Music's Hilarious Influence on the 2016 Presidential Campaign

The cover of Senator Bernie Sanders's mixtape.
The cover of Senator Bernie Sanders's mixtape.

Anyone following either the Republican or Democratic primaries this year has been treated to one of the funniest circus acts we've had in American politics in a long time. While candidates on both sides could be seen as either incredibly scary or as total jokes, depending on your personal views, it's been one of the more bizarre election seasons by far.

Typically, music doesn't factor much into a presidential election. Yeah, artists like Jay Z and Ted Nugent campaign on either side, and there are the requisite requests by artists that candidates not use their music, but we seldom see anything like Bill Clinton playing the sax or Barack Obama singing Al Green. That's why these moments are so novel.

Music, as entertainment, doesn't have a huge place in politics. When it does, it's usually bad for the art form, as in the Tipper Gore era, when censorship loomed heavily over some of the most creative artists of that generation.

This time around, thankfully, all the music-related stories involved in the election are just of the novel, ridiculous or otherwise jovial variety.

As usual, the Republican side is struggling to find supporters in the industry. Adele recently told Donald Trump to stop using her music at his campaign events. She was met with the response that basically it's not up to her since she doesn't have the rights to the songs, so Trump is still using her songs. Most candidates, as a rule, respect the artist's wishes, but Trump isn't your typical candidate.

The "Orange Clown" himself, who most likely made this same face when asked to stop using "Hello" at rallies.
The "Orange Clown" himself, who most likely made this same face when asked to stop using "Hello" at rallies.

That's probably why Michael Stipe wasn't nearly as nice in his request that Trump stop using his music. Stipe called Trump, and every other politician using his music, “sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry, little men.” Mike Mills, Stipe's former bandmate in R.E.M., called Trump “the Orange Clown,” but then qualified that he hated to even dignify Trump's quest for attention by giving it to him and making a statement at all.

The Democrats haven't had as much trouble gaining support in the music world. It seems almost every rapper has endorsed either Senator Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, with the underground seeming to gravitate toward Sanders and the mainstream going for Clinton. Snoop Dogg is in the Clinton camp — although given his propensity for bandwagoning, it may not be long before you catch him with a “Feel the Bern” shirt on — while Kanye West. Killer Mike and Lil B are going for Bernie.

Meanwhile, Sanders supporters have flooded Facebook in the past week with a look at the “issues that really matter” and the “differences between Bernie and Hillary.” In other words, who's into the hippest music. While these memes have appeared on a range of issues, a musical example positions Sanders as being into stoner metal like Sleep, while Clinton mistakes the question for being about the actual act of sleeping. In another, Sanders praises classic jazzmen like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, while Clinton goes for Kenny G.

Some have accused the memes of being sexist, but that criticism is incredibly off-base. The memes are simply referring to the fact that Sanders is the “cool,” hipster candidate who is slaughtering Clinton in the 18-34 demographic, while Clinton's attempts to connect with young voters have mostly fallen flat. Her appeal is limited in that market because she's perceived as being a Washington insider who is out of touch with what the American people's true interests are. Cue an article by The Onion, where a desperate Clinton explains in the most robotic fashion possible that she's “fun.”

It's a reflection of that old “who would you rather have a beer with?” principle that has been a part of American politics since Andrew Jackson became the first President to win on a campaign of being a “common man.” It's one of those memes in campaigning that will never go away, and Bernie's winning the war this time, with music playing a large and hilarious role in that.

Of course, Sanders is probably also having an easier time on the music front because he's a musician himself — in a manner of speaking. As seen in the photo at the top of this very article, Sanders has indeed recorded a mixtape, and it's fire.

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Well, okay, he mostly just speaks over a bunch of folk classics and protest songs, but the album, recorded in the '80s, is one of the finest examples of how Sanders has managed to capture the youth vote. A kitschy folk record by a politician is the exact kind of novelty that appeals to the millennial sense of humor.

The best musical story in this whole campaign, though, was taken by a man who has absolutely no chance of ever being elected president. I grant you that this was once said about Senator Sanders as well, but, well, when your biggest impact on the election so far has been related to an English band that became officially defunct in 1995, you're probably not going anywhere near the White House.

That's right, I'm talking about John Kasich, Governor of Ohio, who recently promised that if he is elected president, he will make sure that Pink Floyd's surviving three members finally reunite for a world tour, and, as a bonus, that they'll open with “Money.” Because, you know, the economy.

This is a pretty absurd notion, made even more ridiculous by the fact that it's part of a presidential campaign, but fuck it. I'll throw my hat behind anyone who thinks he can get Roger Waters and David Gilmour to get along long enough for an entire tour. You have to think a diplomat like that would do amazing things for U.S. foreign policy.

Kasich claims to have seen the band play The Wall in Pittsburgh, which factually never happened, unless he's of the contingent who believs that Waters alone equates to Pink Floyd. Waters brought his solo production of The Wall there a few years back. Is The Wall Kasich's favorite Floyd album? What album do you suppose the other candidates like?

If we're going by the meme, I'll guess Sanders is a Barrett guy. Clinton probably likes Dark Side of the Moon because it's the only one she's heard, naturally. Trump? Definitely most into A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

At the end of the day, if you're voting for someone based on his or her musical taste, please, just don't vote. But for those of us who view everything in politics with a cynical grin, a tip of the hat to this round of candidates who have given us music nerds the most to laugh at, possibly more than ever before.


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