Few things these days bring me joy anymore, though one sensation I would like to bottle up and then inject directly into my bloodstream is the feeling of watching people dunk on Trump. Seeing the overflow area for his rally last weekend in Tulsa get taken down due to lack of attendance, and all those empty seats in the arena, was perhaps the closest approximation to happiness that I’ve felt in months. And it’s equally fun to watch celebrities get in on it, too, especially when musicians tell Trump to stop using their music. It’s been happening since back before Trump was even president, and musicians continue to (sometimes literally) tell him to f*ck off. This week, Brendon Urie, frontman for Panic! at the Disco, blasted the Trump campaign for using “High Hopes” at a rally, making him one in a long list of musicians who want no association with the Trump campaign whatsoever.
On Tuesday, Trump held a rally in Phoenix, where Politico says he spoke to a “packed crowd” at a Students for Trump event. An estimated 3,000 people were in attendance, all packed into the Dream City megachurch (of course), few wearing masks. Again: of course. Trump walked out to “High Hopes” by Panic! at the Disco, and when Brendon Urie caught word of Trump using the band’s song, he was not pleased. He tweeted, “Dear Trump Campaign, F*ck you. You’re not invited. Stop playing my song.”
Dear Trump Campaign,
Fuck you. You’re not invited. Stop playing my song.
Brendon Urie, Panic! At The Disco & company.
— Brendon Urie (@brendonurie) June 24, 2020
Urie is not even the first musician to deal that kind of blow to Trump this week. On Monday, reports surfaced that Tom Petty’s family issued a cease and desist to the Trump campaign after “I Won’t Back Down” was played at Trump’s rally in Tulsa. In a letter posted to the late musician’s Twitter, the family wrote, “Trump was in no way authorized to use this song to further a campaign that leaves too many Americans and common sense behind.” Burn!
— Tom Petty (@tompetty) June 21, 2020
But as previously mentioned, musicians telling Trump to stop using their music is nothing new. In August of 2018, Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and his lawyers sent a cease and desist order to the Trump team after “Livin’ on the Edge” was played at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia. In the letter, Tyler’s lawyers wrote, “Mr Trump is creating the false impression that our client has given his consent for the use of his music, and even that he endorses the presidency of Mr Trump.” They also claimed that Trump did not have “any right to use the name, image, voice or likeness of our client, without his express written permission.” Tyler later clarified via an all-caps tweet that his objection was not necessarily political, but more about the principle of using songs without permission.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT DEMS VS. REPUB. I DO NOT LET ANYONE USE MY SONGS WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. MY MUSIC IS FOR CAUSES NOT FOR POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS OR RALLIES. PROTECTING COPYRIGHT AND SONGWRITERS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN FIGHTING FOR EVEN BEFORE THIS CURRENT ADMINISTRATION TOOK OFFICE.
— Steven Tyler (@IamStevenT) August 22, 2018
Tyler’s legal team also ordered Trump to cease using his music during his 2015 election campaign, after finding out that “Dream On” was used at his campaign events.
Also in 2018, Rihanna sent her own cease and desist after learning that Trump used “Don’t Stop The Music” at a rally in Tennessee, demanding that he, in fact, stop the music. She also tweeted to a reporter, “ me nor my people would ever be at or around one of those tragic rallies,” and said that it would be played “not for much longer.” BMI, the company that handles Rihanna’s music publishing, then took her threat one step further, removing Rihanna’s music from a blanket license that the Trump campaign paid in order to use any of BMI’s songs at events.
But that was not all—far from it! In October, 2018, Pharrell Williams also ordered Trump to stop using his music after he played “Happy” to a crowd in Indiana, on the same day that 11 people were murdered in a mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Pharrell’s lawyer, Howard E. King, wrote in a letter to Trump, “There was nothing ‘happy’ about the tragedy inflicted upon our country on Saturday and no permission was granted for your use of this song for this purpose,” adding, “Pharrell has not, and will not, grant you permission to publicly perform or otherwise broadcast or disseminate any of his music.”
And, way back in 2016 (we were so young, so full of hope), Adele spoke out against the Trump campaign after learning that “Rolling in the Deep” and “Skyfall” were being played at his rallies. I’ve got to wonder in what context “Rolling in the Deep” would even fit at a political rally? In any case, her spokesperson said, “Adele has not given permission for her music to be used for any political campaigning.”
In 2015, when Trump’s presidency was a twinkle in our eye that we desperately hoped would not come to fruition, R.E.M. told the Trump campaign to, basically, exclude them from the narrative, after Trump used “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It…” at a September 2015 rally in Washington, DC. The band issued a statement on Facebook saying that they “do not authorize or condone the use of our music at this political event” but urged Americans to “focus on the bigger picture, and not allow grandstanding politicians to distract us from the pressing issues of the day and of the current Presidential campaign.”
Lead singer Michael Stipe added via a tweet put out by bassist Mike Mills, “Go f*ck yourselves, the lot of you – you sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry little men. Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign.” Mills himself added, “Personally, I think the Orange Clown will do anything for attention. I hate giving it to him.” Mills said again in January 2015 that the band was “exploring all legal avenues to prevent this” and noted that “we do not condone the use of our music by this fraud and con man.”
