What the 2020 Campaign Sounds Like

What the 2020 Campaign Sounds Like

transcript

transcript

What the 2020 Campaign Sounds Like

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Luke Vander Ploeg, Michael Simon Johnson and Jonathan Wolfe, and edited by Paige Cowett

Presidential candidates come with a message — and a playlist. We look at how music helps set the tone.

archived recording 1
Ladies and gentlemen.
archived recording 2
It’s indeed a pleasure.
archived recording 3
It is my honor and pleasure —
archived recording 4
— a pleasure for me —
archived recording 5
— to introduce the next president —
archived recording 6
— of the United States of America.
archived recording 7
Senator Bernie Sanders! (SINGING) Power to the people!
archived recording 8
Mayor Pete Buttigieg!
archived recording 9
Julián Castro.
archived recording 10
The next president of the United States of America, Elizabeth Warren.
archived recording
(SINGING) Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living.
michael barbaro
Today: What the 2020 presidential campaign sounds like. Politics reporter Astead Herndon on what we can learn about the state of the race from the candidates’ playlists. It’s Thursday, August 22. Astead, there are, of course, so many ways to think about a campaign and analyze it and break it down. So why did you decide to zero in on music?
astead herndon
When we think about political campaigns, essentially, they are stories, and the candidates are trying to tell the public a story about themselves and about what they can provide to that voter’s life, and they do that in a lot of ways. They do that through policies. They do that by touting their experience. But they also do that by trying to evoke a certain emotion, and that often has happened through music. All the way back in the ‘50s —
archived recording
(SINGING) Ike for president. Ike for president. Ike for president. Ike for president. You like Ike.
astead herndon
— you had Dwight Eisenhower with a jingle about we like Ike.
archived recording 1
(SINGING) Hang the banner. Beat the drum. We’ll take Ike to Washington.
archived recording 2
(SINGING) Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy for me.
astead herndon
If you think to the ‘60s, you have “Kennedy can.” And these campaigns were having jingles not just to literally have the voters remember their names, but they would have stories in them to evoke a certain emotion that would track with the kind of message that the campaign was trying to send.
archived recording
(SINGING) Do you want a man for president who’s seasoned through and through, but not so doggone seasoned that he won’t try something new, a man who’s old enough to know — and young enough to do? Well, it’s up to you, it’s up to you, it’s strictly up to you!
astead herndon
When we think back about Kennedy, it is that Camelot, youthful, generational change feeling that we still think about, and that was a clear strategy from that campaign, to take what could have been a negative and spin it into a positive argument, and that happens through the song too. And what we see with Eisenhower and Kennedy continues on.
archived recording
(SINGING) Hello, Lyndon. Well, hello, Lyndon.
astead herndon
You have Lyndon Johnson, who uses a popular song from the time, “Hello, Dolly!” and spins it into “Hello, Lyndon!” You have Jimmy Carter with a more kind of melancholy song —
archived recording
(SINGING) I heard a young man speaking up just the other day. So I stopped to take a listen to what he had to say.
astead herndon
— that talks about him being straight and simple and can fix government and the kind of can-do attitude that we have come to know Jimmy Carter to this day.
archived recording
(SINGING) He said his name was Jimmy Carter, and he was running for president.
astead herndon
And these are, again, intentional choices of campaigns to quite literally write a song that puts the themes that they are trying to evoke to a jingle that sticks in the public’s mind but also can reshape the way they view a particular candidate. It’s a framing device. But as we get closer and closer to the modern era, you see the modern campaigns start to fuse politics and culture in a way where even the political campaigns themselves somewhat seem like cultural phenomenons. You have —
archived recording
[SAXOPHONE PLAYING]
astead herndon
— Bill Clinton on “The Arsenio Hall Show” playing the saxophone in a kind of memorable moment. And it ends up with Obama —
archived recording (barack obama)
It is my extraordinary privilege —
astead herndon
— who, more than anything, his rise to the White House, his historic rise, was not only one that was political —
archived recording (barack obama)
— to an artist who has stirred our hearts and our souls for a generation —
astead herndon
— but was a big cultural moment that saw Hollywood and music and politics all seem for a second to blend into one.
archived recording (barack obama)
Please give it up for Mr. Stevie Wonder.
michael barbaro
And why does that end up working for Obama?
astead herndon
Well, there was a sense that he was a kind of person of culture and that this was authentic to his personality and to what he listened to and from the communities in which he comes from. I think that’s an important point. The merging of kind of your political identity and a cultural identity only works if the public thinks it’s an authentic thing. So it’s kind of risky when we think about even a couple years ago, when Hillary Clinton was running for president. There was this massive derision when she tried to do kind of modern dance moves like the Whip and the Nae Nae.
archived recording
(SINGING) Silentó, Silentó.
astead herndon
I remember still talking to black voters — I was out in Baltimore, and they bring that up as a sign that Democrats were pandering to black voters and not necessarily doing an explicit reach-out. Now, Barack Obama did dance moves all the time. The difference between one candidate and the other is the feeling that it is authentic to their selves and that it is something that you can really believe coming from them.
michael barbaro
Which I think brings us to today. So as you started to compile this music for the 2020 candidates, how are you thinking about the role of music in this particular campaign, 2020?
