The music people listen to can say a lot about them. And just like us, politicians think long and hard about the soundtrack they share with the public -- more specifically, what they'll be introduced to at campaign events. What they play can help pump them up and set the tone for their words to come.
Choosing the right song probably won't make your campaign, but choosing the wrong one can cause problems. A succession of politicians -- mostly Republicans -- have been dinged for using a song from an artist that doesn't share their political leanings.
The most recent example of this came Wednesday, when GOP front-runner Donald Trump entered a Capitol Hill rally to R.E.M.'s "It's The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," only to receive a spite-filled statement from members of the now-defunct band.
"Go [BLEEP] yourselves," they said, apparently also referring to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who hosted the rally criticizing President Obama's Iran deal.
It's unclear whether R.E.M. can sue Trump for what he used. There are layers of copyright rules about licensing a song for a campaign, including fair-use laws campaigns often try to claim. According to the American Society of Owners and Publishers, one of the largest performing rights organizations and licensees of songs, it's up to the owner of the song to press the issue. Sometimes that's the band. Sometimes it's a publisher like ASCAP. Sometimes it's the record label. But it's up to them to raise a legal challenge. (More on all this here.)
Copyright laws or not, music is an important part of any campaign, and especially one in #2015. We surveyed The Post's campaign trail reporters to gather some of the top songs used by each candidate and tried to ascertain 1) what they are saying with the choice and 2) whether the candidate had permission or could expect to have it.
The full list is on our Spotify playlist, below.
Band: Zac Brown Band
Apropos lyrics: "Here in a small town where it feels like home, I got everything I need and nothing I don't"
The takeaway: Bush wants you to know that despite his last name, he's a down-to-earth guy with simple wants and needs.
Band's political leanings: Unclear. But they're a country band with roots in the South. That's much safer territory for GOP candidates than a band like R.E.M.
Permission to use: Not clear. The Zac Brown Band owns its own label, and the song is a staple in Bush campaign events, so it's a safe assumption Bush has permission to use it.
Here are more songs Bush uses, compiled by our trail reporter, Ed O'Keefe:
- "Wheel in the Sky" by Journey
- "Uptown Funk" by Brunos Mars
- "She Thinks We’re Just Fishin'" by Trace Adkins
- "‘Round Here" by Florida/Georgia Line
- "Still Unbroken" by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- "The Workingman’s Hymn" by Joshua Davis
- "Sweet Emotion" by Aerosmith
- "Sing for the Moment" by Aerosmith
- "Tonight" by Usher
- "Two Tickets to Paradise" by Eddie Money
Band: Rascal Flatts
Song: "Life Is A Highway"
Apropos lyrics: "There's a world outside every darkened door, where blues won't haunt you anymore, where brave are free and lovers soar. Come ride with me to the distant shore."
The takeaway: The soft-spoken candidate wants to project excitement with this song's nearly instantaneously recognizable, feel-good riff.
Political leanings: The country band's members talk openly about their Christian faith. In 2009, the band came out with a song, "Love Who You Love" that was meant to support their gay friends.
Permission to use: Since Carson walked out to the song at CPAC, where the convention and its organizers had proper licenses, it was okay.
Song: "Enter Sandman"
Apropos lyrics: "Sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight." (Christie walked out to CPAC in 2015 to the instrumental part of the song.)
The takeaway: Maybe that Christie is tough? Or that he will haunt you through your nightmares?
Political leanings: The band's leader, James Hetfield, told Rolling Stone Magazine in 1993, "I'm pretty conservative on a lot of things" but that he doesn't really fit into a political party.
Permission to use: Again, using the song at CPAC was okay. Less clear is whether it would be okay out on the campaign trail. Sadly for Christie, who is a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, he can't use any of The Boss's songs. (As you'll read below, Springsteen is a huge Democrat.) But that doesn't mean Christie can't sing them with Jimmy Fallon.
Band: Katy Perry
Apropos lyrics: "I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire. 'Cause I am a champion, and you're gonna hear me roar."
The takeaway: Clinton's projecting that she's hip, her campaign's exciting and this song about female empowerment is a not-so-subtle nod to her potentially historic White House run.
Political leanings: Democrat
Permission to use: Yep.
Clinton has also walked out to Kelly Clarkson's "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger" and Pharrell Williams's "Happy." Clearly, her uber-safe campaign is choosing some uber-safe and popular songs.
Band: Pat Green
Song: "Wave on Wave"
Apropos lyrics: "The clouds broke and the angels cried. You ain't gotta walk alone."
The takeaway: Cruz is going back to his home state of Texas with this one. This country classic is popular among the Christian community there. The message: He's the feel-good social conservative candidate.
Political leanings: The Texas Native once told the Austin Chronicle that he's friends with fellow Texas musician Kinky Friedman, who ran for office as a Republican, independent and Democrat.
Permission to use: Cruz used the song at CPAC, where he had the okay.
Band: Pharrell Williams
Apropos lyrics: "Because I'm happy. Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof."
The takeaway: It's a very safe pick. It's also a song about basically nothing, so it's hard to think Fiorina wants anything other than for people to associate her with being upbeat.
Political leanings: Democrat. In a 2014 interview with GQ, Pharrell endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying "You're a woman, and there's no way in the world you're going to vote for somebody that's going to try to tell you what to do with your body."
Permission to use: Fiorina walked out to the song at CPAC, where she had explicit permission to use it.
