How America’s music stars are voting with their voices this election

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

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

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

Backing Obama:

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.

Backing Romney:

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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album