When Bruce Springsteen took to the stage in Ohio to headline a campaign event for Barack Obama, it was not the fact that the Boss had aligned himself with the Democrat presidential candidate that provoked interest, but that it had taken him so long to decide this battle was worth fighting.
Four years ago, Springsteen was among the most vocal musical backers of the youthful politician. This time, the pop and rock communities were largely noticeable by their absence from the campaign trail. Looking at their contributions, the picture was one of cynicism and mixed messages.
It was a far cry from 2008, when a galaxy of stars turned out to appear in the video for the Will.i.am-penned Yes We Can. Then, the story was one of change and hope, that electing a black president would help the US evolve into a better nation. With much of Obama’s proposed legislation eviscerated by a stodgy governmental system, little of that change has materialised. And while there may appear to be huge gulfs between his and Mitt Romney’s philosophies, the president failed to inspire artists this year.
Yeasayer’s Reagan’s Skeleton conjured a deranged hallucination in which the former Republican president rose from the dead and stalked the streets of Ventura, California, close to the Presidential Library where he is interred. It was an apparition far from the cuddly image that persuaded the American people to vote him in during the 80s.
More to the point is a free track released by veteran songwriter Randy Newman. On I’m Dreaming he riffs on the lyrics of the perennial White Christmas to examine the character of a protagonist who is “dreaming of a white president”. An Academy award-winner for songs from the Pixar animations Toy Story 3 and Monsters, Inc, the writer returns to the more satirical bent of Short People by having his narrator demand someone who understands, “How to handle money or start a war/Wouldn’t even have to tell me what we were fighting for.”
Where the lack of engagement from the music industry has been most noticeable is within the hip hop and R&B genres. Support has been so muted that when Nicki Minaj came out with a political rap, many misunderstood her intention and assumed she was favouring Romney. On a mixtape from rapper Lil Wayne, the pair traded verses over Kanye West’s Mercy, Minaj spouting the lines: 'I’m a Republican voting for Mitt Romney/You lazy bitches are f***ing up the economy.'
Of course, the colourful performer uses different characters in her work, something Obama himself was forced to point out, causing Minaj to tweet: “Thank you for understanding my creative humour & sarcasm Mr President, the smart ones always do”.
Still, the campaign to encourage new voters to register (seen as a pro-Democrat strategy) was low-key this year, relying on occasional appearances from artists such as Katy Perry.
Romney also struggled to engage his closest constituencies. As America’s first practising Mormon candidate, you might think he could have relied on support from fellow adherents, except Brandon Flowers (who has admitted to lunching with the Republican candidate) insisted he and his band The Killers remained neutral.This despite them having recorded a version of their home state’s anthem Home Means Nevada for Democrat (and Mormon) senator Harry Reid. Nor had Romney persuaded Donny and Marie Osmond to come on board. Instead, he earned plaudits from the usual lunkheaded rockers.
At the National Rifle Association’s annual convention, liberal-baiter Ted Nugent denounced Obama as evil, saying: “If Obama becomes the president again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November.”
During the Republican primaries, Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine was most impressed by Romney rival Rick Santorum, though on stage in Singapore this summer, the headbanger claimed the president had staged the murders at the Aurora cinema and the Milwaukee Sikh temple to bring in gun control.
“I don’t know where I’m going to live if America keeps going the way it’s going,” he added. “Because it looks like it’s turning into Nazi America.”
Such ranting reflects a wider belief that while Obama failed to create the same passion as in 2008, hardcore Republican were more energised. Had you dug deeper, though, you would have found more subtle strategies at play. While many artists felt unable to simply come out behind the serving president, some were seeking publicity for single-issue campaigns. Rufus Wainwright and Fun played a show in support of marriage equality.
A video of creative women, including the singer Sia, was also released. The artists were shown lip-synching to Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me. Artists are not willing simply to show their faces in support of particular candidates – nowadays they have their own agendas, too.
MUSICAL DIFFERENCES - DEMOCRATS VS REPUBLICANS
In return for parenting advice from Potus, Hova donned a shirt and tie for his campaign video.
• Eddie Vedder
Pearl Jam’s main man guested at a Florida fundraiser, railing against Romney’s 47 percent comments.
• Katy Perry
In Las Vegas, Russell Brand’s ex wore a voting ballot dress with a tick next to Obama’s name.
• Scissor Sisters
In the wake of his pro-gay marriage stance, Take Obama Out All Night is their new message.
• Meat Loaf
The Bat Out Of Hell star claims this is the first time he has made a political endorsement.
• Kid Rock
His Born Free is a Romney anthem – the rock/rapper also appeared at GOP campaign events.
• Dave Mustaine
Believes guns don’t kill people, Obama does.
• Hank Williams Jr
While several country artists have supported Romney, only one has called the president a Muslim.