If the soundtrack to Barack Obama’s first campaign for the presidency was the kind of mixtape a guy uses to woo a smitten new girlfriend, the songs he’ll be using on the campaign trail the second time around are all about adding a little spice to an established relationship. He’s moved on, as Bloomberg points out, from songs like “Move On Up” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” to more contemplative songs about attachment and commitment.
There are songs for estranged lovers, like Zac Brown Band’s “Keep Me In Mind,” a reminder that non-Obama alternatives could be decidedly bleak. “We always go our separate ways, but no one can love you, baby, the way I do / Keep me in mind /Somewhere along the road you might find me,” the song goes. “The world can be real tough, find shelter in me / If there’s no one else to love, keep me in mind.” Whether in Aretha Franklin’s cover of “The Weight” with it’s offer to “Put the weight on me,” or REO Speedwagon’s “Roll With the Changes,” with its promise that “As soon as you are able, woman, I am willin’ / To make the break that we are on the brink of / My cup is on the table – my love is spillin’ / Waiting here for you to take and drink of,” these songs are about partnership, about sharing the load—they’re about marriage rather than dating. Sugarland’s “Everyday America” is a reminder to stick with it if you’ve got a “Good man but a bad year.”
Unsurprisingly, Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” is there in the mix, taking that sense of responsibility between two people national. Gwen Stefani connects individuals to a larger cause, reminding us that “You don’t have to be a famous person / Just to make your mark / A mother can be an inspiration / To her little son.” Montgomery Gentry’s “My Town” draws a direct line between the health of small towns and the hard work that goes into maintaining personal relationships—and insists that temporary dissatisfaction is a prelude to a life-long committment: “Where I ran off ‘cos I got mad, / An’ it came to blows with my old man. /Where I came back to settle down, /It’s where they’ll put me in the ground.”
Beyond the messages of the songs, it’s worth looking at how the playlist is calibrated to assert a cultural connection between the President and voters who might need a reminder of what they and Obama have in common when it comes to culture. The soundtrack’s heavily weighted to contemporary music: 17 of the 29 songs on it were released after 2000, and not surprisingly, given the president’s age, the 1970s are the second-most popular decade on the list. And to woo younger viewers, it’s available on Spotify. It’s similarly weighted towards male vocalists: 17 of the songs are by male solo artists or all-male groups, and another 8 are by groups that include both men and women—it’s men’s voices who will introduce Obama to his constituents.
There’s no remixing of the president’s speeches from the Black Eyed Peas Will.i.am, a major celebrity surrogate in the last campaign, this time around, and no “My President is Black” for those Young Jeezy fans in the audience. In fact, there’s no hip-hop on the list at all—black artists are represented by funk and soul instead, and I’d guess Ledisi will get a nice and deserved sales bump from her inclusion in this list. And I’m a bit surprised that Ricky Martin’s the only prominent Latino artist on the list. If Obama was willing to be a little downbeat, Los Lobos “One Time, One Night” could have been a good addition. Instead, the re-election campaign is going country, if not all the way chicken-fried.