“Don’t…stop…thinkinnn about tomorrrrrowww!”
A few weeks ago, politician/adulterer Bill Clinton sashayed to fervent applause as he approached a podium from stage right at the Democratic National Convention. He then spoke, and speak did he, delivering a 45-minute endorsement of President Obama that went into great detail about the reasons and statistics for re-election. His overall presence, forever folksy and comforting, was arguably the highlight of the DNC. What you may not have registered throughout this whole spectacle was the song playing during Clinton’s entrance and exit: Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” … i.e. ‘thinkinnnn about tomorrrrowww,’ i.e. his 1992 presidential campaign’s theme song. A subtle touch by the convention organizers to summon potential nostalgia, all-the-while suggesting, and I cannot be totally sure about this, that Clinton (and by extension, Obama) is focused on making the United States a great country again, but not just for us— no no no — also for all those adorable little kids and grandkids we have. What debt ceiling, amirite?
This only proves what we already knew: political campaigns need to create a brand like any other business. And if you want to brand something, overplay a song. Ask the 90’s Bulls teams. Ask Garden State.
[Tangent #1: Political branding still works on us (e.g. Shepard Farey posters) and I do not understand why. We are the most informed (often against our will) humans in all of history. This gives us a certain savviness as a culture; someone starts talking about politics and the conventional wisdom is that it’s ‘all just a bunch of pre-packaged bullshit.’ Every election year, it feels like we are just watching a magician saw his assistant in half–we know how the trick is done, but we want to analyze how this particular magician sold it. We armchair-quarterback the art of illusion. Consider Romney’s career-changing ‘47% Video.’ Much of my reaction was ‘what a gaffe!’ instead of ‘what a terrible thing to say.’ Just think about how often people say that Obama is a ‘gifted politician’ (which he is), an utterly backhanded compliment (which it should be) …we are basically just saying he is a great liar, correct?]
[Tangent #2: We hate ’em, but we have to choose between ’em. Those that run for political office understand this paradox, Ron Paul included. Everyone that has ever tried to sell anything to anybody understands this; we loathe the general spirit of advertising, but still gotta choose between Bud Light and Miller Light every weekend.]
So anyway, Bill Clinton, way back when, used Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” to help frame his overall message, to give his policies a jingle.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, remains a man without a soundtrack.
It seems like this should be fairly easy– choosing a terrible (cough, I meant ‘familiar’) song for your commercial. Unfortunately for Romney and the Republicans of recent past, nobody in music wants to work for them.
Please review the following
bulleted bubbled (trying to keep this non-politicized) list of music-licensing-problems in the 2000’s, all related to the GOP:
- 2000: George Bush denied by Tom Petty for “I Won’t Back Down”
- 2008: John McCain issues an apology to Foo Fighters for playing their music without permission (maybe my favorite sentence ever, by the way)
- 2011: Michelle Bachman denied by Tom Petty for “American Girl”
- 2011: New Gingrich is sued (!) for using “Eye of the Tiger”
So to clarify, it is not Romney’s failure to establish a theme song that is interesting or atypical– there was no one tune for Obama or George W. Bush and they won. It is, however, completely unprecedented (and unpresidented) for a campaign to fail so publicly and so pathetically in obtaining the rights to use any songs for their political purposes.
Here’s their track record:
In February, Romney wins the Florida primary and plays the K’naan song “Wavin’ Flag” during his acceptance speech. K’naan, a Somalia-born rapper, immediately makes statement that he never did, nor would, grant approval for Romney to use the song, but that President Obama is welcome to whenever he pleases. Roms, you misguided little Mormon, you are swimming with sharks here. How did you think a refugee from Somalia would react when your 1% ass played his (World Cup 2010) anthem “Wavin’ Flag” as a victory speech? He has an image to cultivate and protect just like you do.
In August, Dee Snider, frontman of Twisted Sister, demands that Paul Ryan stop playing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” during appearances. Look, I actually think you caught a bad beat on this one, fellas. I see what you were trying to do there and I get it: anger is the strongest chord to strike. However, if you had watched VH1 the past decade, you’d (a) be disappointed in humanity and (b) know that Dee Snider has his blonde fingers touching everything on that channel and is somehow still financially comfortable in 2012.
Also in August, Silversun Pickups sends cease-and-desist letter to Romney for playing the song ‘Panic Switch’ during the set-up of one of his rallies. The band even joked that it was an all-too-honest choice for the Republicans to use a song with that title. However, given the obscurity of this song and the fact it was merely played before an event, I have to assume Silversun Pickups fabricated the entire rumor to see their names in print. One. Last. Time.
Then later in what was definitely a bad August, Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello writes an op-ed in Rolling Stone denouncing Paul Ryan for merely stating he was a fan of their music. Morello calls it ‘amusing’ that Ryan would like the band and that “[Ryan] is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades,” not to mention asserting that Ryan hates women, immigrants, gays, anybody poor, anybody working, and the environment.
OUCH! THE ENVIRONMENT!
Mr. Ryan, I’m sure you only referenced Rage Against the Machine (it’s right there in the name, buddy) as one of your favorite bands because you got a softball question and went off-the-cuff for a second, but it still somehow reeks of a calculated appeal towards the Youth (or rather, late 30’s) vote. You know, like when you gave your big speech at the RNC and joked that your running-mate Romney has outdated music taste and that you have an “Ipod” full of AC/DC and Led Zeppelin. Thanks for that one, by the way, speechwriter. Those artists are so American!
