The World This Week

As Barack Obama gets sworn in again, Phil Rhys Thomas wonders if words and music are meant for each other

POLITICS | Average Joe

Teetering: like the Glee cast, Obama’s on the edge of glory © Fox

This week, Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States for the second time. As the second biggest day of his life, you’d be forgiven for thinking it would call for some sort of statement befitting his stature as Most Important Man in the World This Century So Far. Perhaps he’d employ his love of social media to hold forth on the issues of the day; or perhaps he’d take to Twitter and set out his 140-character stall for the next four years. Or perhaps he might post his desire for a new world order and free McNuggets for all Americans on Facebook.

Instead, the most powerful person on Earth logged on to music streaming service Spotify and compiled a playlist for the inauguration. It felt a bit like getting the Nobel for literature and using the speech at the awards ceremony to extol the virtues of Twilight. And so it went: for a sophisticated man, Obama’s choices seemed remarkably transparent when it came to pleasing the various ethnic and social groups that comprise his fan base. There was Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered (“This one’s for you Oprah!”); I Was Here by Beyoncé (“Jay-Z’s not the only one married to a fierce lady”); Marc Anthony’s Mi Gente (“Big up my Hispanic homies!”); Fun’s Carry On (“Even white boys are worth it”); Alicia Keys and New Day (“Hey Malia, daddy’s down with the kids”); and, even more embarrassing, a shout-out to the gays with the Glee cast flouncing their way through Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory – a combination even gayer than Judy Garland stroking a rainbow-coloured moustache.

By appearing to “tell it like it is” with his less than subtle approach to song choices, Obama left Port wondering what else hecould have told us in his quest to be an honest politician:

  • He could have secured the aging liberal white vote with Money for Nothing by Dire Straits – after all, this lucky demographic managed to retire pretty comfortably before the recession hit the fan.
  • He could have acknowledged the problems that are still being endured by the black community. In Sound of da Police, KRS-One’s lyrics about institutionalised racism would certainly have resonated with an ethnic group that accounts for almost half the 2.3 million Americans in jail.
  • He could have celebrated the increasing amount of civil rights afforded to gays and a summer spent on Fire Island with, er… the Glee cast covering Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory.

“Jay-Z’s not the only one married to a fierce lady”

Here at Port, we’re of the firm belief that voters warm to politicians who tell it like it is – because it’s human. When a power-hungry monster (ie, an average politician) responds to a question with an answer that bears no relation to what was asked, for example, voters recoil. It’s confirmation that the monster in question really is a monster, and therefore incapable of empathy and all those other things we flawed humans rely on to glue ourselves so messily together.

The real problem for a politician who chooses to channel his beliefs through popular songs is that pop is throwaway but politics is not. Pop is a three-minute moment, whereas political decisions tend to have far-reaching consequences.

In his inaugural speech, the Prez was living very much in the moment, mentioning the word a good number of times before coming up with this bon mot: “Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words for the realities of our time.”

No one knew what those words were or what they meant, least of all Obama. But he didn’t care: at that point, the normally straight-talking president was high on just saying stuff.

Stevie Wonder and Barack Obama
Signed, sealed, sung © CBS

There is one song he could have added to his playlist to acknowledge his achievement: Martine McCutcheon’s Perfect Moment. Now he’s secured his second term, he’ll have spent 408 weeks at number one by the time he leaves office – more than any pop star could hope for. Let’s just hope his moment is long enough to leave a mark.

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