Artists taking a stand
Every rally needs music — the only problem is, musicians don’t always want to lend their songs to political campaigns. Here are 22 musicians who’ve spoken out against politicians playing their tracks at events, ranging from Bruce Springsteen going up against a trio of Republicans to Adele requesting that Donald Trump take her tunes off his public playlists.
This gallery was originally published July 20, 2016, and most recently updated Oct. 14, 2019.
Queen vs. Donald Trump
Queen have chastised Trump more than once for using their music. The band initially scolded him in June 2016 after he played “We Are the Champions” ahead of his victory speech during the final round of Republican primaries. Guitarist Brian May wrote on the band’s website that they were actively pursuing options to stop Trump from playing their songs.
In July 2016, the then-candidate again borrowed “We Are the Champions” for his first-night walk onto the Republican National Convention stage, eliciting an aggravated response from Queen. “Queen does not want its music associated with any mainstream or political debate in any country. Nor does Queen want ‘We are the Champions’ to be used as an endorsement of Mr. Trump and the political views of the Republican Party,” they said in a statement. “We trust, hope and expect that Mr. Trump and his campaign will respect these wishes moving forward.”
But they didn’t. In October 2019, Trump tweeted a video that showed footage of his rallies while Queen’s “We Will Rock You” played in its entirety. The band again took action to prevent their song’s use, and the video was removed from Twitter a few days later.
Nickelback vs. Donald Trump
You can’t “look at this photograph” anymore, because Twitter took it down. In October 2019, Trump tweeted a clip from Nickelback’s “Photograph” music video, in a riff on a popular meme where the photo held by lead singer Chad Kroeger is replaced with a funny picture. In this case, the new photo was one of Joe Biden and his son Hunter golfing with someone identified as a “Ukraine gas exec.” (The man is actually Devon Archer, an American who sat on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company with Hunter Biden.) Trump is currently facing an impeachment inquiry for pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden and his son’s ties with that gas company.
Twitter pulled the president’s video after Warner Music Group, which owns Nickelback’s American record label, filed a copyright violation complaint.
Rihanna vs. Donald Trump
Please do stop the music: Upon learning that her music was blasting at one of Trump’s rallies, which he’s continued to hold in the years since winning the 2016 presidential election, Rihanna has requested to be removed from POTUS’ playlist. After Washington Post White House bureau chief Philip Rucker tweeted that “Don’t Stop the Music” was playing at one of the events, the pop star replied, “Not for much longer…me nor my people would ever be at or around one of those tragic rallies, so thanks for the heads up Philip!”
Pharrell vs. Donald Trump
At a public event in Oct. 2018, the president played Pharrell Williams’ upbeat track “Happy” mere hours after a deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue took 11 lives. The artist sent Trump a cease and desist letter following the use of his song. “On the day of the mass murder of 11 human beings at the hands of a deranged ‘nationalist,’ you played his song ‘Happy’ to a crowd at a political event in Indiana,” Williams’ attorney wrote. “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.”
Explosions in the Sky vs. Ted Cruz
Governor Greg Abbott used Explosions in the Sky’s “Your Hand in Mine” in a clip endorsing Ted Cruz, and the band expressed their disapproval on Twitter once someone pointed it out to them: “We are absolutely not okay with it,” they wrote. “Those are two people we don’t like very much. We’ll get to the bottom of this.”
Bruce Springsteen vs. Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and Pat Buchanan
Good rule of thumb: If you’re a Republican, don’t play a Springsteen song at your rally — especially not “Born in the U.S.A.,” a track that’s not as patriotic as Reagan, Dole, and Buchanan thought. Springsteen requested they all stop playing the song, and beginning in the ‘90s, he started performing a dour, acoustic version of the 1984 track at shows in order to more clearly convey its antiwar sentiment.
John Mellencamp vs. Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and John McCain
Like Springsteen, Mellencamp has a bit of a history of telling Republican candidates to stop using his music: He objected when Reagan used “Pink Houses” in 1984, when Bush Jr. used “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” in 2000, and when McCain used both “Our Country” and “Pink Houses” in 2008.
Bobby McFerrin vs. George H.W. Bush
When McFerrin found out the senior Bush was using 1988’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” he was, well, not happy. After McFerrin voiced his disagreement with Bush using the song, the presidential candidate tried to get McFerrin on his side by asking him to dinner, The New York Times reported, but McFerrin rejected the invitation.
