In July of 2016, Hillary Clinton released a Glee version of Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” during the Democratic National Convention. This was after the song had played for months at Clinton’s campaign rallies—becoming so annoying that her staff was quietly going crazy. From there it became the unofficial theme of Clinton’s 2016 campaign and the looping one-song soundtrack to a miserable fall that resulted in the rise of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Even four years later it’s impossible to separate that mindless, cloying chorus with the crumbling of our nation’s pride.
On Monday, during the first night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, Joe Biden shared a new campaign video set to Bruce Springsteen’s 2002 anthem “The Rising.” Rather than parade a number of basic cable celebrities to sing the song, Biden’s campaign uses footage from the last four years of Trump’s presidency, highlighting the divide and chaos the administration has wrought. It’s a simple and powerful video, thanks in large part to a songwriter who has been writing about the struggle of the working man for half a century.But that wasn’t the only time we heard Springsteen last night. He returned between every segment along with an end card showing #TheRising. Some people watching might have had flashbacks to 2016, as the Biden campaign began to ram a musical phrase into our brains.
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Don’t get me wrong, Springsteen’s “The Rising” is a masterpiece compared to Platten’s “Fight Song.” The Boss’s middle American blue-collar appeal is a smart choice for a campaign-defining piece of music, but it’s only powerful in small quantities. Before Clinton’s campaign had even created that cursed celebrity video, the power of “Fight Song” had already worn off. Now it exists in my brain as a searing alarm of what was to come—a piece of the campaign that was at once trying too hard but also not enough.It’s easy to see how Springsteen singing “Come on up for the rising” could become as meaningless as “This is my fight song.” If this continues to be Biden’s only anthem, if it’s played on every campaign ad, during every rally, and every few seconds of the DNC—I will at the very least lose my goddamn mind. But, worse than that, Biden will turn what could be a powerful song about change and unity into a cheap jingle for his campaign. So please, Biden, use Springsteen tastefully, use him sparingly, and win this election.
Matt is the Culture Editor at Esquire where he covers music, movies, books, and TV—with an emphasis on all things Star Wars, Marvel, and Game of Thrones.
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