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Music and the 2016 Election
by Alex Cosper

Music has been a part of politics for much longer than there has been a recording industry. In the early 1800s, for example, before there were phonographs and records, the popular music of the time was either sheet music or lyric sheets sung to the tune of popular songs. Many times the lyric sheets would have a political theme. The 19th century was flooded with folk songs with clever political undertones that are now hard to decipher, as language has radically changed since then.

The presidential election of 2016 seems like it should be stacked with candidates that grew up with The Beatles, U2 or Public Enemy. Yet very few prominent musicians have made a move as of early 2016 to endorse a candidate. So far Republican candidates have had the worst luck in being distanced by the music industry. Reports surfaced in February that Adele told Donald Trump to stop using her music in his campaign.

Here's a trip down memory lane to revisit how music has played a role in past presidential elections:

1960: Kennedy vs. Nixon
1964: Johnson vs. Goldwater
1968: Nixon vs. Humphrey
1972: Nixon vs. McGovern
1976: Carter vs. Ford
1980: Reagan vs. Carter
1984: Reagan vs. Mondale
1988: Bush vs. Dukakis
1992: Clinton vs. Bush
1996: Clinton vs. Dole
2000: Bush vs. Gore
2004: Bush vs. Kerry
2008: Obama vs. McCain
2012: Obama vs. Romney

Some artists have been cautious to take sides in politics, fearing they may upset their fan base. The irony is that the United States was founded on freedom of expression, yet musicians, which are supposed to be the most adventurous and visionary at free expression, are no longer as vocal about issues as they were in the sixties through nineties.

Long before the birth of the recording industry, music was a powerful vehicle for expressing issues through song. Another irony is that music has played a role in shaping philosophies about social freedom long before the beginning of the United States. The fear of alienating audiences in an effort to protect declining sales from getting worse seems to be a backward fallacy that has hurt the music industry even more than free downloads.

Obama has been one of the most friendly presidents to the music industry, inviting top names to the White House for exclusive performances from Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan to name a few. Obama noted in a speech during his term that there has been a lack of social commentary music in the new century compared with last century. Trying to avoid controversy as a marketing move is itself political ... and based on declining music sales, it's a safe bet to say that it hasn't paid off.






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