Trump’s musical booking woes are unprecedented, even for a Republican
The TV star turned president elect can’t seem to muster the star power for his inauguration. But even George W Bush managed to get Destiny’s Child
Destiny’s Child performing on the eve of George W Bush’s inauguration. They also sang at his inauguration ceremony on January 20th, 2001 in Washington, DC. Photograph: David McNew/Newsmakers
Donald Trump must feel like the kid who gets picked last at every schoolyard kickabout. The incoming US president’s team will have wanted his inauguration weekend to boast the kind of pageantry befitting a former reality TV star and occasional pro wrestling performer. Instead, Trump is The Simpsons’ Ralph Wiggum, tearing up at the sight of an empty box of Valentines Day cards.
Attempts to stitch together the event have resembled a kind of large-scale episode of Don’t Tell The Bride. Among the stars to reportedly decline Trump’s requests to perform are Elton John, Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Moby, Garth Brooks, 2 Chainz and Kiss.
Charlotte Church wasn’t letting Trump down gently either. The singer took to Twitter recently to reveal that she had been approached by his staff: “A simple internet search would show I think you’re a tyrant,” Church clapped back. It seems the ex-Apprentice host is like a zombie bite victim, toxic to touch if your name has ever been stamped on a gold record.
Let’s go back eight years, when Barack Obama rode into the White House to the sounds of Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé, Stevie Wonder, U2 and Aretha Franklin. If Obama was going to bring America the “change” he promised, it was going to be summoned by the sound of huge guitars and soulful grooves.
Now here comes Trump, whose struggles to book marquee talent might fool you into believing the American music industry is strictly a Democrat love-in, with Ted Nugent and Kid Rock the only men waving a flag (a confederate flag at that) for the Republicans.
Not so. In fact, eight years before memorably singing Etta James’s At Last for Barack and Michelle Obama’s first dance at the Neighbourhood Ball, Beyoncé performed as part of Destiny’s Child at George W Bush’s ceremony. Ricky Martin, 98 Degrees and Jessica Simpson were all on show too (hey, it was 2001). Even George H W Bush’s presidency was ushered in with a little bit of stardust. Barbra Streisand, still a pretty big name in 1989, was among the performers.
Trump’s acidic campaign might not have turned off voters, but it’s left his relationship with the music industry a scorched earth. Today’s stars are spread across a diverse field. They perform all over the world, seeing their songs as a kind of universal language. Most celebrate the diversity of their fan base, huge sections of which have been mocked and vilified by the president-elect.
“No one is prepared to normalise what is going on in the country right now,” Dixie Chicks manager Simon Renshaw told The Wrap. “If anyone does do it, I hope that the cheque they get is in the nine figures. Because it’s probably the last cheque they’re ever going to get.”
A few have answered Trump’s call. Country star Toby Keith and the almost universally recognised as being terrible rock band 3 Doors Down are among the acts his team managed to snag. But even for those who might be sympathetic to the cause, the event is seen as a potentially career-damaging firewall they dare not breach.
Despite being friendly with Trump for years, David Foster – the Canadian writer-producer behind artists such as Whitney Houston and Josh Groban – reportedly rejected the invitation to perform at the inauguration for fear of angering friends who support his charity.
Singer Jennifer Holliday cancelled her appearance at the inauguration just one day after it was announced, apologising to the LGBT community in an open letter. This is not so much an event to see and be seen, but an event to avoid at all costs.
How it must hurt Trump, a man who has spent his privileged life kneeling at the altar of celebrity, to witness his big weekend lacking the kind of star power that fueled his rise. Instead, musicians will stay away, pondering four or more years of potential dread. US politics is a basket case of uncertainty right now. All we can be sure of is that the Bernie Sanders inauguration would have been banging.