Back in January 2017, Donald Trump famously struggled to find A-list artists to play his inauguration. Unlike predecessor Barack Obama’s star-studded 2008 swearing-in and suite of inaugural galas, Trump’s roster of talent was decidedly low-key. In the nearly two years since, however, his numerous campaign rallies have often featured plenty of chart-topping talent pumping through speakers to pump up his MAGA crowds.
The only problem is that many of the artists on his playlist are not at all OK with their music being used to entertain the red-hat hordes. In fact, over the past week, three artists — Rihanna, Pharrell and Guns N’ Roses — have added their names to the growing list of musicians who would prefer the president cease and desist from using their art to promote his self-described “nationalist” agenda.
After finding out from a tweet on Sunday that Trump was blasting her 2007 single “Don’t Stop the Music” at a rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Rih Rih shut that down, quickly. The singer, who earlier in the day had endorsed Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, tweeted, “Not for much longer… me nor my people would ever be at or around one of those tragic rallies.”
Not for much longer…me nor my people would ever be at or around one of those tragic rallies, so thanks for the heads up philip! https://t.co/dRgRi06GrJ
— Rihanna (@rihanna) November 5, 2018
Rih wasn’t alone. GN’R singer Axl Rose also got heated on Sunday, sending out a series of tweets slamming Trump for having “no regard for truth, ethics, morals or empathy of any kind.” Rose was riled up because he claimed that the Trump White House was employing “loopholes” to use GN’R hits including “Sweet Child o’ Mine” at political rallies, despite the band not giving their consent. “Just so ya know… GNR like a lot of artists opposed to the unauthorized use of their music at political events has formally requested r music not b used at Trump rallies or Trump associated events,” he said. “Unfortunately the Trump campaign is using loopholes in the various venues’ blanket performance licenses which were not intended for such craven political purposes, without the songwriters’ consent. Can u say ‘shitbags?!'”
The artistic outrage peaked a week earlier, when Pharrell Williams lashed out after hearing that Trump had played his ebullient 2013 hit “Happy” at a Midwest rally just hours after the slaughter of 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. “On the day of the mass murder of 11 human beings at the hands of a deranged ‘nationalist,’ you played [Pharrell’s] song ‘Happy’ to a crowd at a political event in Indiana,” attorney Howard King wrote in a letter on Williams’ behalf. “There was nothing ‘happy’ about the tragedy inflicted upon our country on Saturday and no permission was granted for your use of this song for this purpose.”
King stressed that Williams has not and will not give Trump permission to publicly perform or disseminate his music, with his use of “Happy” without consent constituting both copyright and trademark infringement.
Before the latest trio made their protests public, Trump had already amassed a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-worthy list of artists who vehemently insisted that he not use their music at his gatherings. After already asking Trump to back off in 2015 when the reality TV star was using Aerosmith music at his campaign rallies, singer Steven Tyler sent another cease and desist to the president in August for using the band’s “Livin’ on the Edge” without permission.
“What makes this violation even more egregious is that Mr. Trump’s use of our client’s music was previously shut down, not once, but two times, during his campaign for presidency in 2015,” read a letter from attorney Dina LaPolt. “Please see the Previous Letters sent on behalf of our client attached here as Exhibit A. Due to your receipt of the Previous Letters, such conduct is clearly willful, subjecting Mr. Trump to the maximum penalty under the law. As we have made clear numerous times, Mr. Trump is creating the false impression that our client has given his consent for the use of his music, and even that he endorses the presidency of Mr. Trump. By using ‘Livin’ on the Edge’ without our client’s permission, Mr. Trump is falsely implying that our client, once again, endorses his campaign and/or his presidency, as evidenced by actual confusion seen from the reactions of our client’s fans all over social media.”
The past two years have also found artists including Adele (“Rolling in the Deep“), R.E.M. (“It’s the End of the World as We Know It“), Neil Young (“Rockin’ in the Free World“) and The Rolling Stones (“Start Me Up,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Brown Sugar”), as well as the estates of Prince (“Purple Rain“) and George Harrison (The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun“), asking the Trump administration to stop using their songs at his political rallies.