While the country may be divided over which candidate should be elected president this Tuesday, artists who have been grappling with this question have overwhelmingly come down hard on Donald Trump, penning songs that are not so kind to the Republican nominee. But in a landscape where Trump jokes and parody songs abound, what exactly makes an exceptional anti-Trump tune tick? Below, we’ve outlined some dos and don’ts for crafting the perfect protest song.
Do: Use Trump’s words against him.
If Donald Trump’s going to casually spew misogynist filth, we see no reason why Kanye West’s go-to producer can’t spit Trump’s words right back at him in the form of a track called “Grab Em By Da Pussy.” Who knew one of Trump’s Trump-isms could result in such a twisted, Jersey-club-influenced banger? It’s catchy, if not also a little brainwash-y.
Don’t: Be too general with your message.
To some extent, pop music works best when its lyrics are broadly relatable. But when it comes to making a statement about a polarizing political figure who has already been widely criticized, it’s essential to make a pointed critique. Death Cab for Cutie’s “Million Dollar Loan” does exactly that, honing in on a specific off-putting trait (that Trump proclaims himself a self-made billionaire despite having started his business with a $1 million loan from his father) to make a larger point about the candidate. Couple that with Death Cab’s signature subtle melancholy melodies, and you’ve got a song that not only functions as pointed protest, but also fits into the band’s larger catalogue.
Do: Recruit stars from the political musical du jour.
What better way to make a meaningful election statement than by recruiting talent from Broadway’s hottest show, which also happens to be political in nature? This American Life asked Sara Bareilles (who also wrote the songs for Broadway’s Waitress) to pen a song imagining what President Obama must be thinking about Donald Trump, and the resulting tune, the sophisticated and jazzy “Seriously,” succeeds thanks to affecting, restrained vocals from Hamilton’s erstwhile Aaron Burr, Leslie Odom Jr.
If you were hoping for an anti-Trump tune that’s more “Cabinet Battle #1” than “Wait for It,” check out “Fat Fingers,” a brief but potent diss track about the Donald by Hamilton alum Daveed Diggs’s group Clipping.
Don’t: Use language worse than Trump’s to prove your point.
The point of Eminem’s “Campaign Speech,” which is nearly eight minutes of word diarrhea, may have been to equate Donald Trump with an unhinged Slim Shady character, but how is anyone supposed to believe that when you’re rapping bars like this: “You call me misogynistic, bitch get to massaging this dick”? Congratulations, you’ve just undermined yourself. Bonus tip: Including lyrics in your Trump takedown song that threaten to drown Trump supporters is just as counterproductive.
Do: Return to the music scene after a hiatus to skewer politicians …
The future of Franz Ferdinand was briefly called into question when guitarist Nick McCarthy left the band earlier this year, but the Glaswegian lads valiantly returned in order to taunt America’s bona fide demagogue. Their short tune, which features a video from Shepard Fairey of Hope poster fame, is filled with funky guitar lines, but it’s the cheeky lyrics that go the extra mile: “From the wall, straight to La Cuenta, those pussy grabbing fingers won’t let go of me now” and “From the mob, to Chapter 11, those tiny vulgar fingers on the nuclear bomb.” Glad to have you and your choruses back, gentlemen.
… but make sure your final product was worth the effort.
When feminist electroclash trio Le Tigre teased their long-awaited comeback for one “special song,” expectations were high. But “I’m With Her,” the band’s anti-Trump, pro–Hillary Clinton tune, is an underwhelming hybrid of simplistic middle-school cheerleading chants (“Trump has got to go!”) and Berghain-reject synths. Where’s their signature subversiveness? And why are they strutting around in pantsuits next to random cats?
Do: Drag him before everyone else, then drop a sequel.
No one wants to be late to a roast; you miss all the good jokes. Notice how most attempts at disparaging Trump now sound played out? It’s because, if you were smart, you’ve been doing it for months (years, if you were really paying attention). Take YG: He was the first to drop a real diss track against Trump, and that was way back in March. Trump wasn’t even a serious contender back then! Ah, the good old days. It also helps to stage an anti-Trump rally at the song’s video shoot that gets shut down by the LAPD and catches the attention of the Secret Service. But don’t back down. A few months later, after the dust has settled, strike again with a sequel, in this case “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump) Part 2,” which features two of the whitest rappers alive, Macklemore and G-Eazy. That’ll really ruffle Trump’s feathers. There’s also the added satisfaction of getting Macklemore to call Trump an orange Starburst. Oh, and there’s no need to be PC about your feelings. If you claim to loathe Trump that much, throw up a middle finger and put his name in the song’s title, preferably after the word “Fuck.” This is war.
Don’t: Think you have to say everything on your mind in the song.
Some might argue that if you can’t fit all that needs to be said into your three-minute song, then either make it longer or tighten up the lyrics. But who are we to criticize Ted Leo’s process? “In the Mean Times,” for as much as it speaks to the general dejected feeling sweeping the country, is actually quite a fun listen. You can barely even tell it’s a response to Trump’s candidacy — hence, Leo’s much wordier letter explaining how he really feels. “He is a racist. He has always been a racist,” Leo writes. “And the Republican Party molly-coddling the racists among them FOR DECADES, enabled his ascent.” It may not be the most lyrical Trump bashing we’ve ever heard, but hey, at least it’s effective.
Do: Make an apocalyptic music video.
Once you’ve written your opus titled after Trump’s very own campaign slogan, don’t stop there. Really commit to this character assassination and drop a high-concept video. Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova has been jailed for sticking up to tyrants twice Trump’s size (in diabolical levels of authority, that is), so you knew she wasn’t going to stick a few pins in a Trump voodoo doll and call it a day. This is a coordinated Russian attack that vividly brings to life the first days of a Trump presidency, so we can all get the full effect of what WWIII might look like. The time for subtlety, after all, has long passed.