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  • Teaching the 2016 Campaign through the Art of Parody
  • Kassie Kelly (bio) and Dana Gorzelany-Mostak (bio)

The 2016 U.S. presidential election offered the citizenry a feast for both the eyes and ears with its memorable musical sound bites, which included Martin O’Malley’s guitar playing on the stump, Donald Trump’s theatrical entrance to “We Are the Champions” at the RNC, and Hillary Clinton’s Nae Nae on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. While analyses of official playlists and moments of musicking on the trail offer insight into how the candidates used music as a medium for political communication and identity formation, an investigation of user-generated music posted on YouTube shows how the public engaged with candidates and the political process through their own musical acts.

The classroom exercise that follows offers strategies for introducing students in introductory-level college courses to campaign-themed music [End Page 524] parodies. While this exercise is primarily intended for students in music appreciation or music history courses, it can also be tailored for use in sociology, media studies, and American studies courses.

Classroom Exercise


Parody, “an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect,” takes on many different forms, including but not limited to poetry, literature, plays, comedy, and music.1 The term “parody” also has a unique meaning in specifically musical contexts. A musical parody graphs a new text onto a preexisting tune.2 Such treatment of music has a long history in electoral politics. In the nineteenth century, amateur poets would pen new texts about a candidate and circulate these lyrics in small songbooks called “songsters,” which would include the titles of the popular tunes to be used with each text.3 The crowd likely knew tunes such as “Auld Lang Syne,” “Yankee Doodle,” and “Rosin the Bow,” so it was easy to sing along in support of the presidential hopeful. Since the advent of YouTube (2005) and the development of accessible and affordable video and audio editing tools, campaign-themed music parodies have experienced a resurgence online. Many twenty-first-century campaign parodies include visuals, which typically feature remixed video footage or images of the candidates, music video–style narratives, or cartoon-like characters.

Lesson Objectives

  1. 1. Define parody and investigate how it operates within campaign contexts.

  2. 2. Analyze the text and images (where applicable) in parodies and discuss how such cultural artifacts work to construct the images of presidential candidates.

  3. 3. Compare the original tune (and its target audience) to its parodied version (and its target audience) in order to consider questions of meaning and context.

  4. 4. Compare the communicative strategies of different parodies.

Selected List of Parodies Available on YouTube4

  1. 1. “Hillary Clinton 2016 Election Parody Song: Emails, Benghazi and Bill” (set to the tunes of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.”) [End Page 525]

  2. 2. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Trump” (set to the tune of Thurl Ravencroft’s “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”)

  3. 3. “Chelsea’s Mom” (set to the tune of Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom”)

  4. 4. “Oh, That Donald!” (set to the tune of Stephen Foster’s “Oh, Susanna!”)

  5. 5. “Delete It!” (set to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”)

  6. 6. “HAMILTRUMP” (set to the tune of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Alexander Hamilton” from Hamilton)

  7. 7. “Do You Wanna Build a Wall?” (set to the tune of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” from Frozen)

  8. 8. “Trump-Pence” (set to the tune of Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman’s “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins)

  9. 9. “The Official Donald Trump Jam” or “Freedom’s Call” (set to the tune of George M. Cohan’s “Over There”)

  10. 10. Untitled parody of “The Official Donald Trump Jam” (performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert)

  11. 11. “Anything You Can Do” (set to the tune of Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do” from Annie Get Your Gun)

  12. 12. “Country Songs!” (set to the tune of Garth Brooks...


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pp. 524-530
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