Maeve’s Music Mondays: Presidential campaign soundtrack highlights

In light of last week’s presidential election, I thought that today should bring a special edition of the column. At the risk of delving too deeply into my own political biases, we begin. 

Presidential campaigns work carefully to craft an image that represents their candidate, and what better way than to have a cultivated playlist with a few core songs to play during rallies and TV advertisements? Let’s delve into some of my favorite, and some of the more confusing campaign anthems from the past few decades. 

In his 1992 campaign, President Bill Clinton successfully branded the Fleetwood Mac song “Don’t Stop” (1977) and still played it often at events after his time in office. The lyrics offer a message of hope for the future: “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow . . . It’ll be, better than before.” For his 2000 campaign, President George W. Bush featured the song “I Won’t Back Down” (1989) until artist Tom Petty filed a cease-and-desist-order against the Bush campaign. The song features strong lyrics like “I’m gonna stand my ground / Won’t be turned around” that are rather emblematic of most Republican campaign music (as are the complaints about the music’s usage from the artists themselves). 

In more recent years, some of my favorite campaign music has been featured to great effect. The 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign featured some upbeat pop songs by female artists like “Brave” (2013) by Sara Bareilles and Katy Perry’s “Roar” (2013). Here we see the Clinton campaign capitalizing on Hillary’s narrative as the would-be first female president, as the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign attempted with the Heart song “Barracuda” (1977), to which the band protested. In the same infamous 2016 election year, President Donald Trump featured Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” (1984), an unsurprising choice, and another that made me do a double take. The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (1968) was used by Trump at multiple rallies to my chagrin, and I have to imagine to the chagrin of many others. Though the British rock band protested Trump’s use of it and later threatened to sue, the idea of a song whose main lyrics are “You can’t always get what you want / But if you try sometime you find / You get what you need” at a presidential rally is to me truly astounding: as if Trump was trying to suggest no one wanted him in office, but his presidency was instead a necessity. Overall, my favorite campaign choices so far have come from Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign songs “Starman”(1972) by David Bowie, and my all-time favorite from the 2020 campaign: “Seven Nation Army” (2003) by The White Stripes.

But let’s end with a look at the music that has characterized the 2020 campaign. Trump’s persistent use of Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” (1978) has baffled me, at least, while Joe Biden actually commissioned a JoJo song called “The Change” (2020) with a focus on empowerment and activism. 

Campaign songs say a lot about the candidates they represent. So, hopefully this election means none of us will have to hear “Y.M.C.A.” in a political setting ever again.

Until next week, happy listening!