Campaign Tracks: Corcoran Students On the Music of the Campaign Trail, From Taylor Swift to Cardi B

November 23, 2020

This fall, Associate Professor of Music Loren Kajikawa, decided to teach a course called “Music & Politics” to coincide with the 2020 Presidential election.


“In the weeks leading up to November 3, we focused on the use of music in political campaigns, both past and present,” Professor Kajikawa explained. “In the postwar era, most presidential campaigns relied on campaign songs, such as ‘I Like Ike,’ that were written in praise of a specific candidate. In the last few decades, however, we’ve seen a variety of ways that candidates have made reference to or adopted pre-existing pop songs to construct their identities and connect with voters. Think about the way Bill Clinton played the sax on the Arsenio Hall Show, or the way Barack Obama brushed the dirt of his shoulders to show he was down with Jay-Z, or the way Elizabeth Warren adopted Dolly Parton’s ‘9 to 5’ as her walk-on music at campaign rallies.”


In place of a traditional midterm exam, Professor Kajikawa’s students were tasked with conducting their own research on the use of music in the 2020 election cycle, writing a traditional paper or recording a podcast on a topic of their choosing. Students were inspired by a virtual visit from Professor Dana Gorzelany-Mostak at George College, a leading expert on the use of music in political campaigns. Students relied on her website, Trax on the Trail, a scholarly resource for understanding music in political campaigns, while conducting their research.


Some students focused on the way candidates in the Democratic primaries used music to distinguish themselves from one another, while others focused on the November 3 showdown between Donald Trump and Joseph Biden. Some of the projects were so well researched and crafted that Dr. Gorzelany-Mostak decided to publish them on the Trax website.


Below are five student podcasts and presentations. Take a listen (most are only ten minutes long)!


Anatomy of an Ad: Joe Biden and the Blind Pig, Nick Schor, October 15, 2020.

Nick Schor is a senior studying political science at the George Washington University. Despite coming to Washington, D.C., to study politics, he quickly found himself interning at The Bullitt Agency, an international electronic music booking agency. Nick then took over as President of DC-based and student-run record label and booking agency, Searcher Records. You can find his thoughts on music, politics, and New Orleans Saints football on Twitter @nikolaiisays and you can check out @searcherrecords on Instagram.


Bernie Sanders, Brooklyn, and Jay Z, Silvia Popoca Gonzalez, October 15, 2020.

Silvia Popoca Gonzalez grew up in Denver, Colorado and currently attends the George Washington University. At GW, she is pursuing a major in philosophy and minor in French.


Kanye West 2020, Jolien Louis, October 15, 2020.

Jolien Louis is a theater artist and writer born and raised in New York City. She is in the class of ’21 at The George Washington University in D.C., finishing her degree in theatre, and is looking to further her academic work in graduate school.


Obama, Clinton, and the Power of Campaign Music, Maureen Rafter, October 15, 2020.

Maureen Rafter is a first-year student at the George Washington University studying political science and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. After college, Maureen plans to continue in academia to further study American culture and ideology. To stay in touch, you can follow her @mo_rafter on Twitter or @morafter on Instagram.


Taylor Swift’s Alignment with the Democratic Party and its Effect on the 2020 Presidential Election (slides)

Cameron Thiel is a senior at George Washington University studying History. Cameron is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida where she interned with the Vice Mayor’s office. Following her graduation in May 2021, she hopes to travel around Europe before returning to the Washington, D.C. area to teach in elementary school.