Some very lovely music about Donald Trump has been released this week. That’s thanks to the launch of the “30 Songs, 30 Days” project in which the author Dave Eggers has gotten medium-to-big names in rock to record songs advocating for a “Trump-free America.” The effort might seem like it’d be purely propagandistic—surprise, pop culture supports Democrats! But the results, three days in, have been surprisingly enjoyable examples of artists taking creative inspiration from politics.
The best track so far is Aimee Mann’s “Can’t You Tell,” which the rock singer says was inspired by the theory that Trump spitefully decided to run for president after Barack Obama roasted him at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. It’s a straightforward, lilting folk song sung from Trump’s point of view. The verses brag of invulnerability—“You ask about my plan but baby my plan is to win / I wind up all the tops and watch the others keep the spin”—but the chorus is surprisingly vulnerable. In an ever-more-fragile tone, Mann pleads, “Isn’t anybody going to stop me? / I don’t want this job / I don’t want this job, my God / Can’t you tell / I’m unwell.” The notion that Trump never truly desired to be president is an liberal caricature, but Mann is imagining it with humanity—you feel bad for the guy, and for everyone affected by him.
The contribution from Death Cab for Cutie has a similar effect, depicting Trump as a human being—albeit a solitary, self-deluding, and troubled one. The song’s title, “Million Dollar Loan,” refers to the money Trump’s dad gave him, money that undercuts Trump’s boasts of self-reliance and singular genius. Gibbard has written a wistful, repetitive chorus here that swaths you like the artificial mist that swathed Trump at the RNC (which has been recreated in the simple and effective video for the song). The bridge offers a painterly, neutral-seeming couplet that captures the mood here: “A siren screams through the city as he falls asleep / The campaign begins again at the break of day.”
Today brings Bhi Bhiman’s “With Love From Russia,” a dance-punk stompalong inspired by Trump’s ties with Putin. “Vladimir says hi,” Bhiman sings, later imagining the nu-Cold War as a game of Monopoly: “He’ll take the Baltics and Park Avenue / I’ll sell him Boardwalk / And there’s nothing you can do.” The tone is light and satirical, but even here there’s a some pathos poking through as Bhiman repeatedly cries “I don’t wanna be the end of your world” and “I am the life of the party.”
In just three songs, the “30 Days” project has injected some poignance into the spectacle of this campaign season. But the tracks have also taken very different angles on Trump, using very different sonic approaches—a testament to have varied protest music can be, and how rich this particular text of a candidate is. We’ll see if the diversity continues as the project develops till Election Day; Eggers and the other organizers have promised future entries from R.E.M. and Jim James of My Morning Jacket.
The music-world fallout from this election isn’t limited to this one project, of course. YG and Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)” has been rap’s great, fearless, and ever-evolving 2016 election song, spawning remixes, sequels, and a tour. At the Desert Trip festival in Southern California this weekend, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters went on a headline-grabbing rant against Trump: a case of a politically minded classic rocker doing exactly what he’s supposed to at a time like this. And, as was probably inevitable, the internet has also provided a catchy remix of Trump saying “grab them by the pussy.”