astead herndon
If Barack Obama cemented the merging of politics and culture, Donald Trump has exploded it. This is a president who was a cultural figure long before he was a political one, and his campaign style, for anyone who has been to those rallies, is so tied in to a kind of cultural phenomenon that sometimes looks more like a concert or a megachurch worship experience rather than a traditional political rally. And so what I wanted to do was say, knowing that they are eventually going to go up against such energy on the Republican side, are Democrats doing anything differently? What does authenticity mean to these candidates? And particularly in such a diverse field, does it look differently from one candidate to the other?
michael barbaro
O.K., so let’s dive into those playlists. Where should we start on the Democratic side in the 2020 field?
astead herndon
Let’s start with Bernie Sanders.
archived recording
Brooklyn, give a hometown welcome to the man that has been speaking truth to power for generations, the next president of the United States of America, Bernie Sanders. Let’s go!
astead herndon
Obviously, he was coming into this race off the strength of a 2016 race, but we knew that going in here, he wanted to tell more personal stories, and he wanted to lean in his, quote, unquote, “political revolution.” That comes out in the songs. At his first rally in Brooklyn, he comes up to “Brooklyn Go Hard.”
archived recording
(SINGING) Brooklyn, we go hard, we go hard. Brooklyn, we go hard, we go hard.
astead herndon
He talks more about his upbringing in that community. But then when you look through the list, all his other songs had that kind of revolution thing. So you have things like “Make a Change” —
archived recording
(SINGING) Make a change in your life, and make it for the better.
astead herndon
Songs like “Power to the People” and “Take It to the Streets.”
archived recording
(SINGING) Taking it to the streets, taking it to the streets.
michael barbaro
So Sanders’s musical selection is a very on-the-nose articulation of his central message of disrupting the economic and political order and is not necessarily about broadening his message through music.
astead herndon
Exactly, but that’s exactly why folks love him, is because he has been the same person. And that, to people, gives them a sense of this is his real, authentic self. In that same vein, just as Senator Sanders is owning his kind of political reputation through the playlist, so are some of the other presidential candidates. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has struggled to break out of the race but has really leaned in to kind of an openly feminist presidential campaign, her playlist really reflects that, also. You have songs like “Woman” by Kesha.
archived recording
(SINGING) I don’t need a man to be holding me too tight.
astead herndon
“No Scrubs” by TLC.
archived recording
(SINGING) I don’t want no scrubs.
astead herndon
“Ladies First” by Queen Latifah.
archived recording
(SINGING) I’ma mess around and flip the scene into reverse. With what? With a little touch of ladies first.
astead herndon
Beyonce’s “Run the World.”
archived recording
Who run the world? Girls! Who run the world? Girls!
astead herndon
These are songs that match what she’s trying to do.
archived recording (pete buttigieg)
Hello South Bend!
astead herndon
Mayor Pete Buttigieg is another one who — the words and the sounds match. He has kind of broken out of this race because of his unifying message. And more so than any other playlist, his playlist takes little bits and pieces from everywhere. So you have “American Crazy” by Brothers Osborne.
archived recording
(SINGING) We’re all just American crazy.
astead herndon
But you also have “American Boy” by Estelle and Kanye West —
archived recording
You be my American boy — American boy.
astead herndon
— “Confident” by Demi Lovato —
archived recording
What’s wrong with being confident?
astead herndon
— more modern songs. So while Sanders and Gillibrand have a very specific theme throughout, Buttigieg’s can jump into different genres, different demographics, just like his rhetoric.
archived recording
(SINGING) Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living.
astead herndon
But it’s also interesting how they use particular songs. Senator Elizabeth Warren usually walks up to “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton, the kind of classic working-class song about it’s all taking and no giving, the tough person’s life of middle-class working America. That fits with her populist themes. It’s about reclaiming a kind of identity and a dignity of work. When she’s in the South, though, that song changed. I was with her during her kind of first Southern tour through majority black communities in Tennessee and Georgia and Mississippi, and during that tour, it was not Dolly Parton that was greeting Senator Warren as she came onto the stage, but Aretha Franklin and her song “Respect.”
michael barbaro
Well, that’s interesting.
archived recording
(SINGING) What you want, baby, I got it.
astead herndon
Yeah, another song of similar themes, right? We are still talking about kind of working-class dignity. We’re still talking about women’s empowerment and kind of reclaiming that. But, of course, Aretha Franklin means something different, and I don’t think it’s an accident that when she’s in those communities that that song was chosen.
michael barbaro
Now what do you make of that very intentional targeting?
astead herndon
I think that’s politics. I think there is a kind of cynical view that says that that is pandering to an audience. Certainly those things can come off inauthentic if they do not feel like they are tied to a candidate or something a candidate would do. If Elizabeth Warren was in the South and started playing Outkast, the Southern rap group, that would feel different.
michael barbaro
Why? Why would that be different and it sounds like, perhaps, a little problematic?
astead herndon
