It was a bad sign for Donald Trump when he kicked off his campaign for the 2016 election with Neil Young’s classic, “Rockin’ in the Free World,” prompting Young to demand the campaign stop using the track. Trump won the election, yes, but the rift with Young set the tone for many of Trump’s future interactions with musicians.
Even when now-President Trump plays a song at one of his rallies, his team is often hit with a demand to stop. (Seriously, Rihanna asked him to keep her song called “Don’t Stop the Music” off his playlists.)
During a rally Thursday in Minneapolis, Trump name-checked several musicians who supported his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 election. “I didn’t need Beyoncé and Jay-Z, I didn’t need little Bruce Springsteen,” he said.
Then, at the very same event, Trump played Prince’s “Purple Rain,” prompting the late singer’s estate to call out his team for breaking an agreement to stop using the Purple One’s music.
President Trump played Prince’s “Purple Rain” tonight at a campaign event in Minneapolis despite confirming a year ago that the campaign would not use Prince’s music. The Prince Estate will never give permission to President Trump to use Prince’s songs. pic.twitter.com/FuMUPzSWOe
— Prince (@prince) October 11, 2019
Here are some of the many other songs that have been part of Trump’s campaign soundtrack, only for the artists behind them to protest.
‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’
R.E.M. did not approve of the Trump campaign using their song, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” in September 2015.
Too-cool-for-Twitter Michael Stipe sent a message via the band’s Mike Mills that was almost certainly not written by lawyers: “Go f*** 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 called Trump an “orange clown.”
Personally, I think the Orange Clown will do anything for attention. I hate giving it to him.
— Mike Mills (@m_millsey) September 9, 2015
The entire band wrote an open letter to Trump and his fellow Republicans: “While we do not authorize or condone the use of our music at this political event, and do ask that these candidates cease and desist from doing so, let us remember that there are things of greater importance at stake here. The media and the American voter should 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.”
‘Rocket Man’ and ‘Tiny Dancer’
The week after Trump opposed gay marriage in early 2016, Elton John’s team clarified that the Trump campaign had used two of his biggest hits, “Rocket Man” and “Tiny Dancer,” without permission, and John did not endorse the candidate. (He was quite vocal in his support for Clinton.) Once Trump won the election, John turned down the president-elect’s invitation to perform at his inauguration.
‘Rolling in the Deep’ and ‘Skyfall’
Grammy winner Adele issued a statement just before Elton John. Her rep said the singer didn’t want her music used for any political campaigning. While that statement was general, she urged her fans at an October 2016 concert in Miami to vote for someone other than Trump. Adele, who, being British wasn’t eligible to vote herself, was a big supporter of Trump’s opponent in the general election.
‘Start Me Up’ and ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’
“Start Me Up” played on the Trump trail in 2016, much to the dismay of Mick Jagger and the rest of the Rolling Stones. They sent Trump a statement requesting that he stop playing that song, as well as, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” The official Twitter account for the band sent a message via Twitter — perhaps they wanted to make sure Trump would see it — clarifying that they did not endorse the candidate. It has since been deleted.
‘All Right Now’
Singer Paul Rodgers didn’t want his song played, either.
Permission to use "All Right Now" was never sought for or granted by me. My lawyer is dealing with this matter. - Paul
— Paul Rodgers (@_paulrodgers) July 18, 2016
‘Here Comes the Sun’
George Harrison’s estate showed its disapproval of the use of the iconic Beatles song, written by Harrison, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July 2016.
— George Harrison (@GeorgeHarrison) July 22, 2016
If it had been Beware of Darkness, then we MAY have approved it! #TrumpYourself
— George Harrison (@GeorgeHarrison) July 22, 2016
‘We Are the Champions’
After Queen’s anthem played during the 2016 Republican National Convention, member Brian May responded immediately. “This is not an official Queen statement, but I can confirm that permission to use the track was neither sought nor given,” he wrote. “We are taking advice on what steps we can take to ensure this use does not continue. Regardless of our views on Mr. Trump’s platform, it has always been against our policy to allow Queen music to be used as a political campaigning tool. Our music embodies our own dreams and beliefs, but it is for all who care to listen and enjoy.”
An unauthorised use at the Republican Convention against our wishes - Queen
— Queen (@QueenWillRock) July 19, 2016
Earth, Wind and Fire piggybacked on Queen’s official tweet about permission.
Another unauthorized use (September) at the Republican Convention, against our wishes - Earth, Wind & Fire https://t.co/GV48JxcbGz
— Earth, Wind & Fire (@EarthWindFire) July 20, 2016
Trump’s team was upset when Eddie Levert of the O'Jays said he wanted them to stop playing the group’s 1972 anthem, “Love Train” in 2016. However, the group had allowed Trump to use their song “For the Love of Money” on The Apprentice.
“They got on me about it, said I got enough money from him so now I can kick dirt in his face,” Levert told Billboard. “But I have a right to like what I like. I have the right to pick the people I want to follow and want to be associated with. I'm for change, but I don't think [Trump] is the guy who will take us to the change he was talking about.”
‘Don’t Stop the Music’
Rihanna supported Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton in 2016, with the Barbadian singer opposing Trump’s immigration policies in particular. Her exact take on him is that he’s an “immoral pig,” an opinion she gave mere hours after he played, “Don’t Stop the Music” at a January 2017 appearance in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Disgusted! The news is devastating! America is being ruined right before our eyes! What an immoral pig you have to be to implement such BS!!
— Rihanna (@rihanna) January 29, 2017
‘Dream On’ and ‘Livin’ on the Edge’
Speaking of rock stars, this list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler. He sent then-candidate Trump more than one cease and desist letter for using “Dream On” during the campaign.
Even though I have the legal right to use Steven Tyler’s song, he asked me not to. Have better one to take its place!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2015
Trump begrudgingly stopped using that song, but he later began playing “Livin’ on the Edge.” Tyler’s lawyer said in a letter dated August 2018 that the president playing the track falsely implied that his client was a supporter.
“What makes this violation even more egregious is that Mr. Trump’s use of our client’s music was previously shut down, not once, but two times, during his campaign for presidency in 2015,” he wrote.
Trump turned to Pharrell’s ubiquitous song in October 2018, one day after a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Pharrell objected via a statement from his lawyer. “On the day of the mass murder of 11 human beings at the hands of a deranged ‘nationalist,’ you played his song ‘Happy’ to a crowd at a political event in Indiana,” attorney Howard King said. “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.” King further noted that his client would not permit Trump to play his music in the future, either.
‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’
Guns N’ Roses’ frontman Axl Rose slammed Trump on Twitter when he heard about him cranking up their 1987 hit at his events.
Just so ya know... GNR like a lot of artists opposed to the unauthorized use of their music at political events has formally requested r music not b used at Trump rallies or Trump associated events.
— Axl Rose (@axlrose) November 4, 2018
‘Rockin’ in the Free World’
While the Canadian rocker was the first to object to Trump’s use of his music, Neil Young eventually changed his mind. Despite the fact that he supported Bernie Sanders, Young said he was OK with Trump playing his tracks at rallies, as long as he licensed the use of it. That didn’t last long, though, because Young called out Trump again in November 2018. Young said that while Trump had secured permission to legally play his music, he objected to it. “This man does not represent the character of the people in the USA that I have come to know and love,” Young wrote on his website.
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