Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Musicologist tunes in to music choices of political candidates

DU musicology professor Jack Sheinbaum is fascinated by the ways people hear and interpret music, which is why he follows the musical choices political candidates make.

“Campaign songs serve as a particularly striking reminder that all music serves a function, and that when used effectively music can move large numbers of people to rally around a common cause,” says Sheinbaum, associate professor of musicology at the Lamont School of Music.

“I doubt anyone chooses to vote for a particular candidate because of their rally playlist, but our personal opinions of the candidates are, I suspect, often deepened by the way we hear these musical choices,” he says.

As the Democratic nomination process has continued deep into the year, the candidates have continued to tweak their playlists at rallies. As Sen. Barack Obama has inched closer to the nomination, he has been using Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” while Sen. Hillary Clinton has offered the theme from “Rocky,” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”

“These songs are very reflective of what’s going on at the moment,” Sheinbaum says.

Earlier in the campaign, Obama’s choices ranged from classic Motown, a genre that appeals widely across boundaries of gender and race in America, to a Ben Harper selection that includes musical instruments and sounds from around the world, which may be a reflection of Obama’s culturally diverse upbringing.

Artists have even generated campaign songs for Obama, such as “Barack Around the Clock!” by Pearl Jam and the “Yes We Can Song” created by of the Black Eyed Peas.

Clinton kicked off her campaign with an Internet contest asking the public to choose her campaign song. Sheinbaum says the chosen song by Celine Dion, “You and I,” was received rather poorly as many Americans felt it was inauthentic and communicated the wrong message. Afterward, Clinton switched to Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”

Sheinbaum says there are two key factors that determine whether or not a campaign song is effective. “First, the song itself must be energetic and catchy.

“Secondly, the campaign should choose a song that is a good representation of the candidate,” Sheinbaum says. “This often involves choosing an artist many perceive as all-American and heartfelt.”

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