Well, because, I mean, we keep going back to this point about does it feel true to that individual’s identity? I, in all the time I’ve spent talking to Senator Warren and seeing her at rallies, she’s never struck me as someone who’s been listening to Outkast. She is someone who listens to and cares about Aretha Franklin. So you can do the kind of messaging. You can do kind of intentional targeting without it being pandering, if it seems within that candidate’s personality. And so I think that is the tightrope that these campaigns are trying to walk. ^ARCHIVED RECORDING^ (SINGING) Mamas, mamas, babymamas’ mamas.
michael barbaro
We’ll be right back.
archived recording
Yeah, go like this. I’m sorry Ms. Jackson, I am for real.
michael barbaro
So we see Warren and Sanders playing music that gives very direct voice to their larger campaign messages, but that also seems plausibly like the music they have in their lives and that they would listen to, because what they’re up to here is trying to seem real and consistent and authentic.
astead herndon
Exactly. They are trying to match what the people coming to that rally think of them. Sometimes that leans into a political message, but sometimes that leans into your identity and centering that piece throughout your campaign, throughout your rallies, and throughout your playlist. Take Senator Kamala Harris. Her playlist has only one white artist, and it’s overwhelmingly a mix of genres. It’s “HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar. It’s “T-Shirt” by Migos.
archived recording
(SINGING) Mama told me not to sell work — mama — seventeen five, same color T-shirt — white — mama told me.
astead herndon
It’s also R&B hits. “Video” from India.Arie —
archived recording
Sometimes I shave my legs, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I comb my hair and sometimes I won’t.
astead herndon
— or older classics, “Cold Sweat” by James Brown.
archived recording
I don’t care about your past.
astead herndon
I don’t think it’s an accident that this is overwhelmingly black artists. She is trying to tell a story about authenticity that’s not based in policy but is in what you would think a cool, middle-aged black woman would listen to.
archived recording
I break out in a cold sweat!
michael barbaro
So to the degree that music ever tells you what’s going on in a campaign, this playlist suggests what about the decisions that the Kamala Harris campaign has made about how to represent itself?
astead herndon
If you listen to how Kamala Harris talks about change, sometimes it’s pretty explicitly around identity.
archived recording (kamala harris)
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, South Carolina N.A.A.C.P., for honoring me with this evening.
astead herndon
I was in South Carolina as she told the audience of black working-class folks —
archived recording (kamala harris)
It matters who’s in those rooms where the decisions are being made. It matters.
astead herndon
It matters that someone had experiences like us, and that “us” is intentional. It’s trying to show a level of kinship with not only an important voting bloc, but a voting bloc that’s felt historically ignored.
archived recording (kamala harris)
We always have to be in those rooms, especially and even when there aren’t many like us there.
astead herndon
That is a story about representation that her campaign is trying to tell, and that’s a story that comes through with the artist choice and the song choice.
michael barbaro
I wonder if you can interpret Harris’s musical selections as putting her identity in the foreground and saying or recognizing that that may be as important, if not more important, than her actual policy positions, which have occasionally confused people when she’s gone back and forth on issues like Medicare for All.
astead herndon
The Harris campaign thinks that people want not only someone who can deliver on policy, but they also think people are looking for a figure who can beat Trump and a figure who stands for everything that Trump is not.
michael barbaro
Right, and someone like Harris can have policies that might seem too far to the left or too moderate for some voters, but they’ll have faith in her if they believe she is authentically herself.
astead herndon
Right. The biggest example of this is the last election. Donald Trump was not where most Republicans were on particular policy issues. What he did have, though, was a sense that he was going through that campaign being himself. The most repeated thing you would hear on the trail was that he was himself and that Hillary Clinton was inauthentic. The fairness of that is a whole separate question, but that’s the lesson from 2016. Voters will come to you if they think who you are is true to what you believe in.
michael barbaro
So that brings us to the Democratic frontrunner, who we haven’t mentioned yet, and his musical tastes, which is Joe Biden.
astead herndon
Joe Biden has been doing this a while, right? He is someone who has not only run for president twice before, but has kind of been on the scene since ‘72. What he has now that he’s never had in those previous runs is the weight of the vice presidency and genuine support from black voters. And when you look at Biden’s playlist, it merges those two views of him, the kind of working-class Joe view that he has long enjoyed as a reputation, but also this new Joe Biden that we have now, which has real and deep relationships in black communities and widespread support across black communities. His playlist is almost 50/50 evenly split between black and white.
archived recording
(SINGING) Everybody, let the good times roll.
astead herndon
You’ll hear “All I Do” by Stevie Wonder, “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross, or “Good Times” by Sam Cooke.
archived recording
I’ve felt this good since I don’t know when, and I might not feel this good again. So come on —
astead herndon
But you’ll also hear “Heroes” by David Bowie, “We Take Care of Our Own” by Bruce Springsteen —
archived recording
From Chicago to New Orleans, from the muscle to the bone.
astead herndon
— or modern stuff like “All We Ever Knew” by Head and the Heart.
archived recording
(SINGING) When I wake up in the morning, I see nothing for miles and miles and miles.
astead herndon
