How America’s music stars are voting with their voices this election
A pop star's endorsement is still a valuable commodity in the US presidential race –but this time around the artists aren't so enthusiastic. Chris Mugan asks why they went quiet
Saturday 03 November 2012
When Bruce Springsteen took to the stage in Ohio to headline a campaign event for Barack Obama, it was not the fact that the Boss had aligned himself with the Democrat presidential candidate that provoked interest, but that it had taken him so long to decide this battle was worth fighting.
Four years ago, Springsteen was among the most vocal musical backers of the youthful politician. This time, the pop and rock communities are largely noticeable by their absence from the campaign trail. Looking at their contributions, the picture is one of cynicism and mixed messages that suggest this time their commitment is less than whole and the issues much less clear.
It is a far cry from 2008, when a galaxy of stars turned out to appear in the video for the Will.i.am-penned "Yes We Can". Then, the story was one of change and hope, that electing a black president would help the US evolve into a better nation. With much of Obama's proposed legislation eviscerated by a stodgy governmental system, little of that change has materialised. And while there may appear to be huge gulfs between his and Mitt Romney's philosophies, the serving president has failed to inspire artists, something reflected in a rum handful of songs with a political bent.
Yeasayer's "Reagan's Skeleton" , a highlight from their current album Fragrant World, conjures a deranged hallucination in which the former Republican president rises from the dead and stalks the streets of Ventura, California, close to the Presidential Library where he is interred. It is an apparition far from the cuddly image that persuaded the American people to vote him in during the Eighties. More to the point is a free track released by veteran songwriter Randy Newman. On "I'm Dreaming" he riffs on the lyrics of the perennial "White Christmas" to examine the character of a protagonist who is "dreaming of a white president". An Academy award-winner for songs from the Pixar animations Toy Story 3 and Monsters, Inc., the writer returns to the more satirical bent of "Short People" by having his narrator demand someone who understands, "How to handle money or start a war/Wouldn't even have to tell me what we were fighting for."
Where the lack of engagement from the music industry has been most noticeable is within the hip-hop and R&B genres. Support has been so muted that when Nicki Minaj came out with a political rap, many misunderstood her intention and assumed she was favouring Romney. On a mixtape from rapper Lil Wayne, the pair traded verses over Kanye West's "Mercy", Minaj spouting the lines, "I'm a Republican voting for Mitt Romney/You lazy bitches are fucking up the economy." Of course, the colourful performer uses different characters in her work, something Obama himself was forced to point out, causing Minaj to tweet, "Thank you for understanding my creative humor & sarcasm Mr President, the smart ones always do." Still, the campaign to encourage new voters to register (seen as a pro-Democrat strategy) has been low-key this year, relying on occasional appearances from the likes of Katy Perry.
Romney, too, has struggled to engage his closest constituencies. As America's first practising Mormon candidate, you might think he could rely on support from fellow adherents, except Brandon Flowers (who has admitted to lunching with the Republican candidate) has insisted he and his band The Killers remain neutral. This despite them having recorded a version of their home state's anthem "Home Means Nevada" for Democrat (and Mormon) senator Harry Reid. Nor has Romney persuaded Donny and Marie Osmond to come on board. Instead, he has earned plaudits from the usual lunkheaded rockers. At the National Rifle Association's annual convention, regular liberal-baiter Ted Nugent denounced Obama as evil, saying, "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November."
During the Republican primaries, Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine was most impressed by Romney rival Rick Santorum, though a more recent dredging up of some paranoid conspiracy theories suggests he is still backing the GOP. On stage in Singapore this summer, the headbanger claimed the president had staged the murders at the Aurora cinema and the Milwaukee Sikh temple to bring in gun control. "I don't know where I'm going to live if America keeps going the way it's going," he added. "Because it looks like it's turning into Nazi America."
Such ranting reflects a wider belief that while Obama is failing to create the same passion as in 2008, hardcore Republicans are more energised. Dig deeper, though, and you find more subtle strategies at play. While many artists feel unable to simply come out behind the serving President, some are seeking publicity for single-issue campaigns. Rufus Wainwright and Fun. have played a show in support of marriage equality, a divisive issue between the two parties. Watch out, too, for a video of creative women, including the singer Sia, lip-synching to Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me". Artists are not willing simply to show their faces in support of particular candidates – nowadays they have their own agendas, too.
Musical differences: Democrats versus Republicans
Jay-Z In return for parenting advice from Potus, Hova donned a shirt and tie for his campaign video.
Eddie Vedder Pearl Jam's mainman guested at a Florida fundraiser, railing against Romney's 47% comments.
Katy Perry In Las Vegas, Russell Brand's ex wore a voting ballot dress with a tick next to Obama's name.
Scissor Sisters In the wake of his pro-gay marriage stance, 'Take Obama Out All Night' is their new message.
Meat Loaf The 'Bat Out Of Hell' star claims this is the first time he has made a political endorsement.
Kid Rock His 'Born Free' is something of a Romney anthem – the rock/rapper also appeared at GOP campaign events.
Dave Mustaine Megadeth- fronting conspiracy nut believes guns don't kill people, Obama does.
Hank Williams Jr While several country artists have supported Romney, only one has called the president a Muslim.
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