Popular music has been on Hillary Clinton’s side throughout this election, but it turns out most of the campaign has just been been an opening act for the grand show that the last few days have offered. Friday brought a rally headlined by Jay Z with a surprise appearance by Beyoncé. Monday, election eve, saw performances from Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi, and others. Chance the Rapper led a “parade to the polls” after a free show in Chicago. Madonna appeared in New York City’s Washington Square and started singing on Clinton’s behalf. The rapper YG announced he’d be distributing “Fuck Donald Trump” bagels in Compton today. The “30 Days, 30 Songs” anti-Trump protest project is nearly complete. And social media is ringing with election-day enthusiasm from across the celebrity spectrum.
But when celebrities align with a candidate, what are they actually offering? The answer involves reach, resources, and clout. Yet these past few days have mostly highlighted the political potential of an artist’s actual artistry—the most memorable celebrity moments have been in the employment of the X factor that made the celebrity famous in the first place.
Jay Z and Springsteen are particularly interesting examples of the dynamics of celebrity activism this time around. Both have been staples of Democratic presidential campaigns for years, headlining multiple rallies throughout the Octobers of Barack Obama’s previous election year (and Springsteen pitching in for John Kerry’s 2004 bid too). Jay Z’s affiliation with Obama even gave the president one of his most iconic campaigning moments: the “Dirt Off Your Shoulders” gesture. But compared to their previous political work, Jay Z and Springsteen have been subdued for 2016, only performing in the campaign’s 11th hour.