The politics behind Hillary Clinton's campaign playlist

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Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton released her campaign playlist over the weekend. The 14 track-playlist includes some classic pump-up-the-crowd songs, such as Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger" and Katy Perry's "Roar," as well as a few slower jams.

Music sets a tone, evokes emotion. For Clinton and her team, deciding on the songs that will play behind her as she climbs up the stairs to podium after podium on what already seems like a never-ending campaign season, is important, and not just about compiling a list of songs HRC loves.


There are a lot of potential pitfalls in putting together a campaign playlist. Some — like songs with explicit lyrics or sexist or racist undertones — are fairly easy to avoid. Others are not.

Here are a few things Clinton had to consider when making this list that helps explain why she chose these songs.

She had to make sure she could afford to play them

Where a song is played — how many times, and to how many people — matters. On the campaign trail, Clinton isn't just playing a song for a few friends in her apartment. She's playing it to hundreds of people, which requires a license. She's probably broadcasting it on television, which requires a license. And maybe she's even streaming it online, which requires another license.

Someone on staff has to make sure that every venue where the candidate appears has paid the licensing fees for them to be able to play their songs. This sounds more complicated, but basically candidates have to pay for what they play, and they need someone on staff who knows copyright law well enough to make sure that happens. Clinton needs artists who are on labels that are easy to negotiate with, and management teams comfortable giving her the right to play their songs.


Clinton doesn't have to necessarily ask the artists for permission to use their songs. But there are so many moving parts to making sure she plays a song legally and the right people get paid for it, that having their approval and support could save her from embarrassing and potentially messy legal entanglements in the future.

Clinton doesn't want to make the same mistakes other politicians have made

Hillary Clinton seems to have rallied the support of the artists she's chosen to include before putting them on her playlist. After the release of the list, Katy Perry changed her Twitter avatar; she's now wearing a patriotic outfit inside the Hillary Clinton logo:


This means at least one of the 13 artists on Clinton's list fully supports her run for president. Failing to make sure that the people whose art you are using to further your campaign actually support your campaign can really come back to bite you.

Take President Reagan's 1984 campaign, for example: Reagan told a New Jersey crowd, "America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts. It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen."


Springsteen's song "Born in the U.S.A." wasn't exactly patriotic, though; instead it was a song about how the country was falling apart and someone needed to do something about it. At the time, Springsteen told Rolling Stone, "I think people have a need to feel good about the country they live in. But what's happening, I think, is that that need — which is a good thing — is getting manipulated and exploited. You see in the Reagan election ads on TV, you know, 'It's morning in America,' and you say, 'Well, it's not morning in Pittsburgh.'"


This has happened time and time again. In 2008, Heart demanded that Sarah Palin stop playing their song, "Baraccuda." "Sarah Palin's views and values in no way represent us as American women," Ann and Nancy Wilson told Entertainment Weekly. "We ask that our song 'Barracuda' no longer be used to promote her image."

In addition, Tom Petty asked George Bush not to use his song "I Won't Back Down." The Foo Fighters and John Mellencamp have also requested politicians stop using their music. In 2012, the rock band Silversun Pickups dealt Mitt Romney a cease-and-desist order for using their song "Panic Switch" before an event on the campaign trail.


Through the "Lanham Act" and the "Right to Publicity," artists have the right to ask that a song be pulled from a campaign's playlist. This kind of confrontation is embarrassing, and no matter how big the band, makes the candidate look bad. Choosing artists who she knew would support her campaign — or who have already pledged support — was a smart and calculated move on Clinton's part.

The songs she chooses need to appeal to her potential voters

Campaign songs set a tone. Barack Obama's 2008 campaign was associated with "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" by Stevie Wonder. Not only did this song present a promise of what Obama hoped to do — work, create hope, and create change — it appealed to Obama's largest and most devout voter base: black Americans. "Signed , Sealed, Delivered," too, is a popular song with a timeless quality.


"Popular tunes are known by many people and and are more than likely to be sung by them with some regularity. This allows the population to grab onto the song with relative ease," Benjamin S. Schoening and Eric T. Kasper wrote in their book Don't Stop Thinking About the Music: the politics of songs and musicians in presidential campaigns.

Clinton's playlist is riddled with popular songs. Nine of the 13 artists are Top 40 creators. She's picked some sing-along songs many Americans will recognize. She's also chosen several get-pumped-up songs powered by female vocalists. Clinton is already leaning in to the feminists and including songs like "Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson and "Brave" by Sara Bareilles may help.


The playlist includes two tracks by Latino artists, JLo's "Let Get Loud" and Marc Anthony's "Vivir Mi Vida," which presumably could appeal to moderate and liberal Latino voters. Clinton's list is notably scant on country; the closest is Clarkson's "Stronger,"  but for the country voter base, that's more Top 40 pop than the country.


But if Jeb!'s campaign is smart, he'll use enough country music for the both of them.

Listen to the whole Clinton campaign playlist here:


Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.