Mixing Music with Politics

Speakers thumped out bass-heavy remixes while flashing neon lights danced through a fog machine. Blue banners hung behind the make-shift stage and from the third floor balcony of Witherspoon Student Center, matching the rectangular area on Harris Field bound by Obama yard signs. This was all part of Wolfpack for Obama’s event featuring Rock the Vote with Passion Pit. Two members of the band took turns playing a DJ set, featuring remixes of popular songs and random assortments of beats. The crowd awkwardly toe-tapped during the 6:00 p.m. set. They did take the time out, however, to say, “I don’t care who you vote for. Obama, Gary Johnson, whatever. Just don’t say Romney, because you’re educated. You know better.”


Musicians have been using their celebrity to try to persuade fans’ political opinions for ages, but with the upcoming presidential election and accessibility to every kind of social media platform, we’re seeing more of it than ever before: email blasts, tweets, Facebook posts, Tumblr reposts, stage banter and of course, the sharing of infamous memes. Some artists just want to end the apathy of voting by teaming up with nonpartisan voter registration organizations like HeadCount and Rock the Vote. Wilco, for example, took a team of volunteers with them for every American tour date this year to canvas the audience.

Others want to voice their opinions about politics not so subtly. Many local artists during the spring Shakori discussed voting against Amendment One and what that vote would mean to them – informational calls to action without any sugarcoating. Like Passion Pit, other artists have participated in rallies, forums and concerts supporting a particular candidate or party. President Obama’s reelection campaign has been supported by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Jay-Z, Beyonce (and probably Blue Ivy, too), Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, Jon Bon Jovi, Kanye West, Dave Matthews, The National, Pete Wentz, Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Joel Madden, Jason Mraz, Gwen Stefani, David Grohl, Cyndi Lauper, Adam Levine and more. In 2008, Durham-based Merge Records hosted Obama rallies featuring their artists, including Grammy-winner Arcade Fire. Superchunk, Baobab and Future Kings of Nowhere have more or less live tweeted the recent debates, not being shy whatsoever about their thoughts.

It’s harder to find the same allegiance among musicians on the conservative side.  This year’s Republican National Convention’s lineup included Oak Ridge Boys, Conrad Oberg, Lynyrd Skynyrd,  Philip Alongi, Neal E. Boyd, Lane Turner, Randy Owen, Jack Blades, 3 Doors Down, Ayla Brown, Beau Davidson, The Kantinas, Danny Gokey, Taylor Hicks and BeBe Winans. Nicki Minaj, despite having Obama’s endorsement in her fight against Mariah Carey, favors Romney on Lil Wayne’s newest mixtape. The Killers, who Romney allegedly enjoys, would “be open” to performing in support of the candidate.

Now, it’s not all that surprising that musicians tend to lean towards more liberal views. The imbalance is interesting though. Why do so few indie bands (that aren’t offered to play big gigs) publicly support conservative ideas and candidates? And if there were a “Wolfpack for Romney” group on campus, who would they get to perform? Even in the 2008 election, there was a significant difference in musicians’ support between parties. Hank Williams Jr. and Gretchen Wilson were among the most prominent McCain supporters.

Is this just a genre division? If you’re trying to reach younger voters through music, what’s the best way to accomplish this?