We are aware that the President* @realDonaldTrump continues to use our music at his rallies. We are exploring all legal avenues to prevent this, but if that’s not possible please know that we do not condone the use of our music by this fraud and con man.
— Mike Mills 🌿 (@m_millsey) January 15, 2020
According to NPR, a political campaign can sign a license with performance rights organizations like BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC to give events like campaign rallies the right to play songs administered by those organizations. As we saw with Rihanna, those organizations can also choose to revoke the rights. Also, even if the campaigns do receive the proper licensing, there are still ways artists can sue to prevent them from using their work, such as by claiming False Endorsement, where, according to ASCAP, “use of the artist’s identifying work implies that the artist supports a product or candidate.”
Images: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com; m_millsey, IamStevenT, tompetty, brendonurie / Twitter
Over the past decade, I’ve had a fraught relationship with Taylor Swift. While I was openly critical of Taylor during her last album/era, I haven’t always had issues with her. Back in 2013, I was thrilled to attend Taylor’s Red Tour, and I have no problem admitting that I think most of her music is great. So when Taylor Swift started teasing her big new project, I was honestly excited. I wasn’t a fan of the Reputation era, but I was ready to start fresh with 2019 Taylor.
At midnight on Thursday, Taylor Swift released her new single and video, “ME!”, featuring Brendon Urie of Panic at the Disco. Brendon was a perfect choice, because he’s very talented, very hot, and most importantly, very fun. From what we know so far, that’s what new-new-Taylor (or new-old-Taylor, I can’t tell) is all about: FUN! The video for “ME!” begins with a snake exploding into a cloud of butterflies, signaling that the angst of Reputation is officially gone.
But other than convincing us that she’s ready to be bubbly again, I’m not sure I get what she’s going for with this song. Lyrically, it’s a pretty straightforward declaration about how great she is, with the most memorable lyric being “You can’t spell awesome without ME!” In the past, Taylor has written some really beautiful, moving lyrics, and these feel like elementary school poems in comparison.
“I’m the only one of me / baby that’s the fun of me.”
While the song is definitely catchy, it feels like it was meant to play during the credits of an animated kids movie. The video, which was released at the same time as the song, only helps to drive this family-friendly vibe home. Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie are a couple arguing in French (why?), but then they go outside and everything turns into some kind of rainbow fantasy world, complete with hundreds of extras in penis-colored marching band outfits. The visuals really drive home the idea that old-new-Taylor is FUN!, and it is! The video is fun! Seeing Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie do their best Hairspray imitation is fun! Flying on umbrellas over the rooftops of Paris is fun! But that doesn’t take away the fact that this song is…baffling.
Like I said, it’s catchy, but then the whole thing gets derailed for the bridge, which starts with Taylor shouting “Hey kids, spelling is fun!” I’m sorry, but I am a grown-ass adult, and I don’t want a song on my Spotify playlist in which I’m being lectured about the joy of spelling. I left that sh*t behind in 4th grade, and I have no desire to go back.
Of course, “ME!” will most likely be a major hit, if only because Taylor Swift has some of the most dedicated fans in the world. The entire rollout strategy of this new era, from the months of clues on Instagram, to the YouTube livestream, feel designed to appeal mainly to the Taylor Swift diehards. In fact, she commented in the YouTube stream that the video contains a secret that she’s been keeping for months, which of course the fans are having a field day with. Right now, the top theory seems to be that she’s engaged to Joe Alwyn, because in the video, she turns down an engagement ring from Brendon Urie.
Taylor and Joe are engaged???? Is that the secret she's keeping for months? @taylorswift13 @taylornation13 pic.twitter.com/iDwqeC4B2v
— ????????? (@candiceXtayswft) April 26, 2019
Other theories include that the clock in the video is a hint about the album release (8/30, if you’re too lazy to look it up), that Taylor now has a third cat, and that there will be a Dixie Chicks collab on her new album. I’m super here for that third one, by the way.
So this means @dixiechicks is confirmed. Right? @taylornation13 @taylorswift13 #eastereggs ??♀️ pic.twitter.com/JKZ8WaxoYL
— ??? (@FrecklesSwiftie) April 26, 2019
I’m really hoping that this is another “Shake It Off” situation, where the first single from the album is kind of just a fun throwaway, but right now I don’t get what Taylor Swift is going for with this vibe. From this song/video, all I’m really getting is that she’s into rainbows and butterflies, but then the actual song is still just about how great she is. It’s a nicegirl anthem, with just the right amount of narcissism (she probably thinks of it as “self-love”). Maybe this has always been Taylor Swift’s brand, but it’d be nice to see a little more growth by now.
If you’re reading this and you love the song, that’s great. I don’t think it’s awful, I just don’t get what we’re supposed to do with it. I’m really not here to bash Taylor Swift, I just want her to explore her full potential (and give us iconic bops). Maybe her next song or the album will be more of a step forward, but for now, I guess we’ll just practice our spelling.
Images: Universal Records; @taylorswift / Instagram; @candicextayswft, @frecklesswiftie / Twitter; Taylor Swift Vevo / YouTube