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Cockburn Music Pop US Politics

Barack Obama’s music taste remains painfully mainstream

His new playlist sucks

November 17, 2020

12:33 PM

17 November 2020

12:33 PM

Like Moses descending from the heights of Mount Sinai, former president and current prophet Barack Obama has today delivered his latest tome to the masses.

A Promised Land, his fourth book, is a ‘riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making — from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy’. Or so his publisher says. Cockburn, old-fashioned fellow that he is, has believed in the power of democracy for longer than 12 years.

To mark the book’s publication, Obama has summoned one of the spirits of his bygone era: he’s tweeted out a playlist. ‘Music has always played an important role in my life — and that was especially true during my presidency,’ he writes. ‘I put together this playlist featuring some memorable songs from my administration. Hope you enjoy it.’

To Obama’s credit, his playlist does seem like the perfect soundtrack to his era: as devastatingly mainstream as it is bland. ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2? In the words of a high-flying Obama alum, ‘c’mon man!’


Cockburn can almost see the room of McKinsey consultants furrowing their brows over which Fleetwood Mac song to include: ‘We can’t do “Dreams”, that’s too obviously a play for the TikTok crowd…they used “Go Your Own Way” in that Xfinity ad…Sandra we’re gonna be here all night, can you do a Starbucks run?’

Obama showcases his #girlboss bona fides by selecting not one, but two Beyonce songs from 2008. ‘Remember those walls I built / Well, baby, they’re tumbling down,’ she sings on ‘Halo’. Who could that possibly be directed at?

America’s 44th president also includes ‘Lose Yourself’, Eminem’s Oscar and Grammy winning song from 8 Mile. Presumably Obama used this to psych himself up before drone-striking that Yemeni wedding.

There’s also a place for ‘The Rising’, that dreadful Bruce Springsteen song that the DNC used as the theme for their dreary virtual convention this summer.

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Smugness wafts off Obama’s choices. Cockburn can’t pretend to be surprised: Barack Obama seems to still live in a lofty Aaron Sorkin-scripted world where schmaltz triumphs over policy achievement and digital media appears to be a sound investment.

As that talented chap Will Lloyd put it in the most recent monthly issue of The Spectator, ‘The climax of American Cool arrived with Barack Obama. Seemingly with-it, above the fray but in control, self-aware and talented, more or less black, Obama manifested every classical attribute of Cool…the Obama-style had infected the entire managerial class. It prettified failure with celebrity. It distracted attention from inequality with empty appeals to minorities. It muscled out independent thinking with a bland, multicultural “diversity”.’

Undoubtedly, Cool is dead. How good of Barack to soundtrack its funeral for us.


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