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The President of the United States of America loves using rock songs at his rallies, but it doesn't always go down so well with the bands themselves…
There may have been a time, many years ago, when the sight – from a safe distance – of the most powerful man in the world being so patently out of his depth and bad at his job was kind of amusing. Those days are long gone now though, as the past four years of Donald Trump actually being the President of the United States have have played out like one long, horror-filled and distinctly unfunny joke.
But you have to give credit where credit is due, because if there’s one thing that the man does do well it’s unite the music world as one. It would be almost impossible to chart every band or artist he’s pissed off in some form or another throughout his tenure in The White House, alas. Truthfully, we’d be quicker listing those he hasn’t but the sheer breadth of talent, from across a whole spectrum of genres makes him a popular President in at least that one respect.
We could go on about how many artists have spoken out about him, or the many songs that have been inspired by him, but this is about when he’s actually started beef with bands from our world by using their music without asking for permission first. At the very least it should act as a reminder of which side of history you should be on…
This one is interesting because it started off surprisingly amicably and very quickly turned awkwardly sour. Thanks to Twister Sister frontman Dee Snider’s friendship with Donald Trump, having been a former contestant on his U.S. TV show Celebrity Apprentice, initially, the band had no issue with their 1984 hit We’re Not Gonna Take It being used on his 2015 campaign trail. It didn’t take long for them to fall out, though, as the gulf between their respective ideologies soon became clear. “I strongly don't agree with his extremist positions,” Dee said in light of his mate’s inflammatory statements calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.
The British rock titans were onto Trump long before Dee Snider, however. When Donald walked onstage at the Republican National Convention in the lead-up to the 2016 election he chose the Queen hit We Are The Champions as his soundtrack. Suitably miffed, guitarist Brian May wrote in his blog that “permission to use the track was neither sought nor given” and that “it has always been against our policy to allow Queen music to be used as a political campaigning tool”. Despite that polite warning, Trump used the song again, prompting the band’s Twitter account to reiterate that it was “an unauthorised use… against our wishes”. Last year, Trump stoked the fires between them once again, tweeting a video of rally footage as Queen’s We Will Rock You played over the top, but the clip was soon removed on copyright grounds. Just last month the president did it again on Triller, prompting a band spokesman to admit that management were engaged in “an uphill battle” in their quest to stop him using their music for his campaign.
Brendon Urie is a pretty odd target to piss off, but Donald Trump did just that by using Panic! At The Disco track High Hopes as his walk-on song at a campaign rally in Phoenix earlier this summer. Brendon issued the perfect riposte, though, tweeting, “Dear Trump Campaign, fuck you. You’re not invited. Stop playing my song… Donald Trump represents nothing we stand for. The highest hope we have is voting this monster out in November” and linking fans to register to do just that. If you qualify and you’re not yet registered, you can do that now.
Brendon wasn’t the first musician to reach for forceful words in retaliation to unauthorised use of their music by Trump. All the way back in 2016, Everlast took to Twitter in response to his old band House Of Pain’s 1992 hit Jump Around being used at rallies. “Stop using my song you piece of shit,” he succinctly stated. “Cease and desist is coming you scumbag.” Speaking to Billboard afterwards, Everlast elaborated that “the smartest businessman in the world should know that you have to license this music if it makes an appearance on TV,” before calling him a “moron” – just in case there was any doubt about how he really felt.
More cease and desist fun here, this time courtesy of Linkin Park, just a few months ago, proving that Donald and his team are still up to their old tricks and using music without asking for permission first. This time it was a cover of the band’s Hybrid Theory anthem In The End, which appeared on the White House’s social media and was later retweeted by the president. “Linkin Park did not and does not endorse Trump, nor authorize his organization to use any of our music,” the band’s statement read, echoing the words of late frontman Chester Bennington, speaking in 2017 about Trump as “a greater threat to the USA than terrorism”.
Oh look, it’s Donald Trump sparking the ire of rock royalty once more by not checking if artists are cool with him borrowing their songs for his political ends. And yet again we find the man in the big chair guilty of being a repeat offender. In 2015, Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler sent the president a cease and desist letter for using Dream On as part of his campaign trail, only to have to do it again three years later when a Trump rally used 1993 hit Livin’ On The Edge. “Mr. Trump is falsely implying that our client, once again, endorses his campaign and/or his presidency,” Steven’s legal representatives stated, “What makes this violation even more egregious is that Mr. Trump’s use of our client’s music was previously shut down, not once, but two times, during his campaign for presidency in 2015.” It’s worth noting that in each instance the legal action was taken solely by Steven and not Aerosmith, due to guitarist Joe Perry and drummer Joey Kramer’s Republican affiliations.
Last summer, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne took issue with Donald Trump’s unauthorised use of the Prince Of Darkness’ 1980 hit Crazy Train, which was coopted by the Republican party as a means of mocking their opposition candidates in the Democrats, soundtracking a video posted on Twitter. “Ozzy’s music cannot be used for any means without approvals,” the pair told Rolling Stone, “In the meantime, we 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.” Me-ow! More recently, Ozzy blasted Trump again, in light of his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that the president is “acting like a fool”.
Axl Rose strikes us as someone you probably don’t want to make an enemy of – even if you’re the President of the United States. On the last date of the band’s Latin American leg of their Not In This Lifetime… tour they brought out a Donald Trump piñata for fans to let loose on. “I just want you to express yourself,” Axl told the crowd. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best idea for Trump to use Sweet Child O’ Mine at a rally in West Virginia in 2018 really. “Can you say ‘shitbags’?” Axl tweeted in response, finishing with a poo emoji for special added emphasis. Not content with leaving it at that, the band released a special COVID-45 shirt to help raise money for charity earlier this year, a clever response to this video…
Who would’ve thought that *checks notes* even Nickelback would prove to be heroes in rock’s ongoing war with Trump? But, well, here we are. In 2019, when the president tweeted a clip mocking Joe Biden using the meme format the band’s Photograph video had become, Nickelback, alongside Warner Music Group had the video pulled on a copyright violation complaint.
A list that includes names like Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, R.E.M., Elton John, Adele, Rihanna, The Rolling Stones, Pharell Williams and Earth, Wind & Fire might read like someone’s idea of a weekend at Glastonbury, but no, at one point or another all of the above have also had their spats with the president, due to unauthorised use of their music for various political campaigns. He’s also fallen foul of the estates of George Harrison, Prince, Tom Petty and even Luciano Pavarotti, proving he's willing to make enemies in any genre, whether the artist is still with us or not. Stay classy, big guy.
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