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.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there