Assignment 1: Blog 3 – Pop Culture In Politics: Clinton and Trump brand themselves with music in presidential campaigns (Music and Meaning)

Certainly, when music is played at a certain time or occasion it evokes different emotions, memories, and mood, always telling a story, creating history and meaning to different people over different eras. Popular music is a universal language understood by all “the art of thinking in sounds” Jules Combarieu cited in Frith (1998). Standardisation, of pop music, means it is no surprise that it is in the midst of the recent USA presidential elections, being used as a commodity within the culture industry for mass consumption predominantly to influence voters. “Music possesses a unique power to inspire, motivate and energize a camping” (ASCAP, n.d).

In this blog, I will discuss how Donald Trump and Hillary Clintons who in an endeavor to appeal to a wider audience/voters they would not otherwise reach, try and show their personality and identity institutionalised through sound, which taps into the voter’s emotions subliminally and passivity. However, Clinton and Trump are not the first to use popular music in campaigns, reflecting on Tony Blair’s song of choice, “Things can only get better” by D:Ream in his 1997 campaign in speaking and giving meaning to the nation.

According to the Guardian (2016), Trump’s selection of artists and genre bares no links between them. Throughout her campaign, Clinton embraced the notion of being the first female president hence as desperation set in she used mostly powerful female-led pop ballad bangers opposed to ‘serious’ music listening. (Longhurst, 1995) states this music is transforming and transcendental experience where nothing is ever the same with form and content and requires concentration, whereas the chosen pop music is the opposite of that as it sweeps individuals into passivity without using reason or engage in active listening, “the music does the listening for the listener Ardono (1941). Does his music have anything to do with their proposed policies?

Clinton’s campaign selection is based on what Ardono refers to as “sell out popular music” with pop artists who seem to have found ‘the hook’, and Gendron (1986) refers to it as resembling repetition & compulsion so characteristic of childhood behavior & that serious listening is not required as this is listening purely for entertainment.

Clinton’s choice of music gives meaning to the audience of varying ages 18 – 40s who can relate to the likes of Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Katy Perry, Jenifer Lopez, and lady Gaga. Those above 50 could relate to Madonna Bon Jovi, and Bruce Springsteen, these musicians according to Ardono do have their own variations but are nevertheless still standardised products. The pseudo-individualisation or uniqueness of these artists is only a surface effect, but it works. Standardization is considered not only as an expression of rigidity but also as a source of pleasure Gendron (1986). The music chosen by both candidates has repeated catchy chorus that does not require the voters to actively listen.

“In popular music, the mere recognition of the form virtually guarantees full understanding, in serious music one does not achieve full understanding, until one has struggled to concentrate. (Gendron, 1986, p.iv

Music has a way of connecting with listener’s feelings at a particular time, therefore the meaning of music affect emotions both mentally and body movement, and probably deceives when actually it is the music that is doing it for them through false consciousness of the soul as it were. ‘The hook’ (Wall 2013) in this case plays an import role to lodge the song into the listener’s mind. Musical meaning is created through blocks standardised pop music where content and form play an integral part that changes thoughts, feelings and able to sway people in ways they would not otherwise do in normal circumstances.

In these campaigns, music is used like a commodity as described by Adorno (1941) where he used the analogy of the way cereal is consumed. Trump does not seek permission from musicians as is the norm, culture industry standardising the music as objects for mass consumption during his campaign rallies. A particular favorite “You can’t always get that you want” was again played soon after his acceptance speech. “Music notation is, therefore, just one among several vehicles of communicating musical thoughts” (Shutz, 2008, p.83).


@MickJagger (2016)

It is fair to conclude judging by the way artists (Adele, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith Steve Tyler sending a cease-and-desist letter citing that it ‘gives a false impression’) (BBC, 2016), vehemently refuse for their music and voices to be used by Trump on the campaign trail. Musicians and songwriters are primarily responsible for creating meaning in music and adding value to it. Other musicians deliberately change the content/lyrics over during the campaigns. Musical knowledge is transmitted from those upon whom the prestige of authenticity and authority has been bestowed, Shutz (2008).



BBC (2016) Rolling stones tell trump to stop using their music. BBC Entertainment & Arts, 5 May. Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2016].

Frith, S. (1998) Performing rites: On the value of popular music. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Frith, S. and Goodwin, A. (1990) On record: Rock, pop, and the written world. London: Routledge, 1990 (2000 printing).

Jagger, M. (2011) Mick Jagger on Twitter. Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2016].

Jamieson, A. (2016) Pop for politics: How candidates brand themselves with music. The Guardian, 13 November. Available at: [Accessed 24 November 2016].

Longhurst, B. (1995) Popular music and society. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Political campaign (2015). Available at: [Accessed 24 November 2016].

Wall, T. (2013) Studying popular music culture. 2nd edn. London: SAGE Publications.



ABC News (2016) Donald Trump VICTORY SPEECH | full speech as president elect of the United States. YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 24 November 2016].

BBC news (2016) Available at: [Accessed 23 November 2016].

Klinger, M. (2012) A summary of Adorno and Horkheimer’s quite interesting and staggeringly pretentious views on art. 24 November. Available at: [Accessed 24 November 2016].

Shuker, R. (2013) Understanding popular music culture. 4th edn. New York: Routledge.

Welsh, C. (2017) Mick Jagger responds to trump playing ’you can‘t always get what you want’ after victory speech. Available at: [Accessed 25 November 2016].


2 thoughts on “Assignment 1: Blog 3 – Pop Culture In Politics: Clinton and Trump brand themselves with music in presidential campaigns (Music and Meaning)

  1. I think this was a more difficult way to speak about music used during the election, but interesting nonetheless!

    Bringing in concepts of identity would be the next logical step in my opinion. How the candidates made musical choices based on which would reinforce their identities most effectively, or how the musician’s identities themselves are affected by their music’s use within these campaigns – you touch on this already with the artists who sent cease and desist letters to Trump.

    You could even argue against Adorno, saying that if music is now just a mass produced commodity, why are artists refusing to let their songs – commodities – be used in a way that will create revenue for them. This would indicate the songs have a certain meaning attached to them that differs from their intended use within the campaign, and are therefore capable of being read differently by different people, and so aren’t standardised. You could use Tim Wall’s ‘pro-sumer’ theory, which argues that consumers project meaning onto media, giving it new meaning and effectively making them a producer as well as a consumer.

  2. I read an interesting article this week about how Trump might have to pay a six figure fee to get a big name artist to play at his inauguration

    It seems that artists are not only refusing because of the value they place in meaning and their art form, but also because it is a potentially career damaging endeavour. Your article explores the standardisation and fluidity of meaning that music has and could go further in placing the cultural currency it also has in a world where the dollar generally rules. Let’s see who goes for the six figure fee, surely difficult to turn down by anyone’s standards; in music we have already seen KLF burn £1,000,000 though, and I expect not many artists will want to sell out, if it doesn’t match their principles. It makes for a very interesting dilemma. The commercialisation of music vs the cultural significance of music, as played out by the Trump election.

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