Band: Brantley Gilbert
Song: "Country Must Be Country Wide"
Apropos lyrics: "I grew up south of the Mason-Dixon, workin', spittin', huntin' and fishin', stone-cold country by the grace of God."
The takeaway: This song is not as well-known as the others we've heard so far, but Jindal, whose family is from India and who has worked hard to establish himself as a no-hyphen American, wants you to know he's as country as the next Louisiana guy.
Political leanings: Unclear, but the Georgia native and devout Christian appeared in GOP nominee Mitt Romney's playlist for the 2012 campaign.
Permission to use: Jindal walked out to the song at CPAC, where he had explicit permission to use it.
Band: Bruce Springsteen
Song: "Land of Hope and Dreams"
Apropos lyrics: "I will provide for you and I'll stand by your side. You'll need a good companion now for this part of the ride."
The takeaway: This song's a Democratic classic (see "Permission to use"). And it's themes of "hope and dreams" are now boilerplate for political campaigns.
Political leanings: An avowed and outspoken Democrat, Springsteen campaigned for Democratic nominee John Kerry in 2004 and played at the Democratic National Convention in 2012. He famously clashed with Ronald Reagan, who tried to use this song in his campaign, and during Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) 2014 Bridgegate scandal, Springsteen went on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" with parody lyrics to to his "Born to Run." (Christie is still a huge and unapologetic fan of Springsteen.)
Permission to use: Likely. Obama and Vice President Biden are both known to play "Land of Hope and Dreams" at political events without any trouble.
Band: The Edgar Winter Group
Apropos lyrics: The song is an instrumental.
The takeaway: It's an unconventional, even edgy choice for a candidate who's pitching himself as exactly that.
Political leanings: Unclear. Edgar Winter, the band's frontman, hails from Beaumont, Tex.
Permission to use: The Huffington Post reports Paul has a license for it.
Band: Neil Young
Song: "Rockin' in the Free World"
Apropos lyrics: "Keep rockin' on in the free world."
The takeaway: It doesn't get more classic than this. Sanders, who once recorded his own folk album and clearly appreciates this kind of music, could be hoping to appeal to his base of older, white liberal men, who are also likely Neil Young fans. Or maybe Sanders just likes the song.
Political leanings: Leans Democratic but also describes himself as a libertarian. Young has written many songs criticizing the policies of both Bush presidents, but he has also said nice things about Ronald Reagan's personal qualities.
Permission to use: Yes. After Donald Trump's run-in with Neil Young (see below), Sanders walked on stage at a rally in Denver to "Rockin' in the Free World" and a spokesperson told Rolling Stone that, yes, Young (who is a Canadian citizen) supports Sanders.
Band: First Love
Song: "Game On"
Apropos lyrics: "When you got a man who will stand for what is right, game on. Victory is in sight. … Yes I believe that Rick Santorum is our man. Game on. He's got the plan."
The takeaway: Santorum takes somewhat of a risk in using this song, because it's not as well-known as a rock classic or top 40 choice. But when you realize it was made for him (see "Permission to use"), it's a nod to to the fact that yes, he has passionate supporters. Plus it's kinda catchy.
Political leanings: Conservative.
Permission to use: The two singer-songwriter sisters and devout Christians made the song for Santorum during his 2012 campaign. Santorum walked out to it at this year's CPAC.
Band: Neil Young
Song: "Rockin in' the Free World"
Apropos lyrics: "Keep rockin' on in the free world."
The takeaway: The lyrics definitely might match the tone of Trump's "do-what-I-want" campaign. But in using this ultra-classic song for his campaign launch (back when Donald Trump was more of a punchline than the GOP front-runner), the real-estate mogul/reality TV star may have been trying to project an air of seriousness.
Political leanings: See above.
Permission to use: Unclear. Young objected to Trump's use of the song during Trump's presidential campaign announcement in June, but Reuters reports Trump's campaign said it had paid to license it.
(Trump can always fall back on the obscure New York City singer-songwriter Toots Sweet, who made the song "Make America Great Again" specifically for Trump.)
Band: Brooks and Dunn
Song: "Only in America"
Apropos lyrics: "Only in America, where we dream as big as we want to, we all get a chance."
The takeaway: Walker's pitch to voters is that he's a down home, regular ol' Midwestern guy, and this song gets that job done. It also doesn't hurt that the last Republican president, George W. Bush, played it a lot.
Our trail reporter, Jenna Johnson, says another popular Walker campaign song is Dierks Bentley's "I Hold On," which is a similar vein to "Only in America."
Political leanings: Independent. The reunited country duo Brooks and Dunn's song "Only in America" is a GOP classic (and the duo played for President George W. Bush's 2001 inauguration party). But when then-candidate Obama exited the stage to "Only in America" at the 2008 Democratic National Convention after accepting the party's nomination, Brooks and Dunn issued a statement: "Very flattering to know our song crossed parties and potentially inspires all Americans." Dunn told the New York Times in 2012 that he was undecided between Obama and Romney.
Permission to use: Likely. Brooks and Dunn's song has been a staple at political events for more than a decade. A spokesman for Brooks said he and Walker never had any conversations about using the song but that the duo's record label owns its rights.
Walker did not, however, have permission to use a song by the Boston-based Dropkick Murphys, who tweeted after Walker walked out to it at January's Iowa Freedom Summit:
— Dropkick Murphys (@DropkickMurphys) January 25, 2015
Such is the danger of choosing a song for your political campaign.