…meaning “topics” in the musical sense, of course; musical ideas or subjects for discourse. Thanks once again to Phil for coming up with a thought-provoking blog that jars me out of the doldrums of faculty evaluations and search committee work. I’ve enjoyed—sort of—watching the linked videos of campaign songs, but what has struck me most forcefully is what the overall sound and production choices suggest about the candidates.
First the ubiquitous Obama Yes We Can video. Production is top-notch, from the synching of the singers to the candidate’s oratorical cadence to guitars sounds and arrangements to the visual production. Professional from first to last, which is of course not surprising because the producer, will.I.am (Black-Eyed Peas), is of course an A-list professional. The construction of the “tune” is both Rock and something earlier—perhaps work-song, or spiritual—with the use of the motto at the end of every line in addition to the chorus. The visual is a rainbow of celebrity faces, with those of color being preponderant, which communicates (for those not threatened) the Coolness Of Youth Culture. The thing is just purely and simply a grand slam.
Phil links, also, Mariachi and Reggaeton tributes. Again, the music is very well performed (a good singing voice in the Mariachi one) and beautifully produced. Given that I have much less familiarity with these kinds of music I can’t comment on the way they communicate to their audiences beyond saying that solid musical performance and style understanding and production communicate very strongly: this candidate gets it. This is not pandering or condescending or trying to be cool for the kids for a minute and a half before saying “just kidding” and sending them back up to their rooms with a stern warning while the grownups take control again; this IS you, and it promises what you need. All of you.
[I’m sticking with Phil’s dictum about Dial M’s endorsement of Cthulu for President, BTW; I only want to talk about the videos and what they imply, and not push people one way or another.]
None of these three videos has the feel, to me at least, of amateurism, of the let’s-do-a-show enthusiast. The stakes are high, and the Obama people simply got the right musical and production forces involved. Contrast—if you can stand to—the godawful HillarySong Phil linked (“She’s Gonna Be Our President”). What kind of clueless, self-righteous idiot, no matter how deeply she believed in the candidate, would put this out there? Debbie assures me this is an independent job, and it positively reeks of niceness and what might be called Ladies’-I-Used-To-Sing-But-Not-Anymore-Oh-But-If-You-Insist narcissism, particularly with the out-of-control vibrato and shy-friend-holding-the-mike recording ambience. Where I live we have locally produced television advertisements that sound like this, and they make me crazy. It sounds like the aural equivalent of a radio broadcast from The Onion?
Take a hard look. What does a contrafact of the theme to a 1970s spinoff TV show say about the candidate? Old. Back Then. Hey, it’s just us girls having a good time, just us girls gonna do it. By the end of the half-hour, too. ‘Cause, you know, we’re friends and we’re gonna and people have to listen when we use that voice. The wan, sparse playing and production communicate powerlessness and has-been-ness, and the voice—dear merciful heavens, that voice—communicates L-O-S-E-R more effectively than any amount of pernicious bile from Karl Rove. “Happy Landin’ With Landon” (1936) was Mozart by comparison with this.
Then there’s the more recently added Hillary4U&Me. In some ways even more excruciating, this is a mix of the Jackson Five (“1-2-3”) and the Partridge Family. (Debbie says, “Oh, God. Up With People.”) Beyond the dismal music, there’s that horrible 70s-variety-show choreography, the willowy young man playing the flute (nice), the Edison Lighthouse (“Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes”) production values…what in God’s name are they thinking? The musical language, production, performance, instrumental sounds, and wordy, didactic lyrics communicate a fatal constellation of closely related ideas: YESTERDAY, NOSTALGIA, DECADES-OLD OLDIES, WHAT MOM LIKES, MOM SINGING WITH THE RADIO JUST BEFORE WE ARGUE AND SHE USES THAT MOM VOICE.
If it needs any further commentary, one might scan youtube for some of the bloodthirsty parodies of the “She’s Gonna Be Our President” song, with the new pictures they’ve put to it (no, I’m not providing links; too painful). That candidate has been more damaged by her supporters and campaign staff, in terms of the decisions made, than anyone in recent memory (though Dukakis comes to mind). The mix of incompetence, self-righteousness, and unerring ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory characterizes my political party’s recent election strategies perfectly.
And it’s in the music. Dare I say it: The Music Itself.