Rock the vote: Who has the best campaign theme song?
The Strumbellas pose for photographers as they arrive for the Juno Gala awards show in Ottawa, Saturday April 1, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick)
TORONTO - Political parties and their leaders face a challenging balancing act when it comes to choosing the right song for an election campaign.
Music experts and political analysts suggest parties want an upbeat, encouraging song that’s relatable and galvanizes voters, but doesn’t come off as fake or particularly inappropriate for any one group of people.
“Candidates need to avoid the perception of a disconnect between their musical taste and critics perceptions of what their tastes should be,” Kenneth McLeod, an associate professor of music history and culture at the University of Toronto, wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca. “In other words, avoid looking inauthentic -- trying to be hip when you’re clearly not.”
Marcel Wieder, the president and chief advocate of Aurora Strategy, said a campaign song is important because it is heard everywhere the leader goes and is sometimes meant to target a certain demographic.
“If you’re going after a young demographic, you want something that isn’t old fogey-style music,” he said in a phone interview. “On the same token, you don’t want to have music that’s so out there that older demographics would be turned off by.”
Among the most famous campaign songs was Bill Clinton’s use of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” during the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign, McLeod said. The song was meant to portray a positive future with Clinton at the helm and proved to be such a success that he still uses it during fundraising events and speeches.
Emily Abrams Ansari, an associate professor of music history at Western University who studies the relationship between music and politics, said a good campaign song is one that reflects the values of a party.
“Both the mood and the lyrics of a song, when it’s chosen effectively, tell the voter something about what a particular party stands for,” she said. “When campaign songs are effective, it is usually because there is clear alignment between the lyrics, genre, and mood of the song, the politics of the musician, and the messaging of the politician using the song.”
For this year’s 2019 election campaign, the Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois have all chosen rock songs either written or composed by Canadian artists, while the NDP went with a soca tune. Here’s a closer look at them:
The Liberals chose “One Hand Up," by Canadian rock band The Strumbellas, which features the lyrics: “We can hold one hand up for tomorrow. We can hold one hand up to the stars."
“This is fundamentally an optimistic song about tomorrow,” McLeod said. “It has an upbeat, non-offensive, contemporary youthful indie sound.”
McLeod pointed to the lyrics: “We can be the change that we want to see. Just don't give up on me,” as the message Justin Trudeau is trying to get acrossthis election, given some of the scandals that have occurred during his time in office.
However, there has been backlash over the badly translated French version of this song. The Liberals said on Monday they plan to re-record a new version.
“It is very hard to create a song that works well in multiple languages, and especially for the same band to sing it equally well in those different languages,” Ansari said.
“In this case, the song's most important line, ‘One hand up,’ was not translated idiomatically into French: this already was probably enough to derail the translated version.”
The Conservatives went with a slightly different tone by turning to songwriter Jim Vallance to create an original campaign song using their slogan: “It’s time for you to get ahead.”
Vallance is most famously known as the former songwriter for Canadian rock legend Bryan Adams. He penned Adams’ hits "Cuts Like a Knife," "Run to You” and "Summer of '69."
Ansari said the music could work well with an older demographic, but deemed the song’s use of the party’s own slogan “a little obvious and trite.”
“It will work well for bringing speakers up on to a campaign stage, certainly, but this isn't a campaign song that anyone will remember or get excited about,” she said.
Wieder said the Conservatives were able to get Vallance to write a customized song due to their fundraising advantage.
“They’re flush with cash, so it’s a lot easier for them to afford to have a campaign song prepared for them and to be able to use it during the campaign,” he said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s walk-up song is “Differentology (Ready Fi Di Road)” by Bunji Garlin, which won the Soul Train Music Award for Best International Performance in 2014.
McLeod said the song “manifests a youthful, world music dance vibe” and that its Caribbean language is an “instantaneous marker.”
“(It’s) seemingly calculated to appeal to empowering immigrants, Indigenous peoples, and/or second generation Canadians and portray a racially and geopolitically inclusive message,” he said.
Ansari called the NDP’s choice the “most interesting and unusual” among the campaign songs.
“The pervasive ‘We're ready’ lyric makes for an effective political message, perhaps seeking to allay concerns to the contrary, and the music is energetic and catchy,” she said. “The NDP may also appreciate that this genre choice can help depict a party that is both multicultural and youth-oriented.”
The Bloc Quebecois went with a more heavy rock vibe with “Le Québec c’est nous” (Quebec, it’s us) written and performed by Eric Lapointe, the lead singer of a French hard rock band under his name.
McLeod said the song “appeals perhaps to a slightly older demographic, the brass softens the aggression somewhat, and gives the song a more bar band relatable appeal.”
Wieder said it was fairly obvious that the Bloc would use a musician from Quebec for their song.
“The Bloc is very nationalistic, so they want to use Quebec artists,” he said. “Their pool of songs that they could reach for is somewhat limited because they’re only focused in Quebec.”
Emails to both the Green Party and the People’s Party of Canada requesting their official song were not answered by the time of publication.
With files from The Canadian Press