Pop stars in Democratic politics

Pop stars are definitely not shy about taking sides in American politics, as we saw when artists such as Madonna, Cher, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Beyonce all rallied behind President Obama in his respective campaigns.

On their own, singers are just voters. They might not know a whole lot about politics, and you might not care what they think. But a lot of people, especially young people, do. And young people matter. The 2014 midterms saw the lowest youth turnout in 70 years, contributing to sweeping Republican victories a few short years after the youth vote helped President Obama carry states he wouldn’t otherwise have carried in 2012.

Celebrities were active in President Obama’s re-election campaign. Cher and Kathy Griffin filmed an ad specifically attacking Republican candidates who made distasteful comments concerning women’s issues, such as rape and abortion. The ad was geared toward women, but by using pop icons to make the message — along with including LGBT-supportive language in the ad — it targeted younger voters for whom those figures and issues resonate.

At concerts, Katy Perry wore pro-Obama skin-tight dresses that didn’t leave her political views to anyone’s imagination. One of which resembled a voting slip, with the square next to Barack Obama and Joe Biden neatly filled in. There was no subtlety — after all, this is pop:


In 2010, Lady Gaga made an impassioned speech demanding that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” bill be repealed, which Obama did in 2011. You can read the full transcript here. Lady Gaga also appeared with Tony Bennett at the staff ball following President Obama’s second inauguration.

Madonna showed Obama’s face during a concert, and had his name across her back. However, the crowd booed her in New Orleans after she said, “I don’t care who you vote for, as long as you vote for Obama.”

Beyonce raised $4 million for Obama’s campaign in a single fundraiser, wrote him a letter calling him an inspiration, wore a “Texans for Obama” t-shirt, and then sang the National Anthem at his second inauguration.

Katy Perry's Twitter avatar

Katy Perry’s Twitter avatar

But who will get the star treatment next? Considering pop singers are largely catering to a liberal and female audience, along with many in the LGBT community, all signs point toward Hillary Clinton being the preferred candidate. Katy Perry has already gotten in on the act, changing her Twitter avatar to match Clinton’s campaign logo. Perry has 73 million followers on Twitter, all of whom will now see Clinton’s logo and Perry’s smiling face every time she sends out a tweet.

For his part, rapper Lil B, most famous for giving the blessing of The Based God, has already endorsed Bernie Sanders.

Pop artists will likely gravitate toward Clinton as a base from which to talk about feminism and social justice, both of which were huge influences in their choice of Obama in 2008 after he had locked up the nomination.

As silly as it may sound, it really does matter who pop stars endorse. They reach millions upon millions of fans and, being major cultural figures, can help shape national discourses and narratives if they so choose.

Already the political statements are starting. Cher is back in the fray, with a very pointed anti-Trump mission. And in typical Cher fashion, she showed no restraint:

The most iconic recent political statement of the pop girl world is arguably “Dear Mr. President,” sung by Pink in 2007. It was a direct attack on President Bush, with hard-hitting lyrics such as “what kind of father would take his own daughter’s rights away” and “how can you say no child left behind; we’re not dumb, and we’re not blind.” Pink’s song was, of course, preceded by the Dixie Chicks’ famous condemnation of the Iraq War at a concert in London, which sparked a massive backlash from their predominantly Southern audience.

Pop stars almost invariably lean left, and their target demographics normally (although not always) follow suit. They also, again generally, avoid controversy and back winners. So while Bernie Sanders may be a better candidate for young people to vote for, and may even be a better choice for women when considering his views on reproductive rights, I find it highly unlikely that many pop artists will choose to support him over Hillary.

Pop stars are a common subject to scorn and mock, their intelligence or relevance is often a target of choice, but the amount of advertising power and audience influence they have is nothing to be scoffed at. And believe me, they know it.

Holly Blackler is a University student in the final year of her degree, which is a double major in Political Science and Philosophy with a minor in Media. She writes on a variety of things, but focuses on social issues and international events.

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