Musicians who banned presidential candidates from using their songs
They won’t back down.
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 Aug. 17, 2020.
Queen vs. Donald Trump
Queen have chastised Trump more than once for using their music. The band initially scolded him in 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 of that same year, 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 in 2016, 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 Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and Pat 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
Bobby McFerrin vs. George H.W. Bush
When Bobby 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
Tom 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 Michelle 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 2000 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 Al Gore to stop using “Brand New Day” as well, but that, according to reports, never happened.
ABBA vs. John McCain
Foo Fighters vs. John McCain
McCain’s 2008 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 Barack 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.” Moore went on to perform at Trump’s inauguration in 2016.
Survivor vs. Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney
Most musicians simply request that politicians stop using their songs, but Survivor went ahead and sued Newt Gingrich for playing “Eye of the Tiger” during his 2012 presidential campaign. (They went easier on Mitt Romney, though, simply asking that he stop using "Eye of the Tiger," which his team did.)
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
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 Steven 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 rally in 2015. 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 in 2015, so it’s no surprise that she also stopped Donald Trump from continuing to play “Rolling in the Deep” and “Skyfall” at his 2016 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 in 2016, 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.
Earth, Wind, & Fire vs. Republican National Convention
Ozzy Osbourne vs. Donald Trump
Ozzy Osbourne is definitely not on the Trump Train, which is why his wife Sharon sent a cease and desist letter on his behalf regarding Donald Trump's unauthorized use of Osbourne's "Crazy Train" in a video posted to Twitter on June 2019. However, the Osbournes were kind enough to come up with a few alternate song selections for the president. ”We are sending notice to the Trump campaign (or any other campaigns) that they are forbidden from using any of Ozzy Osbourne's music in political ads or in any political campaigns,” read the statement. “Ozzy's music cannot be used for any means without approvals. In the meantime, I have a suggestion for Mr. Trump — perhaps he should reach out to some of his musician friends. Maybe Kayne West (‘Gold Digger’), Kid Rock (‘I Am the Bullgod’) or Ted Nugent (‘Stranglehold’) will allow use of their music."
Neil Young vs. Donald Trump (again)
Trump has kept on “Rockin’ in the Free World” despite Young’s wishes. After using that song to announce his presidential bid in 2015, Trump ran afoul of the Canadian musician again by playing “Free World” and other songs at multiple 2020 rallies. Young has filed suit against the Trump campaign, saying the songs have been used without permission "for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate.”
Tom Petty vs. Donald Trump (again)
Politicians love to proclaim they won’t back down, which has led to more than one unauthorized use of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” over the years. The late rock star’s family slapped the Trump campaign with a cease-and-desist letter after the song was played at the president’s June rally in Tulsa. "Trump was in no way authorized to use this song to further a campaign that leaves too many Americans and common sense behind,” Petty’s daughters Adria and Annakim, widow Dana, and ex-wife Jane wrote in a statement on Twitter. “Tom wrote this song for the underdog, for the common man and for EVERYONE….We would hate for fans that are marginalized by this administration to think we were complicit in this usage.”
Brendon Urie vs. Donald Trump
Panic! at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie didn’t mince words with the Trump campaign after the band’s song “High Hopes” played at a June rally in Phoenix. “Dear Trump Campaign, F--- you. You’re not invited. Stop playing my song,” Urie wrote on Twitter. Nor has he minced words in the past: Urie has called the president “a f---ing a—hole” who’s “encroaching on people’s rights” and "toxic orange” in various interviews.
Linkin Park vs. Donald Trump
Linkin Park’s “In the End” is an odd choice for a campaign song (sample lyrics: “I tried so hard / And got so far / But in the end / It doesn’t even matter”), but that didn’t stop Donald Trump’s re-election campaign from using the 2002 hit in an ad. After the video featuring the song was posted on social media in July, the band reported a copyright violation, causing the ad to be removed from Twitter. "Linkin Park did not and does not endorse Trump, nor authorize his organization to use any of our music. A cease and desist has been issued," the group wrote in a tweet. Late Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington also sharply criticized the president before his death, calling Trump “a greater threat to the USA than terrorism” in a tweet.
Village People vs. Donald Trump
The Village People, the disco group behind such hits as “In the Navy” and “Y.M.C.A.,” originally gave reluctant permission for Trump to use their songs: “He has remained respectful in his use of our songs and has not crossed the line…Having said that, we certainly don't endorse his use as we'd prefer our music be kept out of politics,” the group said in a statement on Facebook in February.
They’re singing a different tune now, however. In the wake of the administration’s militant response to peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in June, lead singer Victor Willis requested the president stop his use of the Village People’s songs. “If Trump orders the U.S. military to fire on his own citizens (on U.S. soil), Americans will rise up in such numbers outside of the White House that he might be forced out of office prior to the election,” Willis wrote on Facebook. “Don't do it Mr. President! And I ask that you no longer use any of my music at your rallies especially "Y.M.C.A." and ‘Macho Man.’ Sorry, but I can no longer look the other way.”
Prince vs. Donald Trump
Trump courted “Controversy” yet again by using Prince’s “Purple Rain” on playlists for his pre-midterm rallies without permission. In October 2018, the legendary musician’s estate requested the song’s use be stopped, to which the Trump campaign agreed… before proceeding to use the song again a year later.
George Harrison vs. Republican National Convention
The 2016 Republican National Convention was rife with unauthorized song usage. Members of George Harrison’s estate tweeted their disapproval after the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” penned by the late musician, was played during the convention. They added a witty caveat, however: “If it had been Beware of Darkness, then we MAY have approved it!”
Axl Rose vs. Donald Trump
The president’s habit of walking out to Guns N’ Roses hits such as "Sweet Child O' Mine" during rallies did not go unnoticed by the rock band’s vocalist, Axl Rose. “Just so ya know... GNR like a lot of artists opposed to the unauthorized use of their music at political events has formally requested r music not b used at Trump rallies or Trump associated events,” Rose, another vocal critic of the Trump administration, wrote on Twitter in 2018. He accused Trump’s campaign of “using loopholes in the various venues’ blanket performance licenses” to use the songs without consent. “Personally I kinda liked the irony of Trump supporters listening to a bunch of anti Trump music at his rallies but I don’t imagine a lot of ‘em really get that or care,” Rose added.