More than any other art form, American popular music reflects our society. Films typically take two years between green light and theatrical release, but the music has always proven to be nimble enough to reflect the times and potentially help shape them too, especially among young people. How did Barack Obama’s presidency influence the songs that make up the soundtrack of an era, and how could Donald Trump’s presidency change the course of music? Here are five ways, ranging from changes in musical tempos to the types of performers that could surpass the Billboard Hot 100.
1. A decline, then a possible resurgence, songs of protest and “message”.
The 1960s and 1970s produced a catalog of iconic protest songs with political or social messages. This trend even continued, although considerably diminished, until the mid-2000s: “American Idiot” by Green Day, “Waiting on the World to Change” by John Mayer, “Not Ready to Make Nice” by Dixie. Chicks. Yet the Obama era produced virtually no such high profile songs.
Why not? Perhaps this is a reflection of an increasingly corporatized music company hesitant to hold on in the absence of mass public support. Perhaps the vast majority within a leftist arts community supported the Democratic president, almost eliminating the desire for rebellious songs. And at least in 2015-16, many rejected Trump – a possible inspiration for protest or message songs – as a doomed fringe anomaly, until election day.
With the election of Trump, these factors would no longer hold up in 2017. The virtual disappearance of high profile protest or message songs over the past decade could be reversed next year, perhaps even at a level never seen since the early 1970s.
2. Happier and faster songs.
A New York University researcher who compiled decades of data has found that a better economy, as indicated by a higher stock market, correlates with Billboard High level songs with slower mid tempos and minor chords generally considered “sadder”. And vice versa: a worse economy correlates with faster average tempos and major chords. So, according to this researcher, when times are economically bad, people want to hear faster songs with “happier” chords; but when times are economically good, people are more willing to tolerate sadder or slower songs.
While it is too early to conclusively determine how the economy was performing during the majority of the Trump presidency, the first signs have been positive as the stock market has improved and unemployment remains low. If that holds up, expect sadder, slower hit songs under Trump.
However, most non-partisan economists comparing the two candidates’ economic proposals determined that Trump’s would create lower wages, fewer jobs, lower GDP, and higher debt than Hillary Clinton’s. If those predictions hold up for the long haul, expect happier and faster hit songs under Trump. Only time will tell if economists turn out to be prophetic or if Trump’s economic promises turn out to be right.
3. Foreign-born artists topped the US charts.
2015-16 saw a record 41 consecutive weeks where BillboardHot 100’s most popular song was performed by a non-American artist or band. This included Justin Bieber, Drake and The Weeknd from Canada, Adele and Zayn from the UK and Rihanna from Barbados. One way for millennials to quietly reject perceived xenophobia and vehement nationalism is to be drawn to more overseas-born top charts. Perhaps we should expect more foreign-born personalities under Trump’s presidency.
4. Words to save money.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ 2013 Thrift Shop with Wanz, Lorde 2013 ‘Royals’ and this summer Sia’s’ Cheap Thrills’ with Sean Paul were all Billboard The # 1 hits extolling the virtues of minimal financial spending and bargain hunting. A more recent Hot 100 No. 1 hit was The Chainsmokers’ “Closer” starring Halsey, the chorus of which included the lyrics, “So baby pull me closer / In the backseat of your Rover / That I know you can’t afford. “
It’s a far cry from song # 1 from early September 2008, the week before the financial crisis hit in earnest, creating the deepest recession since the Great Depression: TI’s “Whatever You Like” bragging about its unlimited funds. allowing him to buy his girlfriend “whatever you want”. Emperor Nero played the violin as Rome burned down. America has apparently done the same.
This tendency to brag about frugality rather than extravagance is likely to continue under Trump, whether the economy crumbles or skyrockets under his leadership. After all, the newly popular lyrical theme of saving money also continued throughout the gradual improvement in economic conditions under Obama’s presidency.
5. Less – perhaps zero – of modern White House music.
Obama appreciates contemporary popular music to a level matched by any previous president. He referred to the title of Kanye West’s album My beautiful twisted dark fantasy in a speech. He stepped on the podium at the 2013 White House Correspondents’ Dinner shortly after being re-elected for the rap song “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled, and at this year’s rehearsal dinner ” I will miss you when I ‘I left’ from Anna Kendrick’s ‘Cups’. The First Lady even sang with James Corden on Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” for Carpool Karaoke.
It is impossible to imagine Trump doing all of this. He said Rolling stone his favorite bands were Paul McCartney, Elton John and Aerosmith. All great acts, it’s true, but also all in their prime in the 1960s to 1980s. It’s impossible to imagine Trump proclaiming his favorite song of the year as Kendrick Lamar’s “How Much a Dollar Cost” , an album track detailing the plight of the urban poor, as President Obama did in People magazine Last year.
Obama was elected and re-elected on the “Change” and “Onward” campaign slogans. Trump’s slogans reflect a step backwards, with his slogan “Make America Great Again” accompanied by chants from his supporters “Let’s Take Back Our Country”. Yet in some ways it may be Trump’s presidency that is propelling more change, at least when it comes to popular music.