It’s a mix of genres, but you almost have it alternating between black and white. And when I think about when I saw him in South Carolina during one of his first campaign stops, he took this even a step further. It wasn’t just that the playlist was on, but before he took the stage, a black choir performed. A black drum line performed. It was a kind of community-based event. It works. It seems like he is bringing South Carolina to the rally, and that is what politics is, that type of storytelling.
michael barbaro
I wonder if that’s one perhaps small way to understand why Biden is the frontrunner here.
astead herndon
I always think about what makes Joe Biden different from a bunch of other candidates who have also pitched themselves as kind of working-class, electable candidates who can speak to the, quote, unquote, “white, Midwestern voter.” And the thing that makes him different is support from black people. It’s why he’s ahead in the poll and why others are behind.
michael barbaro
And Astead, I know we’ve been talking about the Democratic side of this campaign. What about President Trump? What do we see in his music selections this year in 2020 that help us understand his strategy and how his campaign sees this race?
astead herndon
At rallies for Democratic candidates, music is a prelude, a prologue, a sideshow. At Trump rallies, it is the main event.
archived recording
(SINGING) And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.
astead herndon
It is what ties them together for hours and hours as they wait for the rally to begin.
archived recording
(SINGING) Am I your fire, your one —
astead herndon
And more so than that, it’s just all you can hear. It’s played at a deafening decibel level that is not meant for you to have side conversations during. You’re supposed to be into the music.
archived recording
Tell me why. Ain’t nothing but a heartache.
astead herndon
It’s exciting. At a Trump rally, you’re there for him, but you’re also there for each other, and there is this kind of community feel that, frankly, is unique to those events — dance battles in the crowd, kind of loud, top-of-your-lungs singing. You hear the “Y.M.C.A.” at a Trump rally, and the whole stadium will do it simultaneously.
archived recording
(SINGING) It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.! It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.!
astead herndon
And so as we look through the Trump playlist, some of these have become almost synonymous with the president himself, because he’s been using these songs for now three years of what has been these intensely watched events. “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. You have lots of songs by Queen — “Under Pressure,” “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions.” But you also have some maybe unexpected ones.
archived recording
[ITALIAN SINGING]
astead herndon
You have “The Prayer” by Bocelli and Celine Dion. You have “Memories” from the musical “Cats.”
michael barbaro
You have “Cats.”
astead herndon
Yeah.
archived recording
(SINGING) Memory, all alone in the moonlight.
astead herndon
But you also have the same song he had his first dance to at inauguration, “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.
archived recording
(SINGING) Yes, it was my way.
michael barbaro
What exactly is the message of this kind of strange mix of music, do you think?
astead herndon
It’s, I think, kind of hard to create a connective tissue through the words and lyrics, but what you do have and what our analysis showed is he had the largest majority of white artists, the majority white bands. And he also has a pretty old playlist. And I think the combo of those two things are really important. It’s white nostalgia. It’s “Make America Great Again.” It is evoking a kind of feeling of the past, but it’s still stadium music.
michael barbaro
So rather than being the music of a political message — it’s not uprising, it’s not feminism, it’s not African-American identity — it’s just loud, blaring Americana.
astead herndon
I think that’s a perfect description. We don’t know if President Trump listens to “Memories” by “Cats.” We don’t know if he listens to Queen as much as this playlist reflects. But we do know about him is that he feeds off emotions from the crowd and that he loves a show, and that is clear the second that audience gets in the stadium. And so I would say the authenticity piece for him is not one that’s reflected in the words of the songs, but is one that is in the emotion that’s in the building. It’s that showman quality that they’ve come to see, that they’re excited to see. That’s what they get.
michael barbaro
So whether or not the music feels true to what Trump actually listens to, the whole scene, it sounds like, evokes a deep sense of what Trump stands for, and it feels like this question, which we keep referring to, of authenticity, Trump achieves that on a kind of order of magnitude beyond what anyone else is currently doing on the other side.
astead herndon
We know that each of the candidates is trying to introduce themselves to the public and to stand out from what is a crowded Democratic field, and music is one of the ways they try to tell that story. When I think about the scene at Trump rallies before the speakers begin, when the crowd is doing the Y.M.C.A. and the wave and the dancing, I think that there is actual political value in that energy. And whoever wins on the Democratic side will have to motivate their base in a way that matches or exceeds that level of energy, and it has to be done in a way that seems authentic to who that person is, and that is not going to be an easy task.
michael barbaro
Astead, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
astead herndon
Thanks for having me.
michael barbaro
We’ll be right back. Here’s what else you need to know today. The Trump administration revealed a new regulation on Wednesday that would allow it to indefinitely detain migrant families who illegally cross the border. The regulation is designed to replace a decades-old court agreement that limited how long the government could hold migrant children in custody, a ruling that Trump has complained allowed undocumented immigrants to be released into the country. The change would require approval from a federal judge and is expected to be immediately challenged in court. That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

