There may be no better signifier of someone’s moral character than their taste in music. Only plays classical music and nature sounds? Screaming internally. Listens to no music at all? A confirmed psychopath who needs to be reported. Blasts out endless pop diva hits? Gay. Still streaming Lady Sovereign? Scary and dangerous.
The truth is that music matters. Not just in our choice of friends or lovers but also (and perhaps most importantly) as we anoint America’s Next Political Superstar. Going beyond the usual policy talk and pandering, there’s no better judge of character than the music taste of 2020’s top Democratic nominees: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang.
Welcome to the 2020 Democratic Nominee Music Meltdown Cage Match of Doom, where Panic! At The Disco flash mobs fuel nightmares and spoken-word folk songs from the 1970s never die.
Before the Vermont Senator became America’s grumpy socialist grandpa, he was busy dropping some fire vocals in the recording studio. When the dust had settled and Sanders walked away from his burgeoning career as Vermont’s spoken word music phenom, he had three albums under his worn old belt: Eugene V. Debs: Trade Unionist, Socialist, Revolutionary 1855 – 1926; We Shall Overcome; and… The Practical Communist.
Of these three very on-brand albums, two (Eugene V. Debs and The Practical Communist) came from his days writing and producing film strips about his commie idol, labour activist Eugene Debs. However, the most (but not very) famous is his 1987 folk album We Shall Overcome, which was recorded alongside “30 Vermont artists” while he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
Comrades, it is… not good. It’s like your dad finding your audio recorder and going buck-wild with a history book. As The Guardian perfectly described it, it sounds like “Woody Allen doing Woody Guthrie as This Land is Your Land gets a reggae beat.” But hey, who needs vocal talent when you can push an entire political party left while becoming one of America’s most famous politicians, right?
Verdict: Bernie is America’s most badass Democratic Socialist but listening to spoken word folk albums willingly should be categorised as a form of torture.
Of all the nicknames former VP Joe Biden has taken on, “middle-class Joe” is the most famous despite him being… not very middle-class at all. Wilfully ignoring his $9 million net worth, Biden clings to his average Joe image through music that appeals to everyone who misses Obama, with a little help from Bruce Springsteen.
Biden’s affinity for the rock icon’s track We Take Care of Our Own is a good example of just how predictable the candidate/former VP is, because long before Joe started using it as his walk-out music, Barack Obama had adopted it in 2012 during his re-election campaign – most notably using it to cap off his speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Then again, it’s no shock that a man whose platform can be succinctly summarised as “Obama’s BFF” decided to use the same song as the former President.
Verdict: I refuse to trust a man with the energy of a click-wheel iPod.
If you’ve ever wondered what kind of music an old, nerdy but ultimately very cool Ivy League professor would listen to, look no further than the Senator’s campaign playlist. It’s stacked with greatest hits tracks from decades ago such as KC and the Sunshine Band’s Get Down Tonight, but also includes some wild picks like Imagine Dragons’ On Top of the World and, um, a Greatest Showman song.
To really solidify the “professor finds the diner jukebox and goes apeshit” vibe, Warren’s biggest go-to track is 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton. No other song could fit the image of being the hardest-working woman in the race quite like that working-class anthem about being a cog in the capitalist machine.
Verdict: Has the same energy as a drunk union boss belting out Aretha Franklin’s Respect at a small-town bar.
Few things in life are as haunting as the flash mob videos of Buttigieg supporters dancing to Panic! At the Disco’s High Hopes. Yes, the South Bend, Indiana mayor is gay, young and boring. It’s a brand. But just because you’ve spent your entire life evolving to become as bland as white bread so you can appeal to as many voters as possible, doesn’t mean that your music taste has to be equally banal.
Of course, Buttigieg isn’t just rocking out to Panic! At The Disco and other tracks he crowd-tests for maximum impact with his base of white people. He also plays instruments, which means that if your kink is Pete Buttigieg playing jazz piano, it’s time to unbuckle your belt, unzip and press play.
Verdict: No man who willingly performs tracks by Spoon and Phish should be allowed to run a country.
When she’s not listening to the sound of her staff members crying after she verbally harasses and throws binders at them, Senator Klobuchar eases into a cursed play-through of girl power anthems, rap songs and The Sound of Music.
None of this is shocking if you’ve spent even a minute of time watching her throw out corny mum jokes at a rapid-fire pace during public appearances. Just look at her walk-out song: Dessa’s rap track, The Bullpen, which is about being tough while also being a “china doll in the bullpen”, which… okay.
Verdict: Does being a moderate Midwestern woman have to mean your music taste is like the soundtrack for a minivan driving straight into hell?
It’s fitting that a candidate whose campaign is based on a corny acronym (M.A.T.H. = Make America Think Again) has the musical taste of a dad in a midlife crisis who just got an earring. Yang, the non-politician who wants to give everyone free money and fight the robot automation uprising, really likes to “jam out” to Drake, Eminem and 5 Seconds of Summer.
It’s up for debate whether he’s the most hip, alternative candidate in the race or a cheesy distraction, but it’s clear that Yang has perfected the art of balancing self-deprecation through humour and harnessing the energy of a middle-aged man in a baseball cap blasting Mark Morrison’s Return of the Mack, which I should note is a bop about sexual betrayal that should absolutely never be used in political campaigns unless you’re Bill Clinton.
Verdict: There’s a higher likelihood of him starting a wedding cover band than there is of him being President.