Why don’t politicians just write their own campaign songs?

Bill Clinton, taking matters into his own hands.
Bill Clinton, taking matters into his own hands.
Image: Reuters/STR New
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Political change has a long history of being driven, at least in part, by music. Songs and lyrics possess a unique power to rally masses, to spark passion. To socially transform.

But a John Lennon or Bob Dylan, Donald Trump is not.

In his year-long bid for the White House, the Republican presidential candidate has offended musicians such as Adele, Queen and Neil Young by using their music as part of his campaign without receiving their political endorsement. While most artists don’t legally control use of their music tracks, their vocal disapproval alone can be damaging.

Trump isn’t alone. Music is poorly harnessed by almost all politicians.

Hillary Clinton paid $9,000 for a Portland, Oregon, music agency to handpick songs for her “official playlist,” according to Federal Election Commission records; yet there are few tracks on the list that have anything to do with her message or ideology. The list is instead filled with mainstream, upbeat crowd-pleasers catering to already-devout supporters.

“When you use somebody else’s song, that song is going to have baggage,” says Tena Clark, CEO of entertainment consulting agency DMI Music. “Hillary should have a great piece that unites people—and when the song is played, they shouldn’t be thinking about some soap commercial, or whatever an existing song has been used for.”

Clark argues that commissioning and playing an entirely original song—think the catchiness of a well-done product jingle, mixed with the emotion of a heartfelt original movie score—would have more potency. Playing a Katy Perry track as Clinton walks on stage may make younger viewers feel more connected to her, but there’s “no meaning, no stickability” in the song for her because it’s a piece of already existing mass media, Clark says.

Original music seems to be something of a missed opportunity, even though it comes with risks. Republican politician Rick Santorum may have lost his gamble for the presidency in 2012—but who can forget his ridiculously catchy country song?