Presidential candidates come with a message — and a playlist. We look at how music helps set the tone.

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Luke Vander Ploeg, Michael Simon Johnson and Jonathan Wolfe, and edited by Paige Cowett

transcript

transcript

What the 2020 Campaign Sounds Like

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Luke Vander Ploeg, Michael Simon Johnson and Jonathan Wolfe, and edited by Paige Cowett

Presidential candidates come with a message — and a playlist. We look at how music helps set the tone.

archived recording 1
Ladies and gentlemen.
archived recording 2
It’s indeed a pleasure.
archived recording 3
It is my honor and pleasure —
archived recording 4
— a pleasure for me —
archived recording 5
— to introduce the next president —
archived recording 6
— of the United States of America.
archived recording 7
Senator Bernie Sanders! (SINGING) Power to the people!
archived recording 8
Mayor Pete Buttigieg!
archived recording 9
Julián Castro.
archived recording 10
The next president of the United States of America, Elizabeth Warren.
archived recording
(SINGING) Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living.
michael barbaro
Today: What the 2020 presidential campaign sounds like. Politics reporter Astead Herndon on what we can learn about the state of the race from the candidates’ playlists. It’s Thursday, August 22. Astead, there are, of course, so many ways to think about a campaign and analyze it and break it down. So why did you decide to zero in on music?
astead herndon
When we think about political campaigns, essentially, they are stories, and the candidates are trying to tell the public a story about themselves and about what they can provide to that voter’s life, and they do that in a lot of ways. They do that through policies. They do that by touting their experience. But they also do that by trying to evoke a certain emotion, and that often has happened through music. All the way back in the ‘50s —
archived recording
(SINGING) Ike for president. Ike for president. Ike for president. Ike for president. You like Ike.
astead herndon
— you had Dwight Eisenhower with a jingle about we like Ike.
archived recording 1
(SINGING) Hang the banner. Beat the drum. We’ll take Ike to Washington.
archived recording 2
(SINGING) Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy for me.
astead herndon
If you think to the ‘60s, you have “Kennedy can.” And these campaigns were having jingles not just to literally have the voters remember their names, but they would have stories in them to evoke a certain emotion that would track with the kind of message that the campaign was trying to send.
archived recording
(SINGING) Do you want a man for president who’s seasoned through and through, but not so doggone seasoned that he won’t try something new, a man who’s old enough to know — and young enough to do? Well, it’s up to you, it’s up to you, it’s strictly up to you!
astead herndon
When we think back about Kennedy, it is that Camelot, youthful, generational change feeling that we still think about, and that was a clear strategy from that campaign, to take what could have been a negative and spin it into a positive argument, and that happens through the song too. And what we see with Eisenhower and Kennedy continues on.
archived recording
(SINGING) Hello, Lyndon. Well, hello, Lyndon.
astead herndon
You have Lyndon Johnson, who uses a popular song from the time, “Hello, Dolly!” and spins it into “Hello, Lyndon!” You have Jimmy Carter with a more kind of melancholy song —
archived recording
(SINGING) I heard a young man speaking up just the other day. So I stopped to take a listen to what he had to say.
astead herndon
— that talks about him being straight and simple and can fix government and the kind of can-do attitude that we have come to know Jimmy Carter to this day.
archived recording
(SINGING) He said his name was Jimmy Carter, and he was running for president.
astead herndon
And these are, again, intentional choices of campaigns to quite literally write a song that puts the themes that they are trying to evoke to a jingle that sticks in the public’s mind but also can reshape the way they view a particular candidate. It’s a framing device. But as we get closer and closer to the modern era, you see the modern campaigns start to fuse politics and culture in a way where even the political campaigns themselves somewhat seem like cultural phenomenons. You have —
archived recording
[SAXOPHONE PLAYING]
astead herndon
— Bill Clinton on “The Arsenio Hall Show” playing the saxophone in a kind of memorable moment. And it ends up with Obama —
archived recording (barack obama)
It is my extraordinary privilege —
astead herndon
— who, more than anything, his rise to the White House, his historic rise, was not only one that was political —
archived recording (barack obama)
— to an artist who has stirred our hearts and our souls for a generation —
astead herndon
— but was a big cultural moment that saw Hollywood and music and politics all seem for a second to blend into one.
archived recording (barack obama)
Please give it up for Mr. Stevie Wonder.
michael barbaro
And why does that end up working for Obama?
astead herndon
Well, there was a sense that he was a kind of person of culture and that this was authentic to his personality and to what he listened to and from the communities in which he comes from. I think that’s an important point. The merging of kind of your political identity and a cultural identity only works if the public thinks it’s an authentic thing. So it’s kind of risky when we think about even a couple years ago, when Hillary Clinton was running for president. There was this massive derision when she tried to do kind of modern dance moves like the Whip and the Nae Nae.
archived recording
(SINGING) Silentó, Silentó.
astead herndon
I remember still talking to black voters — I was out in Baltimore, and they bring that up as a sign that Democrats were pandering to black voters and not necessarily doing an explicit reach-out. Now, Barack Obama did dance moves all the time. The difference between one candidate and the other is the feeling that it is authentic to their selves and that it is something that you can really believe coming from them.
michael barbaro
Which I think brings us to today. So as you started to compile this music for the 2020 candidates, how are you thinking about the role of music in this particular campaign, 2020?
astead herndon
