Current Events

Music and the 2016 Election: Trump and Clinton

Donald Trump has a tremendous love for music; his knowledge on the subject is bigly. Am I using that right? Who cares, it's not a word. Regardless, like anything else, Trump in his own mind has impeccable musical taste, and honestly, it's hard for me to disagree with his taste in tunes. His history with music goes back to the second grade when he claimed to give his music teacher a black eye because he "didn't think she knew enough about music," according to one Trump biography, Michael D'Antonio's Never Enough.  Personally, Trump is a product of his generation; he's a classic rock fan, name-dropping bands like the Beatles, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills & Young, and having a campaign playlist chock-full of rock's greatest hits.

Maybe not so surprisingly, Trump also has an ear for classic Broadway tunes from shows such as Andrew Lloyd Weber's Phantom of the Opera, as well as Italian singer Luciano Pavarotti's "Nessun Dorma." Trump's love of music might not be reciprocated, though, as a lengthy list of musicians have come out against the GOP candidate. Since declaring for the presidency, he has had numerous conflicts with musicians, some of whom he had praised in the past but now speaks of with disdain.

The Rolling Stones have been a staple in the Trump campaign through songs  like "Start Me Up," "Sympathy for the Devil" and "You Can't Always Get What You Want," all of which I find somehow mirror his campaign. "Start Me Up" reminds me of how the campaign started as a joke, but now he's oh so close to that Oval Office; "Sympathy for the Devil," well, do I need to explain why I find this one oddly coincidental? Last but certainly not least, "You Can't Always Get What You Want," to me, reflects not only Republican voters' sentiments, but many voters' sentiments.

Republicans have been given a candidate who is tearing the party apart, and could ultimately hurt them in the House and in the Senate, as well as local-level offices. But the voters and the party leaders, to a certain degree, are forced to support their party's candidate; it's that or Hillary Clinton, whom the party's voters despise more than any other politician in living memory. Overall, those who don't pledge allegiance to either party are forced to choose between South Park's proverbial "Giant Douche or Turd Sandwich."  It would seem American voters can't always get what they want, or ever, really.

Previously: Music and the 2016 Election: The Losers

As appropriate as their music may seem for the setting, the Rolling Stones understandably doesn't want their music of themselves, personally, to be associated with Donald Trump. Adele has come out and asked Trump repeatedly to stop using her music on his campaign, but don't take it personal Mr. Trump, she was also talking to Mike Huckabee. The British songstress is one of Donald's favorite's; he even went to a concert of hers, ironic when you consider the fact he is now criticizing his opponent for the same thing. Although Trump saw Adele in November of 2015 and Clinton saw her just weeks before Election Day, I can't defend his attacks because he too took time off, only to open his new hotel in D.C.

Neil Young is yet another artist who doesn't like Trump's use of his art, namely the song "Rockin' in the Free World." Young, who threw his weight behind another outsider, Bernie Sanders, claims that despite the Trump campaign's purchasing the licencing rights to the song, he still must give his consent which the candidate obviously refuses to do. R.E.M front man Michael Stipe spoke out against Trump for his team's use of the band's breakout hit "It's the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)," another song that seems tragically ironic in this context, at a moment when so many voters feel as though they are trapped between a rock and hard place.

Trump seems to be more keen on the instrumental side of music; his team has used the Bruce Springsteen classic "Born in the U.S.A" throughout the campaign, a song whose title evokes patriotic ideals despite its stark lyrics. Springsteen is addressing the bevvy of issues faced by Vietnam veterans on their return home from war; yet another example of irony in Trump's music choice, he avoided the war by way of four medical deferments. Trump would later go on to call his days of womanizing and STDs in the 1980s his own personal Vietnam, and that Senator John McCain, the GOP's 2008 presidential nominee, was not a war hero because he was captured, held prisoner, and tortured for nearly five and half years, three of those in solitary confinement.

Even late Beatle George Harrison's estate came out and asked Trump to stop using the Beatles track "Here Comes the Sun"; the widow of Luciano Pavarotti has likewise expressed her distaste for Trump using her late husband's music. Now, I'm not sure if the dead are voting in this election or not, but they certainly are asking Trump to cut it out. Others who have asked him to cease using their music include Elton John, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, and Queen. Those few musicians who have endorsed him include, not surprisingly, Ted Nugent and Kid Rock and, kind of surprising (but not really), Azealia Banks.

Trump shouldn't be surprised at the animosity he has been met with. Music is something that is meant to bring people together, one reason some call it the universal language, and all the Republican candidate has done is spew a message that only further divides us on basis of religion, gender, race, occupation and income. I'm just surprised Trump hasn't come out and said that the music industry is out to get him.


Secretary Clinton has a taste in music that almost perfectly reflects her style of politics. She is the definition of an establishment politician, she's been in politics for longer than a large portion of the electorate has been alive, and her musical tastes appear to be just mainstream, contemporary Top 40 radio music. Although she does have good taste when it comes to oldies, that can't make up for the amount of commercialized music present in her campaign-trail playlist. Much like her move to the left on issues like minimum wage and subsidized higher education, Clinton can't make up for her position on issues that can potentially have horrible consequences for our economy like TPP, or on our environment like her position on fracking.

