Former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley launched an atypical bid for the White House in a pretty typical fashion on Wednesday (Feb. 15). The Republican taking on her former boss, one-term president Donald Trump, revved up the crowd at her Charleston, South Carolina announcement this morning by walking on to one of the most beloved underdog fight anthems of all-time: Survivor‘s 1982 Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 “Eye of the Tiger.”
“Stop using my f—ing song!,” the hit’s co-writer, Survivor guitarist Frankie Sullivan, tells Billboard about his reaction to finding out about the latest politician’s attempt to co-opt the track he wrote for Sylvester Stallone’s classic underdog film, Rocky III. “This morning I get up and I’m doing my thing, writing and i turn on my phone and it explodes and I’m like, ‘What happened is my mom okay?’ That song belongs with the Rocky franchise and they don’t ask because they’d get a no. Absolutely.”
Haley, 51, who has leaned into her story of being a woman and person of color — she is the child of Indian immigrants — and who rose to the highest office in the South is the first member of the GOP to officially announce a bid to take on twice-impeached Trump, whose third bid for the White House has so far failed to catch fire. At press time, a spokesperson for Haley had not returned Billboard‘s request for comment.
Back in 2016, Republican Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign had to pay a $25,000 settlement over claims they used “Eye of the Tiger” at a rally with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who made headlines for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Sullivan says he is really protective of the song, but unlike the suit he filed against the former Arkansas Governor, he’s not currently planning to launch a legal fight with Haley.
“I don’t care who it is, I don’t think it’s appropriate, especially with ‘Tiger,’ since it’s such a special song,” he says of the track that he notes hit No. 1 in 39 countries and has become shorthand for a hard workout or, to quote the indelible lyrics, “rising up to the challenge.”
“I have no idea why any politician would play that as a walk on,” he adds, laughing, “I would say you have to have balls… but in this situation that doesn’t apply.” Teetotaler Sullivan says he doesn’t know much about Haley — and tries not to mix politics and entertainment because that would be “the dirtiest martini anyone ever drank” — but thinks her use of “Tiger” is a “sick way to promote the song. I wish they would just stop this nonsense!”
He recalled that when Trump played “Tiger” at campaign rallies he had his lawyer call the Apprentice star’s team and the usage stopped without incident. But, to be honest, he’s tired of playing this game and though he isn’t on the phone with his lawyer, it’s enough already. “I’m amused, but is this s–t really still going on?” he wonders.
Though Haley is expected to distance herself from the disgraced president facing a raft of lawsuits for his attempts to overturn the 2020 election — as well as his alleged corrupt business practices and allegations of sexual assault — by choosing the beloved theme song from the Rocky threequel she definitely tore a page from Trump’s populist soundtrack playbook.
During his first White House run, Trump fell afoul of more than a dozen major rock and pop acts by using their music during his rallies to pump up the crowd. In November, the estate of Isaac Hayes threatened legal action against the former reality star within an hour of Trump’s third announcement to stop him from using “Hold On I’m Coming” at his events; Hayes, who died in 2008 at age 65, co-wrote the 1966 Sam & Dave hit with David Porter.
On his way out of office after being defeated by Pres. Joe Biden, the Village People also called out “bully” ex-president Trump for playing their gay anthem “Y.M.C.A.” one more time against their wishes at his sparsely attended farewell event on Jan. 20, 2021.
For years Trump ignored pleas from a long list of famous acts to cease and desist from using their music during his rallies and political events and in addition to the costumed disco act, the legacy manager for Laura Branigan took issue with Trump playing her hit “Gloria” at his final official appearance as well. Over the five years of his campaigns and presidency, artists ranging from Adele to Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, R.E.M., Aerosmith, Panic! at the Disco, Guns N’ Roses, The Rolling Stones, Rihanna and the estates of Leonard Cohen, Tom Petty and Prince have vociferously objected to Trump playing their music at his rallies.
Check out a tweet with footage of the Survivor walk-on below.