Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite topic: politics. With the presidential election coming to a close, I thought I’d look at the influence our culture has on politics. Musicians and other celebrities have become increasingly more involved in Presidential elections, often creating music for and supporting candidates. This interesting and controversial election season has provided some great fodder for musicians looking for inspiration. Rapper Eminem has recently released a track called “Campaign Speech.” In the 8-minute rap, Eminem spits out quick, often politically charged rhymes that criticize Donald Trump among other well-known figures. Jazz artists have also weighed in on the current political atmosphere. Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra dropped an album titled Make American Great Again!, referencing the slogan a certain presidential candidate is using. One of the songs in the album, “Back to Africa,” utilizes that phrase to discuss the influence African heritage has had on the American identity (Brunson). The album’s title song, “Make America Great Again!,” uses narration to reveal a portrait of America as both incredibly diverse while dealing with the effects of racial oppression and subtly critique politicians that use the title phrase (Brunson). Another band, Pussy Riot, uses Trump’s slogan, in creating their own “Make America Great Again” to comment on American politics. Pussy Riot attacks Trump in their video by portraying a dystopian future if Trump is elected, where Trump’s thugs torture and brand those he doesn’t like (Leight).
Some musicians have left the realm of music to publicly endorse or campaign for their preferred presidential candidate. Both Trump and Clinton have been widely unpopular candidates and neither gained enthusiastic support from musicians at the beginning of the race (Coscarelli). Trump has not had as much luck as Clinton in getting endorsements from musicians; this is not surprising considering many genres generally lean left. He has received the support of Azealia Banks, Kid Rock, Wayne Newton, and Ted Nugent. Newton attended the final presidential debate to support Trump and has defended Trump against the accusations of sexual misconduct (Coscarelli). Trump’s strongest and most visible supporter, Ted Nugent, has warned through a campaign video that Clinton would destroy American freedom, while Trump would defend what makes America great (Coscarelli). Clinton has much more support from the music industry; musicians supporting her include Jay-Z, Katy Perry, Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, and Cher. Miley Cyrus has canvassed with college students at a Virginia University, Pusha T was in a campaign video with Clinton’s VP, Tim Kaine, and many celebrities have given their endorsement through twitter (Coscarelli). The latest performance by artists on Clinton’s behalf is a series called “Love Trumps Hate,” which will have artists spread across swing states to perform and advocate for Clinton.
Have these musicians swayed any voters to support the candidate they are promoting? Probably not. Patrick Warfield, a specialist in American musical culture at the University of Maryland, believes that an endorsement from a musician has “virtually no impact on the way people vote” (Hahn). A Trump supporter who loves listening to Katy Perry will not change their mind because of her support for the Clinton campaign. Though musicians have little impact on how people vote, they can greatly affect if people vote. Warfield said that a musician could have “a fair amount of impact on certain enthusiasm to be involved in a campaign” and “encourage people to get out and vote” (Hahn). This idea was seen in the 2008 election, which prompted Dan Cantor, the national director of the Working Families Party, to say that the “role of artists, especially musicians, in creating a cultural buzz is not trivial” (Hahn). Adrienne Elrod, the director of strategic communications for the Clinton campaign, stated that “in the closing weeks, these artists have a powerful ability to energize, excite, and mobilize our base” (Coscarelli). One of the greatest examples of this phenomenon is Rock the Vote, a nonprofit organization founded by artists to “inform and engage young voters” and “provides an ideal format for musicians to participate in political efforts” (Hahn). This non-partisan nonprofit has greatly impact the numbers of young voters heading to the polls. In the 2008 election, Rock the Vote registered 2.6 million voters, which contributed to the highest young vote turnout since 1972 (Hahn). A musician, though not effective in swaying voters toward a candidate, can still have a profound impact on an election by persuading people to vote.
Through the creation of music, endorsement of a candidate, or participation in groups that advocate for political involvement, musicians can comment on and even influence the 2016 presidential election. It’s an interesting moment, one that happens every four years, when pop culture and politics collide.
Bruner, Raisa. “Eminem Goes After Donald Trump in New Song ‘Campaign Speech'” Time. Time, 19 Oct. 2016. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
Brunson, Sam. “Welcome to #MutualNight: Delfeayo Marsalis.” By Common Consent. N.p., 26 Oct. 2016. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
Coscarelli, Joe. “The Campaign Tour: Pop Musicians Get on the Bus (Mostly Clinton’s).” The New York Times. The New York Times, 02 Nov. 2016. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
Hahn, By Jonah. “Singing to the Electorate.” Harvard Political Review. Harvard Political Review, 05 Nov. 2015. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.
Leight, Elias. “Pussy Riot Slam Donald Trump in ‘Make America Great Again’ Video.” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, 27 Oct. 2016. Web. 04 Nov. 2016.