Conventions & Awards

Music’s Influence On Politics In 2020

In advance of the release of a Tribeca Film Festival documentary exploring how Jimmy Carter used music in his bid for the presidency, Jesse Kirshbaum looks at the role that music and playlists will play in the upcoming election this November.

By Jesse Kirshbaum of the Nue Agency

I was excited to hear that this year’s Tribeca Film Festival would open with a documentary about how Jimmy Carter leveraged music to win his presidential election. The movie, Rock & Roll President directed by Mary Wharton, was announced on Monday. It illustrates the role of popular music in his campaign, the passion Carter personally had for great tunes, and how the sounds of the time helped propel a Georgia peanut farmer to the White House.

Rock & Roll President combines Carter interviews with archival footage of performances from Willie Nelson (who will play the premiere in NYC on April 15th), Nile Rodgers, Paul Shaffer, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Buffett, and Paul Simon. In the film, Wharton traces how Carter’s approachability and the unifying power of music became key to his political appeal, ultimately allowing him to connect with voters.

“music is the great cultural connector”

This summer, The New York Times highlighted all of the (then) 2020 candidates’ playlists in a fun, interactive breakdown. The piece was a strong reminder that politicians use music as a way to express their personalities and, in some cases, their campaign promises.

Our view at the Nue Agency is that a playlist is part of a larger music strategy, a marketing asset that all candidates now need to authentically tap into voters. Music is the great cultural connector and should (…wait for it) play an instrumental part in outreach.

The Obamas knew this as evidenced by their SXSW Lawn Party, their Spotify playlists, and countless cultural activations. They knew how to make music part of their brand. It is, however, worth noting that if done wrong, music alignment can feel forced, have no impact, or worse, result in voter backlash. But that is the exception. Done right, a music strategy can go far beyond traditional methods in reaching the elusive, sought after, younger demographic.

The times they are a-changin’ and when America decides its future this November, it will be to a soundtrack. It’s more important than ever for candidates to tap into the heartbeat of their constituents by utilizing music as a driving force for unification.

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