Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Politics appriopriating music: Trump vs. Young

Some of you might have seen Donald Trump's announcement of his presidential campaign. Among the many strange things that happened during the event was Trump's use of Neil Young's song "Rockin’ in the Free World." One of the first people to protest was Neil Young himself, who does not support Trump. While Trump's campaign claims they bought the rights to use the song, there turns out to be something extra needed when the song is used in a political context—seeking the permission of the songwriter. This misappropriation of songs for campaigns is not a new story; as this NPR story explains, there is a long list of songs that have been used in political campaigns that have received cease-and-desist requests.

But something stranger than use without permission is going on here—the lyrics of "Rockin’ in the Free World" (and many of the other songs misused by political campaigns) directly contradict the politics of the candidate using the song. It turns out that the music of this rock song (or at least the chorus) is powerful enough to be appropriated out of context and in spite of the lyrics (which are difficult to understand sometimes, anyway). If you want to read a theory explaining how this appropriation works, check out this excellent piece by Liam Viney of the Conversation, who does a great job of using music vocabulary to construct his argument. And thanks to Will Owen, who brought Viney's column to my attention.

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