International Socioeconomics Laboratory
International Socioeconomics Laboratory

How Has Music Affected American Politics Over the Years?

BY JANE VU

Music has always had a prominent impact on our society and culture, including politics. The relationship between music and politics dates back to Ancient Egypt, when Deities were adulated in songs and many women amongst the elite had titles, for example, “chantress of Amun,” exhibiting the significance of music in the cliques of the divine beings. The nature of politics is similar to the state of music: dispute and harmony. Both music and politics try to influence their audience, and both have utilized the other to propel their ideas into motion.

In the course of America’s history, music was a device of patriotism. For example, the US National Anthem highlights reminiscent symbolisms of war, blasting bombs, and nobly shielded defenses. On the other hand, music was also a way for people to address the systemic flaws of their country. Woody Guthrie, a singer-songwriter-poet known as a “true American pioneer of the American music protest movement,” would constantly sing songs about the value of American liberty. His guitar captivated the audience’s attention with its imprinted phrase, “This machine destroys Fascists,” which was known to be an influential and judicious analysis on the capacity of music to energize individuals for a reason, and Guthrie had set a trend many would follow in the years to come. For example, singer-songwriter Billie Holiday would often sneak little messages about issues of racial justice and civil rights into songs like “Strange Fruit.”

Furthermore, during the 1980s, the state of U.S. politics was in a deep, dark hole. Republican politician Ronald Reagan had just won the election in a landslide victory against then-President Jimmy Carter. Carter’s presidency was assailed by transgressions with the Iranian hostage problem, gas deficiencies, and his reputation as an indecisive man. But Reagan's patriotic agenda to re-establish American solidarity, along with his charismatic disposition, concealed his detachment to anybody in the upper and middle classes. From his slow response to the AIDS outbreaks to his CIA-approved plans of deteriorating urban medication pestilence and socioeconomically depleting financial projects, the Reagan administration did little to help the huge bits of his constituents. As Reagan’s “war on drugs” police forces became too aggressive to the public, many music groups like N.W.A. sang the lyrics that have been on the minds of many Americans for so long. N.W.A generated another influx of hip hop, with socially mindful and regularly rough lyrics. Then out of nowhere, individuals of many cities had a voice for fight and change. The use of rap and hip hop to spread awareness of racial issues in the U.S at the time in a new and fun way.

Often in campaigns, music would have an extremely important role in helping the politician win. Each part of a political race is arranged down to the smallest detail: what they will be saying, how they will say it, what clothes they will wear, what pins they will have, and what their decorations would be. Not every single voter is well versed in political standpoints or would want to learn it, and so many politicians end up resorting to other ways in which they can relate to their audience, such as musical selections during certain functions. For instance, in Hilary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, she would often use songs written by or about empowering women. She picked songs like Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” to describe her attitude and embrace herself for who she is. The song was about an organization called 9to5, which fought for women’s rights and equal pay. Additionally, during Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, he had always played the song, “The Best Thing About Me is You” by Ricky Martin, a Puerto Rican singer. The song elaborated on equality and equal rights for everyone.

While the utilization of music to characterize a political candidate can do amazing things for individuals like Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama, the impact of a campaign song can change when contrasted with the opposition. For example, when Andrew Jackson was running against John Quincy Adams in 1928, he chose the song “Hunter’s Coming to Kentucky” for his political campaign. He chose this song to spread the message that he is a hero to America. However, John Quincy Adams had chosen the song “Little Know Ye Who’s Coming” in an attempt to scare the American people on what would happen if they had voted against him. In addition, take the Bill Clinton and Ross Perot presidential campaign in 1992, both had chosen completely different songs: Bill Clinton chose the then-popular song “Don’t Stop” by Fleetwood Mac, its upbeat composition proving to be effective in spreading the overall message of his presidential campaign, which was moving forward and leaving the past behind. Meanwhile, Ross Perot had chosen the song “Crazy” by Patsy Cline, making many people believe that he was actually crazy, and it showed how Bill Clinton was a more trusting candidate. Throughout many elections, there have been campaign ads and political candidates that used different forms of music in their ads to try and gain a vote from the public. For example, in the Nixon v. Humphrey v. Wallace Campaign in 1968, President Richard Nixon’s Campaign ad used music to try to scare views into voting for him, as John Quincy Adams did with his audience.

It is now well known that the ideas of music and politics were not only used back in Ancient Egypt to praise many of the Gods and Goddesses. Many well-known politicians have used music in a variety of ways. For example, former President Barack Obama had played songs about equality and equal rights in his reelection campaign. In addition, many artists have used their talent to create music to spread their ideas about many issues going on in the world. Now, in the 21st century, music is recognized to be an extremely impacting tool in politics and it will continue to be in the future.

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