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Obama's Spotify playlist: 7 things it says about his campaign

The Week

The president has his re-election soundtrack all queued up. What can we learn about Obama's 2012 strategy by analyzing his 28 musical picks?

Presidents have chosen campaign theme songs since the era of John Adams. As of Thursday, President Obama has himself a whole playlist, available via online social music service Spotify. Obama, or more likely one of his aides, chose 28 songs that any Spotify user can listen to, and that attendees of Obama campaign rallies will inevitably hear. He essentially made Americans a mix tape, says Chris Richards in The Washington Post, "a collection of songs designed to make the recipient fall in love with the sender." Except, instead of a single romantic target, the president is wooing "a vast and varied electorate." So, what does the song selection tell us about the Obama-Biden 2012 strategy? Here, seven interpretations:

1. Obama's trying to hit all key demographics
Obama's "the first candidate to have waged a truly effective social media-based presidential campaign," says Devon Maloney in Spin. So it's no surprise he embraced Spotify, or that his eclectic mix "basically represents the president's entire constituency." The baby boomers get a little James Taylor, Gen X gets some U2 and REO Speedwagon, and "people with questionable taste everywhere" get ex-Hootie frontman Darius Rucker, says Nitasha Tiku in BetaBeat. The indie rock selections, from the likes of Arcade Fire, are "a blatant pander to twenty-somethings," adds David A. Graham in The Atlantic. And Wilco? "Dad-rockers are basically Obama's key demographic: Well-to-do, suburban, educated, and (probably) moderate Democrats politically."

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2. The country tunes are a sop to white blue-collar voters
A whopping 25 percent of the playlist "unsurprisingly — and perhaps a bit panderingly" consists of country tunes, says Brian Braiker in The Guardian. The artists — Darius Rucker, Sugarland, Dierks Bentley, and the Zac Brown Band — are all "inoffensive roots-rockers loudly signaling the point: 'Obama is a patriot!'" The country picks "tend to be patriotic, small-town-America-celebrating songs," says The Atlantic's Graham. Clearly, "the president knows he needs to firm up his support among white working-class voters."

3. But where are the rap and hip hop?
Soul and R&B is the genre most highly represented, from Aretha Franklin and Al Green to newer singers like Raphael Saadiq. Glaringly absent? Hip hop, says L.V. Anderson in Slate. Obama's said he likes the Fugees, Jay-Z, Nas, and Lil Wayne, but depressingly, I guess "the sting of Fox's dog-whistle headline from last summer — 'Obama's Hip-Hop BBQ Didn't Create Jobs' — hasn't yet worn off." Whatever the political risk, says The Washington Post's Richards, surely at least "one rap song in this great nation... would have been suitable for the president's mix."

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4. And the Latino artists?
Less surprising omissions include metal and electronica, says Patricia Zengerle at Reuters. But "in a year when Hispanic voters are expected to play a huge and possibly decisive role in the election," where's the salsa and merengue? In 28 tracks there's "just one Latin artist — Puerto Rican-born Ricky Martin" — and he's singing a duet with Briton Joss Stone, on a song with a reggae beat.

5. And the women?
There are 19 songs with male lead singers, but only six songs that "center around a female singer," says The Atlantic's Graham. So, um, "the president is apparently not too concerned about losing the female vote, which he won 56-43 in 2008."

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6. Obama's shifted from hope to rebound
"In 2008, Obama was promising to 'change the world,' and the music he used was an upbeat mix" including songs like Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)," say Margaret Talev and Kate Andersen Brower in Bloomberg News. Now, with persistently stubborn unemployment and partisan bickering at an all-time high, he's going for "songs that touch upon themes such as will, redemption, and comeback." This soundtrack is "less fresh-faced optimism and it's more pragmatic positioning of a politician who wants a second term," Billboard's Bill Werde tells Bloomberg News.

7. And so much for Made in America
Surprisingly for an American presidential campaign, "nearly a sixth of the choices on the list are by foreign bands," says The Atlantic's Graham. There's Montreal-based Arcade Fire, British acts Noah and the Whale, Electric Light Orchestra, and Florence and the Machine, and of course, Ireland's U2. Some might also "wonder why Barack endorses Spotify, a Swedish service, instead of a made-in-America offering like MOG," says Paul Miller in The Verge. Maybe he "needs the deep, obscure cuts that only Spotify can provide him."

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