If Barack Obama cemented the merging of politics and culture, Donald Trump has exploded it. This is a president who was a cultural figure long before he was a political one, and his campaign style, for anyone who has been to those rallies, is so tied in to a kind of cultural phenomenon that sometimes looks more like a concert or a megachurch worship experience rather than a traditional political rally. And so what I wanted to do was say, knowing that they are eventually going to go up against such energy on the Republican side, are Democrats doing anything differently? What does authenticity mean to these candidates? And particularly in such a diverse field, does it look differently from one candidate to the other?
michael barbaro
O.K., so let’s dive into those playlists. Where should we start on the Democratic side in the 2020 field?
astead herndon
Let’s start with Bernie Sanders.
archived recording
Brooklyn, give a hometown welcome to the man that has been speaking truth to power for generations, the next president of the United States of America, Bernie Sanders. Let’s go!
astead herndon
Obviously, he was coming into this race off the strength of a 2016 race, but we knew that going in here, he wanted to tell more personal stories, and he wanted to lean in his, quote, unquote, “political revolution.” That comes out in the songs. At his first rally in Brooklyn, he comes up to “Brooklyn Go Hard.”
archived recording
(SINGING) Brooklyn, we go hard, we go hard. Brooklyn, we go hard, we go hard.
astead herndon
He talks more about his upbringing in that community. But then when you look through the list, all his other songs had that kind of revolution thing. So you have things like “Make a Change” —
archived recording
(SINGING) Make a change in your life, and make it for the better.
astead herndon
Songs like “Power to the People” and “Take It to the Streets.”
archived recording
(SINGING) Taking it to the streets, taking it to the streets.
michael barbaro
So Sanders’s musical selection is a very on-the-nose articulation of his central message of disrupting the economic and political order and is not necessarily about broadening his message through music.
astead herndon
Exactly, but that’s exactly why folks love him, is because he has been the same person. And that, to people, gives them a sense of this is his real, authentic self. In that same vein, just as Senator Sanders is owning his kind of political reputation through the playlist, so are some of the other presidential candidates. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who has struggled to break out of the race but has really leaned in to kind of an openly feminist presidential campaign, her playlist really reflects that, also. You have songs like “Woman” by Kesha.
archived recording
(SINGING) I don’t need a man to be holding me too tight.
astead herndon
“No Scrubs” by TLC.
archived recording
(SINGING) I don’t want no scrubs.
astead herndon
“Ladies First” by Queen Latifah.
archived recording
(SINGING) I’ma mess around and flip the scene into reverse. With what? With a little touch of ladies first.
astead herndon
Beyonce’s “Run the World.”
archived recording
Who run the world? Girls! Who run the world? Girls!
astead herndon
These are songs that match what she’s trying to do.
archived recording (pete buttigieg)
Hello South Bend!
astead herndon
Mayor Pete Buttigieg is another one who — the words and the sounds match. He has kind of broken out of this race because of his unifying message. And more so than any other playlist, his playlist takes little bits and pieces from everywhere. So you have “American Crazy” by Brothers Osborne.
archived recording
(SINGING) We’re all just American crazy.
astead herndon
But you also have “American Boy” by Estelle and Kanye West —
archived recording
You be my American boy — American boy.
astead herndon
— “Confident” by Demi Lovato —
archived recording
What’s wrong with being confident?
astead herndon
— more modern songs. So while Sanders and Gillibrand have a very specific theme throughout, Buttigieg’s can jump into different genres, different demographics, just like his rhetoric.
archived recording
(SINGING) Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living.
astead herndon
But it’s also interesting how they use particular songs. Senator Elizabeth Warren usually walks up to “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton, the kind of classic working-class song about it’s all taking and no giving, the tough person’s life of middle-class working America. That fits with her populist themes. It’s about reclaiming a kind of identity and a dignity of work. When she’s in the South, though, that song changed. I was with her during her kind of first Southern tour through majority black communities in Tennessee and Georgia and Mississippi, and during that tour, it was not Dolly Parton that was greeting Senator Warren as she came onto the stage, but Aretha Franklin and her song “Respect.”
michael barbaro
Well, that’s interesting.
archived recording
(SINGING) What you want, baby, I got it.
astead herndon
Yeah, another song of similar themes, right? We are still talking about kind of working-class dignity. We’re still talking about women’s empowerment and kind of reclaiming that. But, of course, Aretha Franklin means something different, and I don’t think it’s an accident that when she’s in those communities that that song was chosen.
michael barbaro
Now what do you make of that very intentional targeting?
astead herndon
I think that’s politics. I think there is a kind of cynical view that says that that is pandering to an audience. Certainly those things can come off inauthentic if they do not feel like they are tied to a candidate or something a candidate would do. If Elizabeth Warren was in the South and started playing Outkast, the Southern rap group, that would feel different.
michael barbaro
Why? Why would that be different and it sounds like, perhaps, a little problematic?
astead herndon
Well, because, I mean, we keep going back to this point about does it feel true to that individual’s identity? I, in all the time I’ve spent talking to Senator Warren and seeing her at rallies, she’s never struck me as someone who’s been listening to Outkast. She is someone who listens to and cares about Aretha Franklin. So you can do the kind of messaging. You can do kind of intentional targeting without it being pandering, if it seems within that candidate’s personality. And so I think that is the tightrope that these campaigns are trying to walk. ^ARCHIVED RECORDING^ (SINGING) Mamas, mamas, babymamas’ mamas.
michael barbaro
We’ll be right back.
archived recording
Yeah, go like this. I’m sorry Ms. Jackson, I am for real.
michael barbaro
