Essays and Interviews


  • Dancing Around the Double-Bind: Gender Identity, Likability, and the Musical Rebranding of Hillary Clinton
    November 29, 2015 From the New York Times to Saturday Night Live, media surrounding Hillary Clinton’s second presidential campaign has centered around that ever-elusive (yet seemingly critical) trait: likability. The former First Lady and Secretary of State has endured a long history of criticism due to her perceived elitism and aura of inaccessibility (Leibovich 2015). … Read more
  • “I’ve Been Everywhere:” Martin O’Malley and the Many Meanings of the Guitar
    January 8, 2016 Is America ready for a troubadour president? It is a question Democrats have to ask themselves as they decide on their party’s nominee for the 2016 election. For though Bernie Sanders would be the first Jewish president (who is also an avowed democratic socialist), and Hillary Clinton would be the first woman … Read more
  • The Trump Bump 2016: User-generated Campaign Music about Donald Trump and His Political Opponents
    February 20, 2016 On 16 June 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. Since then, Trump has received “more nightly [i.e., televisual] news attention than all the Democratic campaigns combined,” and unquestionably more online attention than any other Republican candidate.[i] Trump’s pronouncements—especially his proclamations concerning Muslims and Hispanic immigrants—have … Read more
  • The Unwelcome Use of Musical Artists and Their Songs by Presidential Candidates
    December 18, 2015 In contemporary presidential campaigns in the United States, candidates routinely use popular music in ways that cause musical artists to respond negatively. Indeed, every four years, we now expect that at least some presidential candidates will become embroiled in controversy after a musician complains about their music being used illegally or inappropriately. … Read more
  • Political Pop and Commercials that Flopped: Early Lessons from the 2016 Presidential Race
    January 14, 2016 During the past two presidential elections, Barack Obama targeted key voters along the campaign trail by deploying pop culture tropes, especially the sights and sounds of popular music (Gorzelany-Mostak, Love, Deaville, and Saffle 2015). Campaign strategists for the 2016 presidential hopefuls have worked hard to emulate Obama’s success and once more to … Read more
  • Musical Yearning in Bernie Sanders’s Presidential Primary Ad “America”
    February 2, 2016 As I was writing this in late January 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was soaring in the polls in early primary states Iowa and New Hampshire. As this piece goes “to press,” it cannot escape mention that Sanders has now achieved at the Iowa caucuses what for his campaign means a … Read more
  • Feeling the Bern or Just Feeling Burned? Musical Parody and the Contest for the 2016 Democratic Nomination
    April 17, 2016 From Renaissance parody masses to Weird Al Yankovic, milk commercials to playground taunts, musical parodies are a ubiquitous, cheeky thread of a society’s musical fabric. The pervasiveness of parody belies the cleverness of the act of parodying a recognizable song; by introducing the creative constraint of reusing pre-existing musical matter, parodies instantly … Read more
  • Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential Campaign Spotify Playlist
    May 25, 2016 The playlist has become an unofficial political campaign requirement akin to kissing babies. As such, one may be inclined to dismiss it as purely political pandering. Nevertheless,we argue that its use is a legitimate contemporary campaign strategy that deserves attention.[i] While the political playlist is an artifact of the digital age, it builds … Read more
  • Belva Lockwood for President, 1884: A Woman in a Man’s World
    July 7, 2016 In fall of 2015, Trax on the Trail joined forces with Prof. Emily Abrams Ansari’s Music and Politics class at Western University in Ontario. Each student penned an essay or created a podcast that explored a specific intersection between music and presidential politics. In January, Nikki Pasqualini offered her insight on the … Read more
  • Deconstructing the Populism: Pop Music on the Modern Campaign Trail
    August 8, 2016 There is perhaps no phrase that defines the 2016 election cycle better than a return of populism. In the US, populism (broadly defined as appeal to "the people" against established powers, social structures, and hegemonic ideologies and values) bubbled to the surface in the wake of the so-called Great Recession (2007–09). The … Read more


  • On the Inside Trax: John Balduzzi, Political Consultant
    March 15, 2016 In addition to bringing you the viewpoints of students and scholars, Trax on the Trail is committed to going behind the scenes to bring you insiders’ perspectives on the creative processes that bring the campaign soundscape to life. Political candidates use music throughout their campaigns to paint a picture of their priorities, … Read more
  • On the Inside Trax: Kraig Moss, A Modern Day Troubadour for Trump
    September 2, 2016 Over the course of the 2016 election cycle, the press has eagerly reported on the many pop songs candidates take to the trail. Journalists sometimes criticize the candidates’ seemingly tone-deaf choices: “Tiny Dancer” for Trump….really? In other instances, the pundits of pop culture debate the legality and ethics of candidates using the … Read more
  • On the Inside Trax: Stuart Schimler, Founder, American Pioneer Music
    September 20, 2016 Today on the Inside Trax, I chat with Stuart Schimler, founder of American Pioneer Music. The former UC Berkeley history major makes his living as a software exec by day, but he also has a secret (or not so secret) passion—he loves campaign songs! Schimler’s company has produced two campaign song albums: … Read more
  • On the Inside Trax: Dr. Nicholas Phillips, Pianist, Educator, and New Music Advocate
    A search by genre in the Trail Trax database will reveal very few examples of classical music on the trail. There was Stephen Colbert’s live string quartet with underscore for the final debate, “Hillary” (Kate McKinnon) and “Bernie’s” (Larry David) "Waltz of the Flowers" on Saturday Night Live, and Trump’s memorable entrances to “Nessun dorma” in 2016. Although a … Read more
  • Rebecca Pronsky: Singer-Songwriter, Brooklyn’s Truth Bearer
    On October 28, 2019 Trax research assistant Sarah Griffin and Trax founder Dana Gorzelany-Mostak had the pleasure of speaking to Rebecca Pronsky, a singer-songwriter based in Brooklyn. Pronsky first came to our attention when we heard her delightful 2020 Candidate Jams, 60-second didactic songs dedicated to each Democratic presidential candidate. What made this country-noir artist … Read more