To the delight of the chattering classes, President Obama released a campaign playlist on Spotify today. The 28 songs chosen by the president (or, more realistically, someone on his staff) cover a wide swath of the popular music landscape—though one genre seems conspicuously abundant, while another is notably absent.
The only musicians who appear more than once on Obama’s virtual mixtape are country duo Sugarland and former Hootie & the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker, who, in his post-Blowfish days, digressed briefly into R&B before going deep into country’s terrain. Sugarland’s and Rucker’s tracks are among seven country songs on the playlist (the others are by Dierks Bentley, Montgomery Gentry, and Zac Brown Band).
Rucker and Bentley were among the musicians invited to the White House in November for a country music concert at which Obama said that he’d “gained an appreciation for just how much country music means to so many Americans”—but as far as Slate can tell, that appreciation doesn’t run particularly deep, nor does it seem to exist much beyond the campaign season. (Of the six artists listed in the “Favorite Music” section of Obama’s Facebook page, not one is a country musician.) The Atlantic’s David A. Graham analyzed Obama’s choice to devote a quarter of his campaign playlist to country music bluntly: “The president knows he needs to firm up his support among white working-class voters.”
Which might explain Obama’s complete omission of hip hop from his campaign playlist. Although one of his favorite musicians (again, per Facebook) is the Fugees, and although Obama has spoken of enjoying the music of Jay-Z, Nas, and Lil Wayne, he apparently didn’t think any of these rappers’ work fit for the campaign trail. Perhaps he’ll listen to their songs using Spotify’s “private listening” mode.
It seems likely that the sting of Fox’s dog-whistle headline from last summer—“Obama’s Hip-Hop BBQ Didn’t Create Jobs”—hasn’t yet worn off. It’s equally likely that those “white working-class voters” Obama is trying to court don’t overlap much with the demographic that rush to download Kanye West’s latest. Still, what a sad statement about America’s cultural and racial divide that Obama thinks the only safe political move is to pretend that an influential, diverse, American-born genre of pop music simply doesn’t exist.
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