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Musicians sing out against Trump

By Henry Tyndall

On Oct. 10, 2016, acclaimed indie rock outlet Death Cab For Cutie released “Million Dollar Loan,” the first of 30 songs to be released in a campaign against Donald Trump. The campaign, entitled “30 Days, 30 Songs,” began exactly 30 days before the national election. An original song by artists of varying degrees of fame was released each day up until the election.

The outspoken musicians were not exclusively American. Glaswegian rock icon Franz Ferdinand released a track on the fifth day of the 30 Days, 30 Songs campaign. The song, entitled “Demagogue,” retains little ambiguity, featuring lines such as, “those tiny vulgar fingers on the nuclear bomb.” Many listeners interpret this as a reference to Marco Rubio’s remarks over the size of Trump’s hands.

When asked to identify the subject of the song with no other background knowledge, junior Alex Hoerler answered “Donald Trump” in well under 30 seconds of lyrics.

While the subject of “Demagogue,” as well as that of many others, may be obvious, tracks such as “The Temptation of Adam [Live]” by Josh Ritter, may not be. Ritter’s lyrics, in this case, are much less literal than those of Franz Ferdinand, and to the unknowing listener, the subject of the song may go unnoticed.

The “30 Days, 30 Songs” campaign gained a local contribution when Chapel Hill resident and Merge Records founder Mac McCaughan was featured in U.S. Elevator’s “Old Man Trump.” which was released Oct. 22.

Perhaps the highest-profile release of the campaign was R.E.M.’s “World Leader Pretend [Live],” a live re-release of the same song from their 1988 album, “Green.” The song, though written decades before Trump’s inflammatory statements which inspired other tracks from “30 Days, 30 Songs,” is appropriate in a current context, as much of the song is about a world leader who builds a wall, just as Trump claimed he would do if he were elected president of the United States.

“I am the world leader pretend,” Michael Stipe, lead singer of R.E.M., sings in the track. “I raised the wall and I will be the one to knock it down.”

The “30 Days, 30 Songs” campaign is yet another example of political activism by musicians. Chapel Hill is no stranger to this source of protest, as many musicians, including a number of high-profile artists (such as Bruce Springsteen), began cancelling shows in North Carolina due to the passing of House Bill 2. The practice of taking political stances in song lyrics has been prevalent in music for many decades, and many of history’s most celebrated artists, such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, have been known for their political outcry.

The “30 Days, 30 Songs” campaign is no small story in music either. “Million Dollar Loan” is currently one of Death Cab For Cutie’s trending songs on many streaming sites. For a band as popular as Death Cab For Cutie, such a feat requires impressive publicity.

Likely the most significant release of the campaign was Franz Ferdinand’s “Demagogue.” The Scottish rock gods have released merely four studio albums since their 2004 eponymous debut, which Rolling Stone ranks at number 49 in their list of greatest debut albums in studio music history, and of which the hit single “Take Me Out” is ranked at number 327 in Rolling Stone’s list of greatest songs in studio music history. The band’s inspiration and influence has bubbled up to the surface of international pop music as well, with traces of their sound showing up in Arctic Monkeys, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West’s material (the latter of which sites them as one of the biggest influences on his album, “Late Registration”).

Due in part to their sparse catalogue, any never-before-heard Franz Ferdinand song is big news for rock and Britpop enthusiasts. However, this release came with even more excitement, as it was the first song released with the thus-far unidentified replacement for guitarist, backing vocalist, and founding member, Nick McCarthy, who left the band in July.      

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