn’s guitars. Cockburn’s protest music has moved and inspired generations of music fans. His musical and lyrical talent passionately defend a wide range of human rights and environmental issues.

Photo: Flickr, Sean Rowe


The back of a bright red satin jacket with the white text “HEART” in large capital letters above a white winged heart with “TOUR ‘77” written across it.

Sisters Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson broke barriers in hard rock with their iconic band Heart. See one of their tour jackets and learn how sexism inspired one of their greatest hits.

Photo: Museum of Pop Culture

Dynamic interactive experiences

Dance the YMCA. Make your own concert poster. Hear Shad narrate the history of FLOW 93.5 FM. Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of music that made a difference.

From folk songs that supported early labour movements to anti‐establishment punk rock, from hip hop artists challenging racism in the music industry to women fighting for recognition and Indigenous artists reclaiming vital cultural knowledge, this exhibition highlights music in service of positive social change.

Beyond the Beat: Music of Resistance and Change runs in the Level 1 Gallery starting February 2, 2024.

Ask yourself:

  • What songs or musicians make me think differently about social issues?

  • What have I learned about other people’s experiences through music?

  • Whose music inspires me to feel compassion or take a stand for what’s right?


We collaborated with many national and international organizations to bring this exhibition to life. Special thanks to The National Music Centre, Museum of Pop Culture and The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Dive Deeper

Stories that move us Beyond the Beat

Historical and contemporary stories of how music, musicians and audiences move society towards greater justice.

A woman enthusiastically holding a megaphone at the centre of the image is encircled by multicoloured rays over a mottled blue and green background.

Beyond the Beat Playlists

Listen to the playlists of resistance and change.

A bundle of torn black and white paper with layers of multicolored pastel stripes.