You impressed yet? Don’t be. It’s actually tough to watch. Mitt Romney has become the drunk guy that can’t get the jukebox to accept his crispy 1s (“I just want to hear something, damnit!”). And if that analogy holds, that makes the recent story of Romney allegedly paying Journey the (excessive) sum of $500,000 to play a fundraiser in Tampa, the ultimate case of Rich Guy Whips Out The Checkbook, offering to buy the whole ‘stupid’ jukebox outright.
After reviewing all this, the Elephant (pun intended, y’allllll) in the room has to be the following: Musicians are Liberals. Sure, there are exceptions and that’s a stereotype, but in general, musicians and filmmakers and writers are going to base their political affiliation on what social values are the most progressive instead of say, which party will help stimulate small business better. For lack of better hyperbole, artsy types are all homosexual philanderers who know just two things about the world-outside-their-ego… gay marriage seems fine and abortion = good.
From a strategist’s perspective, I do genuinely pity the Republican Party. They are, and always have been, at a constant disadvantage when it comes to making use of the creative elite (save Clint Eastwood). And honestly, in today’s America, the inability to harness the influence of celebrities is a massive weakness. This goes beyond the left-leaning news programs of Comedy Central or Sean Penn letting his heart bleed on “Real Time with Bill Maher.” This has to do with George Clooney or Beyoncé hosting a fundraiser for Obama and raising millions in Hollywood money on a moment’s notice, while the political party of Abraham Lincoln gets shat on by the putzes of Silversun Pickups on the sidebar of the Huffington Post. Politics aside, that just ain’t right.
To circumvent this dilemma, in years past, the Republicans have relied on the music their constituency typically prefers: country and Christian-friendly rock (now seems like the right time to divulge the gem that Romney listed The Killers as one of his favorite bands. Unrelated, the lead singer is Mormon.) For many years, guys like Ted Nugent and Hank Williams, Jr. were the RNC mainstays, but those particular invites were somehow not renewed this year, presumably because Williams raised legitimate dementia concerns this year with the unsolicited assertion that “we’ve got a Muslim for President who hates cowboys.”
Ironically, it was a Republican by the name of Ronald Reagan, and not Bill Clinton eight years later, who first used popular music to curry the public’s favor. Reagan, in his ’84 re-election campaign, played that year’s mega-hit “Born in the U.S.A.” ad nauseam (by hardcore Democrat Bruce Springsteen) to subliminally equate his side with patriotism, and not, as per nowadays, to demonstrate a hard stance on immigration. In that pre-Internet era, you would have had to attend a Bruce (I call him ‘The Boss!’) concert to hear him clarify that Reagan used “Born in the U.S.A.” without permission. Alternatively, at this year’s RNC, Ohio Governor Kasich used the Black Eyed Peas’ “I’ve Gotta Feeling” as his entrance music, segueing into his speech with the nauseating line “I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotta feeling we’re about to elect a new President…!” Within minutes, Black Eyed Peas spokesman Will.i.am had tweeted:
So, as usual, it’s all Twitter’s fault.
In regards to “I’ve Gotta Feeling” …. it was again probably a foolish song choice for the GOP considering Will.i.am spearheaded a 24-million-hit viral music video of celebrities endorsing Obama in 2008. But, to play Republican’s Advocate, isn’t that song, specifically, property of the public’s at this point? And on a general level, isn’t a little insulting to us voters that musicians think we will infer some kind of official political endorsement by a candidate playing five seconds of some song that is probably already on last year’s Guitar Hero?
And when did my elected representatives become DJs? Obama has his own Spotify playlist for the campaign. To save you time, just know that Darius Rucker (alias Hootie) is on it twice, Ricky Martin (indefensible) makes an appearance, and he used The Arcade Fire’s “We Used To Wait,” a song about the unsettling arc of technology as seen through the fourteen eyes of seven Canadians. Not as good as FDR’s “Fireside” mix of ’32 if you ask me.
[Tangent: Obama, if I may, your re-election campaign should only cost like $12,000 from now on. Just release a music video of you driving through D.C. at night and strolling through an empty Capitol Hill during the day, all to Jay-Z’s “Heart of the City.” It’s not that hard. Oh, and Todd Akin, while I’m soliciting advice, next time you make an ill-conceived (another pun) statement about rape, please have the end of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” queued up for your apology press conference …. for a minute therrrre, I lost myselllllllf ]
My verdict: The only thing worse than a politician is the self-righteousness of musicians (maybe that was Romney’s plan all along, play the classic ‘woe is me, nobody will let me use their songs’ card).
There is an increasing overlap of media and politics that continues to widen ideological gaps and amplify the talk of ‘culture wars.’ When there is such ire on both sides, and even ire in the middle for there being sides-to-take in the first place, using someone’s pop song cannot, and should not, be categorized as a politicized action. It was only a few months ago that we managed to politicize fast-food restaurants. That somehow my decision to patronize Chick-Fil-A is a moral statement and not the result of wanting a decent sandwich off the highway. At the jaded age of 28, I am already so fatigued by listening to everyone else’s opinion that all I want is a whiskey and a rocking chair so I can tell my son “you know, it used to be considered rude to discuss politics or religion in polite society.”
Thank you, thank you. Vote for me.
[Toniiiiiiiiiiiiiiight, Weeeee arrrrre youngggggggggg]