Standing in a Rochester airplane hangar, waiting for Donald J. Trump to take the stage at his rally, I thought about what I could write about the experience. No matter where your vote is leaning, he occupies a singular place in the American collective conscience: the filterless human sideshow with a real chance at the presidency. Being at a Trump rally, where (terrifying) absurdity is the norm, I had to figure out a way to disseminate my thoughts on the event. But I didn’t want to write political coverage; my colleagues in news and opinion are better equipped to do that. Instead, I decided to play to my strengths and analyze what you all really want to hear about anyway: Trump’s playlist.
The Trump campaign’s music choice has already been discussed at length in various outlets. Most memorably, when Trump took the stage at a Tea Party rally to R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” Michael Stipe told Trump, ralliers and organizers to “go fuck [them]selves.” In February, the Rolling Stones said Trump was never authorized to use their songs either, but never told his campaign to stop playing them. The Washington Post has dissected his February playlist, and Politico went so far to say that Trump “broke the GOP’s music curse.”
For such grotesque grandiosity— a comically huge flag, crowd-fueled cries of “LYIN’ TED” whenever Cruz’s name is mentioned, an entrance that involves conspicuously landing his private jet next to the venue — Trump desperately needs a new D.J. Most notably, his rally’s playlist lacked the variety necessary for a proper party. Particularly with supporters arriving hours ahead of its scheduled start to secure a spot in the building, an 11-song rotation just doesn’t fill enough time. No matter how much you love “Uptown Girl,” it’s a bit much on its third play. And what’s worse is that these songs span only six artists; there were three cuts respectively from the Stones and Elton John, the campy showman Trump so dearly wishes he could live up to.
Much more concerning for a dyed-in-the-wool Trumpaholic would be the fact that a paltry three of the total 13 songs played last Sunday were performed by American artists. For all Donald’s xenophobia and Americentrism, he couldn’t have found a few more songs by his fellow U.S. citizens? I get that you think America has lost a bit of pep in its step, but we’re still the dominant drivers in the world’s popular music consumption.
Assuming the inconvenient nationality stat gets overlooked, Trump’s music choices do accomplish some clear goals. Demographically, Trump’s iPod picks play to his strengths — Sunday’s playlist was overwhelmingly dominated by white musicians and featured only one woman, Anita Doth of 2 Unlimited. Plus, the music harkens back to a time when ralliers may have once considered America great, with the newest track coming from 1991 and the bulk of it being released within a decade of 1970.
It’s on this sense of nostalgia for a whitewashed version of yesteryear that Trump has based both his campaign and his music selection. Back in the days when his Rochester supporters had booming factories and unfettered use of “Merry Christmas,” they too probably listened to rock imports from across the pond like the Stones, who based their career on an encyclopedic knowledge of American blues.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, whose “Born on the Bayou” was played a couple times, is American and takes its faux Americana one step further with Southern-themed songs sung by a decidedly Californian band. But somehow CCR’s anti-war protest music also gets lost in the shuffle when played at a rally where war wasn’t just tolerated, but praised.
Like Donald’s campaign itself, his music choices are viscerally compelling, showboating (see: “Get Ready for This”) and require extreme mental gymnastics and selective memory to be able to support or even comprehend. But the playlist’s most glaring outlier — Pavarotti’s soaring recording of the famous “Nessun dorma” aria — may be its best fit. Chronicling the misogynistic pursuit of a woman, it ends triumphantly with “Vincerò! Vincerò!” meaning “I will win! I will win!” It may be the best summary of the rally, the campaign and Donald J. Trump himself — no matter what he says or how little sense it makes, it all comes back to winning at any cost.
Mike Sosnick is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. 40 Percent Papier-Mâché appears alternate Thursdays this semester. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.