So we see Warren and Sanders playing music that gives very direct voice to their larger campaign messages, but that also seems plausibly like the music they have in their lives and that they would listen to, because what they’re up to here is trying to seem real and consistent and authentic.
astead herndon
Exactly. They are trying to match what the people coming to that rally think of them. Sometimes that leans into a political message, but sometimes that leans into your identity and centering that piece throughout your campaign, throughout your rallies, and throughout your playlist. Take Senator Kamala Harris. Her playlist has only one white artist, and it’s overwhelmingly a mix of genres. It’s “HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar. It’s “T-Shirt” by Migos.
archived recording
(SINGING) Mama told me not to sell work — mama — seventeen five, same color T-shirt — white — mama told me.
astead herndon
It’s also R&B hits. “Video” from India.Arie —
archived recording
Sometimes I shave my legs, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I comb my hair and sometimes I won’t.
astead herndon
— or older classics, “Cold Sweat” by James Brown.
archived recording
I don’t care about your past.
astead herndon
I don’t think it’s an accident that this is overwhelmingly black artists. She is trying to tell a story about authenticity that’s not based in policy but is in what you would think a cool, middle-aged black woman would listen to.
archived recording
I break out in a cold sweat!
michael barbaro
So to the degree that music ever tells you what’s going on in a campaign, this playlist suggests what about the decisions that the Kamala Harris campaign has made about how to represent itself?
astead herndon
If you listen to how Kamala Harris talks about change, sometimes it’s pretty explicitly around identity.
archived recording (kamala harris)
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, South Carolina N.A.A.C.P., for honoring me with this evening.
astead herndon
I was in South Carolina as she told the audience of black working-class folks —
archived recording (kamala harris)
It matters who’s in those rooms where the decisions are being made. It matters.
astead herndon
It matters that someone had experiences like us, and that “us” is intentional. It’s trying to show a level of kinship with not only an important voting bloc, but a voting bloc that’s felt historically ignored.
archived recording (kamala harris)
We always have to be in those rooms, especially and even when there aren’t many like us there.
astead herndon
That is a story about representation that her campaign is trying to tell, and that’s a story that comes through with the artist choice and the song choice.
michael barbaro
I wonder if you can interpret Harris’s musical selections as putting her identity in the foreground and saying or recognizing that that may be as important, if not more important, than her actual policy positions, which have occasionally confused people when she’s gone back and forth on issues like Medicare for All.
astead herndon
The Harris campaign thinks that people want not only someone who can deliver on policy, but they also think people are looking for a figure who can beat Trump and a figure who stands for everything that Trump is not.
michael barbaro
Right, and someone like Harris can have policies that might seem too far to the left or too moderate for some voters, but they’ll have faith in her if they believe she is authentically herself.
astead herndon
Right. The biggest example of this is the last election. Donald Trump was not where most Republicans were on particular policy issues. What he did have, though, was a sense that he was going through that campaign being himself. The most repeated thing you would hear on the trail was that he was himself and that Hillary Clinton was inauthentic. The fairness of that is a whole separate question, but that’s the lesson from 2016. Voters will come to you if they think who you are is true to what you believe in.
michael barbaro
So that brings us to the Democratic frontrunner, who we haven’t mentioned yet, and his musical tastes, which is Joe Biden.
astead herndon
Joe Biden has been doing this a while, right? He is someone who has not only run for president twice before, but has kind of been on the scene since ‘72. What he has now that he’s never had in those previous runs is the weight of the vice presidency and genuine support from black voters. And when you look at Biden’s playlist, it merges those two views of him, the kind of working-class Joe view that he has long enjoyed as a reputation, but also this new Joe Biden that we have now, which has real and deep relationships in black communities and widespread support across black communities. His playlist is almost 50/50 evenly split between black and white.
archived recording
(SINGING) Everybody, let the good times roll.
astead herndon
You’ll hear “All I Do” by Stevie Wonder, “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross, or “Good Times” by Sam Cooke.
archived recording
I’ve felt this good since I don’t know when, and I might not feel this good again. So come on —
astead herndon
But you’ll also hear “Heroes” by David Bowie, “We Take Care of Our Own” by Bruce Springsteen —
archived recording
From Chicago to New Orleans, from the muscle to the bone.
astead herndon
— or modern stuff like “All We Ever Knew” by Head and the Heart.
archived recording
(SINGING) When I wake up in the morning, I see nothing for miles and miles and miles.
astead herndon
It’s a mix of genres, but you almost have it alternating between black and white. And when I think about when I saw him in South Carolina during one of his first campaign stops, he took this even a step further. It wasn’t just that the playlist was on, but before he took the stage, a black choir performed. A black drum line performed. It was a kind of community-based event. It works. It seems like he is bringing South Carolina to the rally, and that is what politics is, that type of storytelling.
michael barbaro
I wonder if that’s one perhaps small way to understand why Biden is the frontrunner here.
astead herndon
I always think about what makes Joe Biden different from a bunch of other candidates who have also pitched themselves as kind of working-class, electable candidates who can speak to the, quote, unquote, “white, Midwestern voter.” And the thing that makes him different is support from black people. It’s why he’s ahead in the poll and why others are behind.
michael barbaro
And Astead, I know we’ve been talking about the Democratic side of this campaign. What about President Trump? What do we see in his music selections this year in 2020 that help us understand his strategy and how his campaign sees this race?
