Music gives the tone, sets the mood and playing a song can tell much more about you than you would be ready to admit. The New York Times has published an extensive study analyzing the playlists of the presidential candidates.
The authors (politics reporter Astead Herndon, graphics editors Gabriel Gianordoli and Umi Syam and music critics Jon Pareles and Jon Caramanica) have analyzed the playlists of 10 candidates (9 democratic candidates and Trump) while asking the burning question: what do rally playlists say about the candidates?
Senator Elizabeth Warren’s playlist is a classic radio turned on the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s including Tom Petty, Queen, Dolly Parton, Aretha Franklin, Joe Cocker, Marvin Gaye, Madonna, The Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen,… with an emphasis on optimism and concern for workers.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s playlist is big on women from Lizzo to Aretha Franklin, Beyonce, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, Janelle Monae, Kesha, Lady Gaga, Madonna, they are all there (even Kathleen Hanna’s Le Tigre or Queen Latifah). She is the female artist champion by far, as 73% of the artists on her playlist are women compared to only 7% for Sanders and Trump and 6% for O’Rourke.
Senator Kamala Harris’ playlist is the most woke of all, dominated by black artists (and a few Latinos). From Mary J. Blige, Tupac Shakur, Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Bruno Mars, Cardi B. Alicia Keys, Prince, the Notorious BIG, there is an emphasis on funk classics, classic soul, gospel pop and of course hip hop.
Former congressman Beto O’Rourke is on the opposite side of the music spectrum with a very rocking playlist (69% compared to 0% for Harris) including the Who, Joan Jett, and, of course, a good Texas representation (Janis Joplin, Willie Nelson, Spoon, Leon Bridges) plus a wink to his old punk days with Fugazi, Guided by Voices, Minutemen, the Ramones, and The Clash.
Just like O’Rourke’s playlist, Senator Bernie Sanders’ playlist is very male-oriented (93%, beating Trump’s playlist at 90%), but it should be noticed he has included transgender artist singer Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! Otherwise, the music is very diverse, going from rap (Jay Z) to country (Willie Nelson), arena rock (Muse) or folk classics (Simon & Garfunkel), with an emphasis on revolution and power to the people (John Lennon).
For Senator Cory Booker’s playlist, it’s all about love and dance music with a euphoric side, from Stevie Wonder, Florence + the Machine, Bon Jovi or Demi Lovato.
Former housing secretary Julian Castro’s playlist has unsurprisingly the most Latino songs (21%) of all the other candidates.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg ‘s playlist is all over the place from old to new picks, from Panic! At the Disco, to Hall & Oates, Lizzo, Fleetwood Mac, Joan Jett, the Who, Beck, Portugal the Man, Tim McGraw, it’s a very eclectic list that doesn’t forget the LGBTQ community.
Former Vice president Joe Biden’s balances black artists (Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Sam Cooke) and white artists (Bowie, Springsteen, Lady Gaga), and also balances old and new with young artists such as Bleachers The Head and the Heart, The 1975.
Standing alone on the Republican side, President Donald Trump’s playlist has the usual suspects like Kid Rock and Lynyrd Skynyrd but also so many (6!) Rolling Stones songs! The NY Times insists that the majority of the artists of his playlist are white, but, to be totally fair, they have considered Queen as a white band when the frontman had Indian origins. The playlist has old classics from Neil Young to Survivor or Journey but also includes a lot of gay artists (Elton John, Queen, Village People)
In the end, what does this all mean? Wouldn’t you have expected more country and Southern Rock and less gay artists in Trump’s playlist? Wouldn’t you have expected more female artist in Bernie’s playlist? He has one of the most male-oriented playlists with O’ Rourke. At the exception of Gillibrand, the other female candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris do not give a very large representation to female artists either (only 32% and 37%).
Then you have the ubiquitous artists like Florence + The Machine and Aretha Franklin, found on 5 out of the 10 playlists, or the inevitable Beyonce who are canceling any originality. Then you have the overlaps, as the Rolling Stones are played by both O’Rourke and Trump for example.
Of course, you can’t expect political candidates to be too much chart-oriented, or too aware of the current pop culture, many of them are in their ‘70s and some oldies-oriented playlist should not be a surprise. Plus, they mostly want to play classic songs that everyone knows and likes. That’s why Kamala Harris’ playlist and its songs by Cardi B,, Migos, and Childish Gambino has to be the most pop-culture aware of the lot, whereas Pete Buttigieg’s could be your alt-pop-rock guy with Portugal. The Man, Beck, and The Avett Brothers (although he regrettably has included Panic! At the Disco) while Beto O’ Rourke wants to be your punkiest candidates with the Replacements and Guided by Voices.
One last thing, if clear messages are the ones conveyed in the most succinct way, Bernie Sanders and Julian Castro are the winners with the shortest playlists of 14 songs, followed by Joe Biden (19 songs) while the longest playlists belong to Kamala Harris (41 songs), Kirsten Gillibrand (43) and Cory Booker (45). Trump has 29.
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