Tom Petty vs. George W. Bush and Michele Bachmann
Petty means it when he sings that he’ll stand his ground in 1989’s “I Won’t Back Down,” a single used in the younger Bush’s campaign before Petty sent a cease and desist letter. That evidently didn’t scare Bachmann, because she played Petty’s “American Girl” when she campaigned in 2011 and, like Bush, also received a cease and desist letter from Petty’s team.
Sting vs. George W. Bush and Al Gore
Unlike most musicians who ask politicians to stop using their songs so it doesn’t seem like they’re endorsing them, Sting requested that Bush stop playing “Brand New Day” simply because he didn’t want to get involved in the U.S. election as an Englishman. “It’s not a polite thing to do,” his manager at the time, Miles Copeland, told Salon. Or so he said: Copeland also added that Sting would be telling Bush opponent Gore to stop using “Brand New Day” as well, but that, according to reports, never happened.
ABBA vs. John McCain
McCain loves ABBA. In fact, he once told Blender that ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” and “Take a Chance On Me” were in his top 10 favorite songs. But the Swedish band wasn’t willing to take a chance on McCain when he selected one of their singles for his 2008 campaign.
Foo Fighters vs. John McCain
McCain’s campaign playlist was once again shorted when Foo Fighters found out he was playing “My Hero.” “The saddest thing about this is that ‘My Hero’ was written as a celebration of the common man and his extraordinary potential,” they said in a statement, the AP reported. “To have it appropriated without our knowledge and used in a manner that perverts the original sentiment of the lyric just tarnishes the song.”
Sam Moore vs. Barack Obama
A Democrat was asked to stop using a song for a change when Sam and Dave’s Sam Moore requested that Obama stop playing “Hold On, I’m Comin’” at rallies in 2008. In a letter to Obama, he wrote that “it is thrilling … to see that our country has matured to the place where it is no longer an impossibility for a man of color to really be considered as a legitimate candidate for the highest office in our land” but also clarified that he had not endorsed Obama and his vote “is a very private matter between myself and the ballot box.”
Survivor vs. Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney
Katrina and the Waves vs. Michele Bachmann
Bachmann had to stop using Katrina and the Waves’ 1985 hit “Walking on Sunshine” after the band issued a statement saying they didn’t endorse the use of their song by Bachmann.
Boston vs. Mike Huckabee
Former Boston member Barry Goudreau got in a bit of trouble once the rest of the band found out he’d been playing 1976’s “More Than a Feeling” at Huckabee’s campaign events. “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,” the band’s founder Tom Scholz wrote in a letter to Huckabee before saying, “I think I’ve been ripped off, dude!”
Neil Young vs. Donald Trump
Trump announced his bid for president with the help of Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” to which Young immediately objected. In a statement, he said that Trump was not authorized to use the song. The Canadian citizen also revealed that he’s “a supporter of Bernie Sanders.”
Steven Tyler vs. Donald Trump
The Aerosmith frontman first asked Trump to stop using the band’s “Dream On” at his rallies in August 2015 — but Trump didn’t listen, so Tyler followed up a few months later by sending the candidate a cease and desist letter stating that Trump doesn’t have permission to use the track and that “it gives the false impression that [Tyler] is connected with or endorses Mr. Trump’s presidential bid.” His attorney clarified to EW that “this is not a political nor personal issue with Mr. Trump” and that “simply, one must get permission from the music creators.”
R.E.M. vs. Donald Trump
R.E.M. did not feel fine when they found out Trump played “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” at a September rally: In a statement on Facebook, they asked that Trump “cease and desist” from using their music. Frontman Michael Stipe then issued another statement via bassist Mike Mills’ Twitter that was… less polite. “Go f— yourselves, the lot of you — you sad, attention grabbing, power-hungry little men,” he said. “Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign.”
Adele vs. Donald Trump
Adele wouldn’t even let Spotify play her music, so it’s no surprise that she also stopped Donald Trump from continuing to play “Rolling in the Deep” and “Skyfall” at his rallies, saying through a rep that she had “not given permission for her music to be used for any political campaigning.”
Rolling Stones vs. Donald Trump
Trump’s usage of Rolling Stones’ songs prompted a stubborn stalemate with the legendary rockers. After the Republican candidate played the group’s 1981 hit “Start Me Up” to celebrate his Indiana primary win, the band issued a statement demanding he remove their tracks from his event playlist. Trump, who’d pulled from their discography throughout his campaign, insisted that while had had “no problem” with the Stones, he has the rights to use their music.