Celebrities making a run at public office is hardly a fresh phenomenon. That’s how we wound up with two terms of the Gipper in the White House, a former professional wrestler in the governor’s mansion of Minnesota, Gopher from the Love Boat in the House of Representatives, and the current political shitshow we find ourselves in. Nor is it a surprise to any regular person why they would think they could leverage their celebrity into a political career.
This pathology isn’t unique to actors and reality TV stars either.
More from SPIN:
- Britpop Legends Are Hosting Listening Parties While in Quarantine
- Cedric Bixler-Zavala Endorses Bernie Sanders, Rips Former Bandmate Beto O’Rourke’s Biden Support
- Who Won the Fourth Democratic Presidential Debate?
Over the decades, a number of famous musicians have tried their hand at politics, some of them succeeding in their goals of policymaking and advocating on behalf of their constituents. While it may be jolting to see Kanye West weeping through a campaign event for his potential entry into the current presidential race, the precedent has already been set by several well-known artists, like the ones listed below, who have made successful and not-so-successful attempts to enter the political field.
Credit: J. DAVID AKE/AFP via Getty Images
Cher’s ex-husband had an impressively successful career in politics. Beginning with four years as the mayor of Palm Springs and then three years in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing California’s 44th Congressional District. During his time in the House, Bono co-sponsored a bill, which, after it passed in 1998, extended the terms of copyrights for another 20 years. Sadly, Bono was not around to see the passage of that bill as he died in January 1998 from injuries sustained from a ski accident.
Credit: Stefan Postles/Getty Images
From 2004 to 2013, the tall, bald lead singer of alt-rock mainstays Midnight Oil served as a member of the Australian Parliament, representing Kingsford Smith, a small electoral division in New South Wales. Garrett’s tenure was marked with controversies due to what some constituents and music fans saw as a shift toward more conservative policies on environmental causes and arts funding. But he also did plenty of good, including halting Japan’s commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean and fighting for increased public school spending.
Credit: Monica Morgan/WireImage
The Motown great served one term on Detroit’s city council, from 2005 to 2009. Her brief tenure in Motor City politics was marked by some problematic incidents, including a messy campaign flier her team produced and getting hit with a tax bill of almost $280,000 by the IRS and the state treasurer of Michigan.
Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
While the rest of his bandmates have started new groups, scored TV shows, and made cheese, the Blur drummer has given his all to his political ambitions since the turn of the millennium. As a member of the Labour Party, Rowntree has made a run at several offices, including seats in Parliament. But It took until 2017 for his wish to come true when he was elected to the Norfolk County Council, representing University Ward.
Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Back in the days when he was a teenager, you could find Beto O’Rourke making music in his home state of Texas, including Foss, a group whose membership also included future At The Drive-In/Mars Volta vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and whose fans supposedly included Feist. Since then, he’s moved up through the ranks of the political world, with six years on El Paso’s city council, three terms in the U.S. House, and unsuccessful runs for both the Senate and the presidency. Beto and Cedric have recently locked horns after the former announced his endorsement of Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Credit: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images
For most Western audiences, the singer is best known for his work supporting Peter Gabriel on the hit “In Your Eyes,” but in his home country of Senegal, N’Dour is a superstar. The singer/songwriter tried to leverage his fame into a shot at the presidency of his native land in 2012 but was disqualified after questions arose about the validity of the signatures he had gathered in support of his candidacy. That same year, N’Dour was given a government position as Minister of Culture and Tourism and in 2013, was appointed Special Adviser to the President.
Credit: AFP via Getty Images
In 1993, this musician, actor, and activist founded the Movimiento Papa Egoró—or the Mother Earth Movement—in his native Panama, in hopes of unseating then-President Guillermo Endara. His ambitions were sadly short-lived as, during the 1994 elections, Blades was beaten by Ernesto Balladares. To his credit, Blades did better than expected, coming in third with a healthy 17% of the vote. A decade later, he would find a way into Panamanian politics when he was appointed minister of tourism by President Martin Torrijos.
