I can’t say that I have ever been much of a fan of Lady Gaga but I will admit she did a belting version of the Star Spangled Banner at Joe Biden’s inauguration last week. And let’s quash the rumour that there were three secret service agents concealed in that bellowing dress she was wearing. You wonder if Trump was actually watching, holed up in Mar-a-Lago with Melania in her moo moo. If so I am sure the singer’s inclusion would have raised his immediate ire.
During one of his campaign rallies Trump attacked both Beyonce and Gaga for their support of Joe Biden, claiming they had nothing better to do. He then went on to say he had stories about Lady Gaga, suggesting he had some dirt on the singer but for the time being was keeping it to himself. Nasty!
From his initial campaign, through his time in office and throughout the most recent election, it’s no secret Trump’s lack of patronage from the celebrity end of the music community has been a real dent to his monstrous ego. The number of high profile singers who have come out to endorse Trump can almost be counted on one hand. Kid Rock, Wayne Newton, Gene Simmons and gun toting Ted Nugent have been vocal supporters as was Kanye West prior to his own bid for the Presidency. Yet none of the real heavy hitters, with their patriotic anthems like Bruce Springsteen, have ever wanted a bar of him.
Perhaps his most high profile supporter from the music community has been country singer Toby Keith who performed at his inauguration-eve Make America Great Again concert. Even then Keith was reluctant to declare any Republican allegiance claiming that “if the President of the frickin’ United States asks you to do something and you can go, you should go instead of being a jack-off.” Nevertheless Keith, along with fellow country crooner Ricky Skaggs, lined up to receive the National Arts Medal, bestowed by Trump after he had just been impeached for the second time.
Whilst campaign songs and celebrity singers have long been part of the American election circus, the Australian experience has been far more restrained. Most musicians here have distanced themselves from outright endorsement of a particular political party, whilst still speaking out on various issues like the environment and racism. The combination of a campaign song along with high profile singers is also rare although in 1972, the It’s Time advertising jingle was a brainstorm promotion that helped elect the Whitlam Labor government. As well as famous TV personalities, singers such as Little Pattie, Col Joye and Judy Stone appeared in the We Are The World style commercials.
As far as I know there was no real backlash from the Libs or conservative voters against those who lent their celebrity to the Labor campaign. However, a few years later in 1975, singer Renee Geyer was the target of criticism, some of it quite vicious, for just such an endorsement. She had recorded the Liberal Party’s theme song Turn On The Lights, later claiming she had only done so to earn enough money to record an album in the US. Not surprisingly, after copping flak from both fellow musicians and certain sections of the public she has since distanced herself from any political involvement in general.
Mercifully, the campaign song appears to have disappeared from the Australian political landscape. Although more recently Clive Palmer entered a legal minefield when he appropriated Twisted Sister’s 1984 track We’re Not Gonna Take It for his spectacularly unsuccessful $60 million 2019 Federal election bid. In a court case that is yet to be finally settled Palmer is being sued by Universal Music for flagrant breach of copyright. Palmer has claimed that he wrote the lyrics in 2018, inspired by the 1976 movie Network which includes the line “I’m not going to take this anymore.”
To end on a slightly nostalgic note, one of the more memorable US campaign songs ever was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Happy Days Are Here Again, synonymous with his 1933 presidential victory and the repeal of prohibition. It later resurfaced in Australia in the late 50s on GTV-9 in Melbourne as the theme for The Happy Show, compered by the legendary Happy Hammond. No political affiliation or plentiful booze there – just fun and games for the kids with Happy, Princess Panda and Gerry Gee.