Earlier this year, national news outlets breathlessly reported the story of a man who went to a handful of Ted Cruz's Iowa caucus campaign events holding a sign that said “Ted Cruz likes Nickelback.” That, of course, wouldn't normally be news, but since the Canadian bro-rock band is so near-universally reviled by discerning music fans, the statement worked as a hilarious political insult. Sites like Mashable and Consequence of Sound dubbed the sign an “expert troll” while USA Today joked, "Now libel is a real thing, dear reader, and we tread lightly when publishing accusations that might damage a person's reputation.”
While it's an extreme and goofy example, that protester's musical mud-slinging is indicative of how songs and taste can affect politics and a candidate's public perception. Just as music can be used as a cudgel to make a politician look like an out-of-touch rube, it can also be used by a candidate to fire up the base at a rally and appeal to younger voters (either through a campaign curated playlist or a notable musician's endorsement). On top of that, research has shown that pop culture taste tends to be predicted by party affiliation (i.e., this Facebook study revealed that Democrats love the Beatles and Beyoncé while Republicans prefer George Strait and Jason Aldean). For politicians, the right song can mean a whole lot.
That partisan taste divide is clear in this election. Because of the ongoing 2016 election, RedEye has compiled what music each major candidate loves, what they play during rallies, their notable musician endorsements and what it all says about them.
Campaign songs: At campaign events, Clinton has a playlist of crowd-pleasing tunes that includes Jennifer Lopez's "Let's Get Loud,” Katy Perry's "Roar,” Pharrell's “Happy," Kelly Clarkson's “Stronger," American Authors' "Best Day of My Life” and more.
Favorite music: The former Secretary of State has sung the praises of Beyoncé, along with music from the '60s, revealing in 2011, "So [I like] everything I grew up with—the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Who and the Doors. I mean, all of that, plus I like classical music because I find it relaxing when I'm thinking about stressful things."
What it means: Like the Clinton campaign itself, it's an incredibly viable and competent collection of songs. It's got everything from pop to rock and some Latin fare (Marc Anthony's “Vivir Mi Vida” is another staple). Sure, it could use a little hip-hop to get a more accurate slice of America, but now she seems well-equipped to impress with her well-curated playlist and at the polls.
Campaign songs: Strangely enough, Ted Cruz has been the hardest candidate to track down campaign songs for. Unlike for his peers, there are scant quotes about his taste and no official campaign playlist. However, Aaron Tippin's post-9/11 country jam “Where the Stars and Stripes and Eagle Fly” has been a staple since Cruz announced.
Favorite music: According to an interview he did with "CBS This Morning," the Texas senator said, “I stopped listening to rock music after 9/11.” He now prefers country music: "Country music, collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me. ... I had an emotional reaction that said, ‘These are my people,' and so ever since 2001, I listen to country music.'”
Notable endorsements: Christian rock band Newsboys.
What it means: Does Ted Cruz actually like music? It's unclear. But, he's been trying to gain more of the youth vote through unsettling but kind of pitch-perfect impressions of characters from “The Simpsons” and “The Princess Bride.” Maybe some kids prefer Ned Flanders impersonations to a well-curated playlist? We'll find out.
Campaign songs: “Greater” by Christian snore rockers MercyMe.
Favorite music: Contrary to the aural Wonder Bread his campaign spins at rallies, Rubio's an avowed fan of hip-hop, repping his love for 2Pac, Grandmaster Flash, Nicki Minaj, Eminem, Wu-Tang Clan and Pitbull.
Notable endorsements: Donnie Wahlberg and Babyface.
What it means: It's a fascinating thing for a Republican to have such a publicized love of hip-hop, a genre historically anathema to the GOP. However, I'm a little wary of him because there was a Fox News interview where he couldn't name a member of the Wu-Tang Clan. If you can't just come out and say that GZA is your favorite member of the Wu-Tang Clan, how in the hell are you going to be able to deal with ISIS?
Campaign songs: His campaign playlist is relentlessly on-brand. Much like how he wants to start a tangible political revolution in the United States, his music choices (with which his campaign has employed a full-time DJ) stay on that theme.
Favorite music: Funnily enough, Sanders is the only candidate to have a full-length studio album under his belt. In 1987, the then-mayor of Burlington, Vt., recorded a spoken-word folk album called “We Shall Overcome.” He's also mentioned, just like your grandpa, his love for Abba, the Supremes and the Temptations.
Notable endorsements: Killer Mike, Jeff Tweedy, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Vampire Weekend, Hans Zimmer, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle, Cadien Lake James of Twin Peaks, Thurston Moore and more.
What it means: While Clinton outmatches Sanders in notable endorsements and mass appeal in her playlists, Sanders' specialized supporters like Killer Mike and Jeff Tweedy give him credibility. While his playlist choices might be a little one-note (the constant talk of revolution feels like a longterm senator from an East Coast state railing eloquently against income inequality for an entire career), the message is on point and totally effective
Campaign songs: Twisted Sister's “We're Not Gonna Take It,” The Beatles, “Revolution,” whatever this was, Adele and Bruce Springsteen.
Favorite music: He's mentioned in a Rolling Stone interview that he likes the Beatles, Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, Jon Bon Jovi and Elton John. He was recently spotted at an Adele concert in New York City.
Notable endorsements: Azealia Banks, Ted Nugent, Kid Rock and Aaron Carter.
What it means: Trump might be the most fascinating candidate when it comes to music, and it's solely for the fact that he's arguably the first presidential candidate incapable of feeling shame. When Adele told Trump to stop using her songs, a day later her track “Skyfall” soundtracked Trump's helicopter landing, and the following day, “Rolling In the Deep” played as he walked onstage at a rally. Whether it's channeling populist rage with Twisted Sister or poking fun at Ted Cruz's Canadian history with Bruce Springsteen's “Born In The U.S.A.,” Trump couldn't care less about decorum and manners. As one volunteer told a New Yorker reporter, music is chosen with the rubric, “the more inappropriate for a political event, the better.” Music is one of his many weapons, and he's using it well.
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