Music video by K'NAAN performing Wavin' Flag. (C) 2010 OctoScope Music, LLC
By now, we’re all publicly aware of Mitt Romney’s interest in music, but there’s one artist who won’t be getting his support. Canadian-based rapper K’naan recently tweeted: “Yo @mittromney I am K’naan Warsame and I do not endorse this message,” following Romney’s use of “Wavin’ Flag” during his Florida primary victory speech.
And if a public shaming on Twitter isn’t enough, K’naan told MTV News yesterday that even if Romney’s campaign asked for permission to use the song, he “would certainly not have granted it.” K’naan added that he would give the Obama campaign permission if they wanted to use his music.
Mitt Romney isn’t the only presidential candidate this season feeling the music industry’s heat: Rude Music Inc., which is owned by Frank M. Sullivan III of Survivor, filed a lawsuit on Monday against Newt Gingrich for using Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” during campaign appearances dating back to 2009. Michele Bachmann was met with opposition from Katrina and the Waves for using “Walking on Sunshine,” as well as a lawsuit from Tom Petty for using “American Girl” at an event. In the past, Petty also sent a cease-and-desist order to George W. Bush for using “I Won’t Back Down” at rallies.
The Republican party seems to have a history of butting heads with recording artists. In 2010, Talking Head’s David Byrne filed a $1 million lawsuit against Florida Governor Charlie Crist who used the band’s single “Road to Nowhere” during his re-election campaign without permission. As part of the settlement, Crist was forced to write, film and publish a public apology to Byrne.
During the 2008 presidential election, Jackson Browne sued John McCain for using “Running on Empty,” and John Mellencamp asked the McCain campaign to stop using his song “Our Country.” The McCain-Palin camp was also confronted by ABBA, John Hall, Heart, Van Halen and the Foo Fighters.
It wasn’t just McCain during 2008 that rumbled with the music industry. Sam Moore of the R&B duo Sam & Dave issued a cease-and-desist letter to Barack Obama for using “Hold On, I’m Comin’” during his campaign.
Not that it hurt the now-president. Shortly after Obama stopped using Moore’s song, Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am and dozens of celebrities recorded “Yes We Can” in support of Obama. The video was viewed millions of times leading up to the election and became an anthem for the Obama campaign.
Hollywood clearly isn’t adverse to tangoing with politics. The Vote for the Change tour in 2004 featured Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews and the Dixie Chicks, gave proceeds from the tour to support Democratic nominee John Kerry, and other big Hollywood fundraisers in the past have supported Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
Why do politicians use songs on the campaign trail anyway? Would the “right” song help them better connect with the voters? And what would make a politician not ask for permission to use a song, given the tentative-at-best relationship between artist’s work and political affiliation? Isn’t it good for the artist either way to gain exposure?