In her typical corporatist fashion, Clinton hired Marmoset Music to curate her campaign's playlist.  Marmoset's other big-name clients include clothing company Levi's, soft-drink giants Coca-Cola, and the department store JC Penney. Not surprisingly, her official playlist could just as easily have been used in commercials for any of the previously mentioned companies. Her playlist is the easiest to access also, thanks to its highly publicized release on the music-streaming site Spotify. It includes like-minded songs such as Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," Sara Bareilles' "Brave" and Rachel Platten's "Fight Song" — you know, the one that had that really awkward, goosebump-inducing Brady Bunch-esque a cappella video that was shown during the DNC? Oh, and of course "Roar," by big-time Clinton fundraiser Katy Perry. All of these songs give off a powerful sense of confidence, empowerment and determination, all qualities Clinton has had to exude to the fullest of her abilities.

Another large portion of the playlist  features Latin artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Marc Antony and Juanes. While listening to these songs, it's hard not to feel those same feelings welling up inside yourself, which is likely why Clinton brought on Marmoset Music. But like her opponent, Clinton also professes a love for the music of her youth, including The Who, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Doors. She's also a fan of the King, Elvis Presley, and Motown legends the Supremes. However, very few artists from the past are found in her playlist, with the notable exception being the Gap Band's "Outstanding," and I did hear Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's rendition of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" during the DNC, so she has not completely abandoned the classics.

Clinton has also expressed her admiration for the likes of Loretta Lynn, Lana Del Rey, Lady Gaga, and Selena Gomez, all women who are the "best at what they do," according to an essay the Democratic candidate penned for Billboard's Women issue. Amongst the lengthy list of musicians who support Clinton are Houston's own Beyonce, and apparently the love is mutual. However, Queen B has become somewhat of a villain to the right, some of whose members think her music and performances perpetuate violence, but that's nice compared to how Clinton is treated (remember what Alex Jones said?).

Those who have come out and asked Clinton specifically to stop using their music are few and far between, although some musicians have asked all politicians quit using their tracks; I personally think this more has to do with political ideology than it does the specific candidate. Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz were subject to the same sort of pleas from musicians that Trump was; Clinton and Sanders had little to no controversy when it came to using certain songs.

It really comes down to the musicians' political leanings, and more often than not, they lean left. It makes sense if you think about the starving-artist trope or music as the universal language - these are usually people who have probably at one point in time been strapped for cash, or felt what it was like to be discriminated against, or a whole host of other experiences that would make a person rethink their political preferences: Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus50 Cent, John Legend and Snoop Dogg.


Whereas Trump's campaign music feels like he threw his iPod on shuffle — all over the place and without a unifying message — Clinton's is focused. As a listener, I appreciate how most of the music she's used during the campaign all fits the same mood; yeah, it might seem a little like Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" music video, but they're all super-poppy, Soma-induced ecstasy tracks like American Authors' Best Day of My Life." That's what everyone wants from a playlist, whether it's a party playlist or a lovemaking playlist; you want it all to be that same sort of sound. It would be really unfortunate if you were in the bedroom and something like 2 Live Crew comes on, unless you're into that kind of thing.

As someone who follows politics, it doesn't surprise me that Clinton has more of a core message to the music accompanying her candidacy; from Day One she has been more organized on every level of the campaign when compared to Trump. "Ground game" does not appear to be in Trump's vocabulary, and that applies to his usage of music on the campaign trail as well. I'm sure in his mind songs like "Born in U.S.A" are tremendous choices, even though it doesn't take much to realize what the song is actually about — unless he used it as a jab at Ted Cruz, in which case that was damn clever.

So many songs are just too ironic, like "Time is On My Side"; I'm sorry Mr. Trump, you're kind of, well, old. Although I have to concede the selection of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" and R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" could not be better, but for different reasons. The Twisted Sister track completely embodies the American electorate but specifically the Republicans, because they were successful with overthrowing the establishment and installing an outsider candidate, telling the Conservative establishment they weren't going to accept another run-of-the-mill politician. It also gives me a good laugh when I imagine this being played in the background on the night of November 8 if Trump should lose the race and refuses to accept the results on the grounds that the election was rigged. The latter of the pair is perfect to me for much of the same reasons I find my the aforementioned imaginary scene hilarious. It's either that or cry, and that's pretty much what this R.E.M track is about.

If someone were to put a gun to my head and say, "Vote for the person who you think has better taste in music," I'd have to vote for Trump. Despite his shortcomings in the form of a lack of focus, he just has better tracks. As Trump would say, "my playlist is fantastic, it's tremendous"; as stated earlier, I can't disagree. As far as Clinton goes, I appreciate the obvious amount of thought that went into putting her playlist, but it just doesn't appeal to me — I refuse to listen to the radio, but somehow I've heard all of these songs a million and one times. Thankfully, there isn't a gun to my head, so I can vote based on more substantive issues. If you really want to know the truth, Bernie Sanders would have my vote, because he has the best taste in music in a politician since Obama, but like politics, musical taste often comes down to an individual's opinions. Everybody is on their own.
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