astead herndon
At rallies for Democratic candidates, music is a prelude, a prologue, a sideshow. At Trump rallies, it is the main event.
archived recording
(SINGING) And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.
astead herndon
It is what ties them together for hours and hours as they wait for the rally to begin.
archived recording
(SINGING) Am I your fire, your one —
astead herndon
And more so than that, it’s just all you can hear. It’s played at a deafening decibel level that is not meant for you to have side conversations during. You’re supposed to be into the music.
archived recording
Tell me why. Ain’t nothing but a heartache.
astead herndon
It’s exciting. At a Trump rally, you’re there for him, but you’re also there for each other, and there is this kind of community feel that, frankly, is unique to those events — dance battles in the crowd, kind of loud, top-of-your-lungs singing. You hear the “Y.M.C.A.” at a Trump rally, and the whole stadium will do it simultaneously.
archived recording
(SINGING) It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.! It’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.!
astead herndon
And so as we look through the Trump playlist, some of these have become almost synonymous with the president himself, because he’s been using these songs for now three years of what has been these intensely watched events. “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. You have lots of songs by Queen — “Under Pressure,” “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions.” But you also have some maybe unexpected ones.
archived recording
[ITALIAN SINGING]
astead herndon
You have “The Prayer” by Bocelli and Celine Dion. You have “Memories” from the musical “Cats.”
michael barbaro
You have “Cats.”
astead herndon
Yeah.
archived recording
(SINGING) Memory, all alone in the moonlight.
astead herndon
But you also have the same song he had his first dance to at inauguration, “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.
archived recording
(SINGING) Yes, it was my way.
michael barbaro
What exactly is the message of this kind of strange mix of music, do you think?
astead herndon
It’s, I think, kind of hard to create a connective tissue through the words and lyrics, but what you do have and what our analysis showed is he had the largest majority of white artists, the majority white bands. And he also has a pretty old playlist. And I think the combo of those two things are really important. It’s white nostalgia. It’s “Make America Great Again.” It is evoking a kind of feeling of the past, but it’s still stadium music.
michael barbaro
So rather than being the music of a political message — it’s not uprising, it’s not feminism, it’s not African-American identity — it’s just loud, blaring Americana.
astead herndon
I think that’s a perfect description. We don’t know if President Trump listens to “Memories” by “Cats.” We don’t know if he listens to Queen as much as this playlist reflects. But we do know about him is that he feeds off emotions from the crowd and that he loves a show, and that is clear the second that audience gets in the stadium. And so I would say the authenticity piece for him is not one that’s reflected in the words of the songs, but is one that is in the emotion that’s in the building. It’s that showman quality that they’ve come to see, that they’re excited to see. That’s what they get.
michael barbaro
So whether or not the music feels true to what Trump actually listens to, the whole scene, it sounds like, evokes a deep sense of what Trump stands for, and it feels like this question, which we keep referring to, of authenticity, Trump achieves that on a kind of order of magnitude beyond what anyone else is currently doing on the other side.
astead herndon
We know that each of the candidates is trying to introduce themselves to the public and to stand out from what is a crowded Democratic field, and music is one of the ways they try to tell that story. When I think about the scene at Trump rallies before the speakers begin, when the crowd is doing the Y.M.C.A. and the wave and the dancing, I think that there is actual political value in that energy. And whoever wins on the Democratic side will have to motivate their base in a way that matches or exceeds that level of energy, and it has to be done in a way that seems authentic to who that person is, and that is not going to be an easy task.
michael barbaro
Astead, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
astead herndon
Thanks for having me.
michael barbaro
We’ll be right back. Here’s what else you need to know today. The Trump administration revealed a new regulation on Wednesday that would allow it to indefinitely detain migrant families who illegally cross the border. The regulation is designed to replace a decades-old court agreement that limited how long the government could hold migrant children in custody, a ruling that Trump has complained allowed undocumented immigrants to be released into the country. The change would require approval from a federal judge and is expected to be immediately challenged in court. That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

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Song playlists at presidential campaign rallies can be about more than music — they can reflect a candidate’s values, political platform, identity and target audience. We examine the role of these playlists in the 2020 campaign.

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On today’s episode:

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CreditMaddie McGarvey for The New York Times

Background reading:

  • The Times analyzed playlists used by nine Democratic candidates and President Trump to see how they help set the tone for each campaign. Turn your sound on.

Tune in, and tell us what you think. Email us at [email protected]. Follow Michael Barbaro on Twitter: @mikiebarb. And if you’re interested in advertising with “The Daily,” write to us at [email protected].

Astead W. Herndon contributed reporting.

“The Daily” is made by Theo Balcomb, Andy Mills, Lisa Tobin, Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Annie Brown, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Larissa Anderson, Wendy Dorr, Chris Wood, Jessica Cheung, Alexandra Leigh Young, Jonathan Wolfe, Lisa Chow, Eric Krupke, Marc Georges, Luke Vander Ploeg, Adizah Eghan, Kelly Prime, Julia Longoria, Sindhu Gnanasambandan, Jazmín Aguilera, M.J. Davis Lin and Dan Powell. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Mikayla Bouchard, Stella Tan and Julia Simon.

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