The Soundtrack to Barack Obama's 2012 Reelection Campaign


Today, the Obama administration, or rather, his campaign, released a playlist of songs to be used at gatherings and events involving big crowds (the whole list is here). This will be the mood music to Obama's 2012 run, and of course it's filled with feel good songs, folksy celebrations, and optimistic crooning. That's to be expected though; it's a campaign after all.

A closer look reveals that there are some other interesting themes guiding the song selection. Most of the songs ask for voters to keep their allegiance to Obama strong after a testing first term. “Hope” and “change” are out and songs about determination and fidelity are in. 

As a starting point, I looked at all the words in the nearly 30-song playlist and compiled a list of how often they appear. Here are some of the more interesting results. 

“time” appears 59 times

“love” appears 57 times

“good” appears 14 times

“stand” appears 44 times

“life” appears 45 times

“keep” appears 75 times

“you” appears 414 times

“I” appears 207 times

“hope” appears 11 times

“change” appears 24 times

The component words of a the stereotypical feel-good song – “love” “life” and “good” – show up plenty, but they are dwarfed by the appearances of “keep” which I decided to look for after noticing that many of the songs ask for forbearance or endurance on the part of the audience. A lot of these mentions come from the inclusion of songs that are explicitly about practicing patience and have contracted verbs in their titles like Keep Reachin' Up and Keep Marchin'. Many other songs that don't have the word “keep” in them are nonetheless about striving toward a goal in the face of adversity. Other songs in the list are calls to action – not surprising in an election mix, but notable for the way they position the hearer of the song as part of a wider struggle. 

“Hope” on the other hand is conspicuously absent from most of the songs, and “change” is also not mentioned much either, lending linguistic evidence for the claim that Obama's inspiring message of hope and change has not survived contact with the compromises that sometimes have to be made in Washington.

Changes in the lineup from 2008 fit this general theme. Before speeches in 2008, the Obama campaign often played U2's dreamy City of Blinding Lights which lacks a lot of the combative energy found in the current play list. It's not part of the recently released set, and neither is Ben Harper's Better Way, which was perhaps perfect for an insurgent run at the White House, but too searching and philosophical for a reelection (though I admit I'm not sure how to glibly classify this track).

Last, it's worth mentioning that Obama's 2008 campaign provoked artists to create new music, such as Unite the Nation by Misa Misa and's Yes We Can. This time, Obama will probably have to request for a famous artist to do a song for him. Maybe something about killing Osama Bin Laden? It might fit in the grittier soundscape of Obama 2012. 


My favorite from the campaign is probably the classic rock, Mr. Blue Sky


Photo Credit: Barack Obama