As Barack Obama goes through the rigmarole of humping those boxes back into the Oval Office, he might reflect that he owes his continued employment to popular music. No, bear with me.
Rarely has a political leader made such capital of his musical tastes, and rarely have so many praised stars returned the high-five. Not since the heyday of Tony Blair and his groovy-dad endorsements has a politician gone cap in hand like this to the Cool List and seen it pay off. It might seem like facile conjecture, but we know Obama and Blair share an understanding of the heft of perception. Policies and position on the spectrum might be the foundations of an election win; the face that fits is the architectural clincher. And if Jay-Z’s taking care of the cornicing, so much the better.
We’ve all done this one – picked out the coolest stuff from our iPods to impress the, erm, electorate. They don’t need to see the Rolf Harris and Pinky & Perky tracks that are on there “for the kids”. Politics is about getting your message across clearly and concisely without umming, ahhing and fudging around the embarrassing bits. Hit ‘em with a few randomly* (*precisely) chosen favourites like James Brown, The Rolling Stones, Eminem, Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane, Fugees and Gil Scott-Heron, and you’ve picked off some crucial demographics.
When you’ve got a rival like Mitt Romney, who namechecks country stalwarts Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith, it’s easy to bag the cool vote. And Romney even admits that acts he digs – like The Eagles and The Killers – might not be wild about being mentioned. The message is that pop supports Obama, so that’s a hell of a chunk of youth onside already, potentially. As well as another few million who merely think they’re still young and cool.
It’s been a two-way street for the Big O. Bruce Springsteen’s been composing ditties for him and Jay-Z and Beyoncé have thrown their considerable cultural weight behind him. They may have been a bit heavy-handed with the puns/rhymes but these guys are power-brokers. While this kind of backing may put some people off, you have to play the percentages at least, and Obama’s a canny operator.
Or, indeed, one of them. Obama’s as much a superstar as Springsteen, Jay-Z and Beyoncé so it’s natural that he should be hanging out behind the velvet rope and pressing the flesh with them. But he’s a fan just like us too. Even if he’s faking it, we (or yeah, more relevantly, the American people) can identify with him and believe that it’s “our man” in the White House. Screw the manifesto, we like Nicki Minaj too!
So what about over here? Blair had his moment in the pop sun, but how many acts have banned David Cameron from liking them now? The lesson is, the Left can get away with it – but it could still be a tall order in the UK. So far, Ed Miliband has confessed his love for Bananarama, which might sway a few 45-year-old blokes who still have the hots for Keren Woodward but won’t pull in anyone younger. Get yourself a Savages t-shirt, Ed, and stagedive from the hustings. It’s the music wot’ll win it.