Musicians usually rejoice when their music is picked up and used in films, at events, or as a campaign song. After all, this brings the music to a much wider audience. But what if your music is linked to things with which you would rather not be associated? The ‘wrong’ political campaign, for instance…?
Use of music
Music is a wonderful and powerful medium that can be used to move people, convey a message, or set the tone. As a logical result, music is not only enjoyed, but used as well. Music is a commonly used tool for commercial purposes, but also in political campaigns, to reinforce a particular message. Musicians, however, are not always overjoyed at the way their music is used.
The (negative) power of music
Britney Spears’ music was used by the British Royal Navy to chase away Somali pirates off the coast of eastern Africa. (1) It appears that they are ‘terrified’ of the pop diva’s vocal sounds! Would the artist be proud of the vital role her music plays in the protection of marine crew and cargo?
Another even more extreme example is the use of the theme song of the American children’s TV series Barney & Friends as a form of torture.2 It is said to be one of the most frequently played songs by American interrogators during torture. In 2003, an American soldier said he had been forced to listen to the song for 45 minutes non-stop during training. “Something I never want to go through again,” he stated at the time. (Most parents of young children would argue that 45 minutes of any children’s TV theme song amounts to torture anyway.) (For a comprehensive list of favourite torture songs(in Dutch), check out http://www.ad.nl/muziek/de-beste-muziek-voor-psychologische-folteringen~ab20fcd6/ for inspiration!)
Political campaign music
The use (or misuse) of songs as political campaign music is a category of its own, and one with a long history. Most political parties use songs to convey a message of, for example, power, nationalism or reconciliation, a positive message in any case. But what if the writer of the song in question doesn’t want to be associated with that political message?
You may not know this, but Adolf Hitler had a great fascination for the music of Richard Wagner, who put all kinds of German folk tales and legends to music. Wagner was no saint, in many ways, but he still deserves better than to be bracketed with national socialism.
In recent political history too, the conflicts about chosen campaign songs are too many to count. When George W. Bush adopted Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down in his political campaign in 2000, Petty threatened to sue Bush unless he would stop using the song. Petty subsequently performed the song when Al Gore announced his candidacy. Republican candidate Newt Gingrich used the Rocky III hit Eye of the Tiger during his 2012 campaign appearances, but Frankie Sullivan (L), one of the band members (Survivor) and co-writer of the song, filed a lawsuit against the candidate.
Trump’s musical mishaps – the search for a campaign song
The most recent complaint came from the relatives of George Harrison, when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump used Harrison’s song Here Comes the Sun. It was played at the Republican convention in Cleveland when Trump’s daughter took the stage.
(Harrison’s family are not entirely disobliging; they would not have objected to the use of Harrison’s song Beware of Darkness… an understandable point of view!)
Trump’s campaign team have also received complaints from Luciano Pavarotti’s relatives about the use of Nessun Dorma, from Aerosmith’s lead singer Steven Tyler about his song Dream On (5) and the remaining members of rock band Queen about the use of their global hit We Are the Champions. (Perhaps it promises to be a quiet campaign after all…?)
The big question, of course, is whether presidential candidate Donald Trump will respect the wishes of the artists and relatives… If not, that doesn’t bode well for his voters’ wishes! What would you choose as your personal (political) campaign song?