From the protest songs of Woodie Guthrie to the streetside concerts of Occupy Wall Street, music and politics have long gone hand in hand. But the two haven’t always seen eye-to-eye. Here are five moments where music and politics didn’t mix so well.
Ronald Reagan Pisses Off The Boss (1984)
| Stop using my song:
An MSNBC report
Despite the title and feel-good-sounding hook, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” was less an anthem than a lament for Vietnam vets when it arrived in 1984. These subtleties seemed to slip by President Ronald Reagan, who borrowed the song (without permission) for his re-election campaign. The Boss responded at a concert in Pittsburgh, telling the audience, “The president was mentioning my name the other day and I kinda got to wondering what his favorite album musta been. I don’t think it was the ‘Nebraska’ album. I don’t think he’s been listening to this one,” before playing cautionary tale “Johnny 99.” Thus was born a long tradition of right-leaning politicians appropriating liberal rockers’ songs, ranging from Michelle Bachmann and George W. Bush using Tom Petty without permission, to Heart shutting down former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s plays of “Barracuda” (the former Alaska governor’s nickname). And let’s not forget about three separate superstars — the Foo Fighters, Jackson Browne and John Mellencamp — asking John McCain to stop using their music during his ’08 presidential bid. Read more.
Dixie Chicks Bash Bush, Feel Nation’s Wrath (2003)
| “We’re ashamed that the President of the U.S. is from Texas.”
The Dixie Chicks were halfway around the world in 2003 when they took aim at then-president George W. Bush: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas,” singer Natalie Maines told a London audience in protest of the war in Iraq. But the immediate impact in the U.S. was instant: listeners called for a boycott, radio stations pulled them from playlists and Maines wound up apologizing for being “disrespectful” to the president days later. Though the band would find success again, including a Grammy album of the year win for 2006 release “Taking the Long Way,” the controversy lingered — according to one report, many country stations continued an informal ban on the group for years to come. Read more.
Kanye West Doesn’t Care About Politics (2006)
| “George Bush doesn’t care about black people…”
The Dixie Chicks weren’t the only act to attack George W. Bush. At a telethon for Hurricane Katrina relief in 2006, Kanye West — paired with actor Mike Myers — looked into the cameras and stated simply, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” referring to the perceived treatment of Katrina victims in New Orleans. In a 2010 NBC News interview, Bush would refer to the snipe as “one of the most disgusting moments in my presidency.” The outspoken rapper drew seemingly greater controversy for his infamous interruption of Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, resulting in the cancelation of a planned tour with Lady Gaga —
Twitter Endorsements Gone Wild (2011/2012)
You might not expect simultaneous political endorsements, much less ones for Ron Paul, from No Doubt, Rise Against and Nicole Scherzinger — and with good reason. The musicians each had their Twitter accounts hacked by supporters of the presidential candidate this month, with No Doubt appearing to state, “If you actually read what Ron Paul is saying, you will discover for the first time in your life a politician is not lying to you.” The band later wrote, “No political endorsements at this time,” while punk act Rise Against offered a stronger disavowal: “We DO NOT support Ron Paul.” One musician who does? Kelly Clarkson, who tweeted, “I love Ron Paul. I liked him a lot during the last Republican nomination and no one gave him a chance. If he wins the nomination for the Republican party in 2012 he’s got my vote. Too bad he probably won’t.” Read more.
One Moment Where Music and Politics DID Mix: Sonny Bono (1994)
When his music career was in the rearview, Sonny Bono turned to politics, and by all accounts excelled. Starting local, the songwriter-singer spent four years as mayor of Palm Springs, Calif. before leaving to run for the U.S. Senate (which he lost in a nomination battle) and then for the House (which he won in 1994). The Republican’s promising career was cut short, however, when he died in a skiing accident a month before his 63rd birthday.