Credit: Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images
Haiti has been hugely important to the life and work of Wyclef Jean, one of the island nation’s most famous native sons. This is what inspired the former Fugees MC to run for president of Haiti in 2010, inspired, in so small part, by the earthquake that ripped through the country that same year. His political ambitions were halted before they began, however, as the election commission deemed his efforts invalid as he needed to have been a resident of Haiti for at least five years before running.
Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
After decades of courting controversy with his rap group 2 Live Crew and the production of porn films, Luther Campbell pivoted to politics in 2011 with an attempt to unseat the mayor of Miami-Dade County on a platform that included rebuilding housing projects, taxing strippers, and job creation, as well as a promise of transparency about his checkered past. He wound up coming in dead last in the runoff election, garnering a mere 11% of the vote.
Credit: Rune Hellestad/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
The ability of anyone with enough money or gumption to run for mayor in most cities has brought many unusual candidates to the yard over the decades—including former Dead Kennedys vocalist Jello Biafra who made a run at unseating then-mayor of San Francisco Dianne Feinstein in 1979. The punk icon had a hell of a platform, too, including forcing cops to run for election in the neighborhoods they patrol, legalizing squatting in vacant buildings, and banning cars within the city. Biafra lost his bid, grabbing just under four percent of the vote. The outspoken artist also made a run for the Green Party’s nomination for president in 2000, even going so far as to choose jailed activist Mumia Abu-Jamal as his running mate.
Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
When Tennessee Gov. Gordon Browning skipped the party celebrating the Grand Ole Opry radio show going nationwide in 1948, country music legend Roy Acuff didn’t just get mad, he tried to get even. Acuff mounted a campaign to unseat the governor. Acuff’s run for office started off well, as he sailed through the Republican primary and did a fine job balancing his political ambitions with his duties as host of the Opry — but he was knocked out in the general election handily after grabbing 33 percent of the vote.
Even as he was scoring hits with his band Orleans (“Still The One”) and writing songs for Janis Joplin and Linda Ronstadt, John Hall remained a passionate environmental and anti-nuclear activist, successfully fighting to stop the placement of nuclear power plant near his home in Upstate New York in 1979. His interest in politics came much later when he decided to run against Republican Sue Kelly for her seat in the U.S. House. Hall won the 2006 election and remained in Congress for two terms, during which time he served on committees for veterans affairs and fighting global warming.
Credit: Jim Bennett/Wireimage
Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic made it clear that when he decided to run for the office of County Clerk in Wahkiakum County, he had no intention of actually going through with a campaign nor taking office if he won. His 2009 candidacy was a protest against the election system that allowed candidates to list any political party affiliation that they desired. To that end, Novoselic ran as a candidate for the Grange Party. After feeling like he had made his point, he removed his name from the running well before election day.
Credit: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images
Well after his stint in boy band 98 Degrees, Justin Jeffre made a sharp foray into politics when in 2005, he announced he was running for mayor of Cincinnati. His platform was solid as he looked to improve relations between the public and the city’s police department and to revitalize the downtown area. What he lacked was political experience — an issue that was clearly on the minds of Cincinnati voters as the Green Party candidate drew in a mere 708 votes in the primary election.
Credit: Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images
When Houston City Council member Dwight Boykins announced a run for mayor in 2019, one surprising candidate for his soon-to-be-vacated seat was Geto Boys member Scarface. The rapper, born Brad Jordan, was building off the work of Positive Purpose Movement, the nonprofit he founded to help bring education and employment programs to Houston’s communities of color, and promising to put the “neighbor back in the hood.” His first run at public office was cut short in December when he was beaten in a runoff election by lifelong educator Carolyn Evans-Shabazz.
Credit: Facebook/Rep Antonio Delgado
Arguably the least recognizable name on this list, Antonio Delgato does have some artistic bona fides, having worked in the music industry in L.A. for a stretch and releasing a hip-hop album under the name AD The Voice. Delgado has since left his music career behind, moved back to his home state of New York, and worked as an attorney before deciding to run for a seat in Congress in 2018. He won that election against incumbent John Faso and became the first person of color to be elected to the House of Representatives from Upstate New York.
To see our running list of the top 100 greatest guitarists of all time, click here.