In the minds of many politicians, there’s no better way to bring people together than through music. And also, what better way for a politician to up his or her “cool factor” than by being associated with constituents’ favorite songs, right? Well, several musicians aren’t about that, and tons of them have in the past reached out to conservative politicians to tell them, “Stop using my music!”
Which is, of course, fully within their rights as artists, whether it’s a musician or band that prefers to remain politically neutral or whether they flat-out disagree with everything said politician stands for.
Things get a bit tricky because of how music licensing works, though. A political candidate is able to get a “blanket license” for the music they use at their campaign rallies and other events, which basically means musicians can’t cry “stop using my music” if their songs get used. Often their only real recourse is to make a public stink about the use of their tunes, which more often than not convinces a politician to stop using them.
Now, before we start our list, you’ll see that some of the below artists have fairly recently asked current U.S. President Donald Trump to “stop using my music” at his many campaign rallies. Just know that when it comes to Trump, our list is hardly comprehensive. Among the artists who have sent cease-and-desist letters to Donald Trump alone: Adele, Aerosmith, Elton John, Neil Young, R.E.M., the Rolling Stones and Twisted Sister.
We’re starting to think he’s musicians’ least favorite president or something. I mean, just last night Rihanna was the latest to be added to Trump’s list. The Barbadian pop icon found out Trump was using “Don’t Stop the Music” at his rallies, to which she said “Nope.”
“Me nor my people would ever be at or around one of those tragic rallies,” Rihanna tweeted.
Here are 10 musicians who have told U.S. politicians, “Stop using my music!”
1. Bruce Springsteen
One of the most high-profile cases of an artist telling a politician to “stop using my music” was in 1984 when Bruce Springsteen, who had just released “Born in the USA,” told then-President Ronald Reagan not to even bring up his name. (Apparently Reagan hadn’t really listened to the lyrics of Springsteen’s hit song, which is basically about how the U.S. government mistreats its working class. Oops.)
2. Neil Young
Back when Donald Trump announced he would be running for U.S. president in 2015 (god, that seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?) he was using the Neil Young track “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Young, who happens to be a Canadian and who threw his support behind Bernie Sanders, objected, only to have Trump’s team confirm they had permission (per the licensing issues we mentioned above).
3. Pharrell Williams
The most recent case on our list of a musician yelling “stop using my music” is actually from only a few days ago. Pharrell Williams found out that Donald Trump had used his song “Happy” during a rally right after the deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead. “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,” said Pharrell’s letter.
4. Elton John
Who can forget that Donald Trump’s little nickname for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is “Rocket Man,” which also happens to be the title of a hit Elton John song? Well, Elton wasn’t all too happy about that, having reportedly said (rather kindly, we might add), “I’ve met Donald Trump. He was very nice to me, it’s nothing personal; his political views are his own, mine are very different. I’m not a Republican in a million years. Why not ask Ted fucking Nugent? Or one of those fucking country stars? They’ll do it for you.”
Female rockers Ann and Nancy Wilson aren’t interested in supporting conservative politicians, which is why back in 2008 they told Sarah Palin to “Stop using my music!” Not that it worked. After the ladies had asked Palin to stop using their song “Barracuda” at rallies, she cued it up yet again at that year’s Republican National Convention. Ann Wilson was quick to point out the irony of Republicans wanting to use the song at all, considering it’s about the mistreatment of women at the hands of the music industry.
6. Rage Against the Machine
Did you know that Rage Against the Machine is one of Paul Ryan’s favorite bands? Well, that doesn’t exactly make the band — one of the most political and activist-minded groups in rock ‘n’ roll — jump for joy. Guitarist Tom Morello told Paul Ryan to “stop using my music” (well, really it was more of a “don’t even think about using my music”) back in 2012 in an op-ed for Rolling Stone.
This “stop using my music” story is one of our faves: rock group Boston was hella pissed when it found out that not only was Mike Huckabee using their song “More Than a Feeling” at 2008 campaign events, but the politician was actually playing their song on bass guitar. So they sent Huckabee a letter that read in part: “Boston has never endorsed a political candidate, and with all due respect, would not start by endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of most everything Boston stands for.” Burn!
Even one of the world’s most popular, family-friendly pop groups, the Swedish foursome ABBA, has had to tell conservative U.S. politicians to buzz off. This instance happened in 2008 when John McCain, a self-avowed ABBA aficionado, was using “Take a Chance on Me” at campaign events.
Thanks to a cease-and-desist letter by the band after they discovered Trump was using the song “Dream On” at events, Aerosmith’s licensing company actually pulled all of the group’s songs from the campaign’s blanket license. (Cue Nelson’s laugh from The Simpsons.)
10. John Mellencamp
What is it about John Mellencamp that just makes GOP politicians want to use his hit songs? This rocker has had to yell “Stop using my music!” at not one, not two but three conservative U.S. presidential candidates — Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and John McCain. They wanted to use his tracks “Pink Houses” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”