One week on, Macron may have won, but fear is still in the lead.

I saw the jubilation of Macron supporters firsthand, but then it became obvious we’re going back to the dark days.

The crowds counted down the seconds to 8pm in the square outside the louvre in Paris, and they cheered as it was revealed that Macron had succeeded in defeating the extreme-right candidate, Marine Le Pen. However, it wasn’t until well past 10, after a long, multicultural, and multi-ethnic cast of dancers, musicians, DJs and MCs had graced the stage with songs in French, English and Arabic. That really showed it to Le Pen, eh? Some commentators in France have alluded to this being a political point, when actually, it’s just a fact of french society, that these multilingual and multi-ethnic songs are mainstream in France today – or maybe, just maybe, in-between becoming president and delivering his speech, Macron gave the DJ his preferred set-list. Macron did walk on to the European anthem of Ode to Joy, and yes, that did indeed fit into his unashamedly pro-European manifesto.

When Le Pen did her speech, they turned off the big screen – which wasn’t really in the spirit of the words of Macron ‘listening to all of France’. But we did get to see an American musician tell us that ‘Emmanuel is the Truth’. I presume he hadn’t been following the #MacronLeaks hashtag on twitter then – but that’s a little unfair.

Even with my cynicism, it was a lot of fun. People dancing, singing the national anthem, and the three activists, face painted with a different European flag, carrying the neon signs of ‘Hope beat Hate’ was truly inspiring. It gave you that warm fuzzy feeling inside and most of all – hope. It felt like an Obama rally. The dullest point of the evening was when Macron arrived and delivered his speech – mainly because two hours before he’d delivered the same speech (word for word, and with the same blank face emotion) on television that was beamed to the big screens as well. The woman behind me screamed it with much more passion than he did.
The backdrop for this event was the impressive glass pyramid of the Louvre, compared to the restaurant/chalet on the eastern outskirts of a park in Paris, that was home to Marine Le Pen for the evening. By their presences, you could tell who had won, well before the exit poll. Le Pen was spotted at her party dancing, people laughed, but she’s done pretty well. 1 in 3 voters in France voted for her – not bad for a party who does have a few image problems particularly when it comes to holocaust denial. The last time the Front National was in the final round of the presidency was with Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie in 2001. They have since doubled their vote. They may not have won his time, but if the goal was normalising extreme right wing politics – they have truly succeeded. A poll after the election said that a majority of people voted for Macron because ‘he wasn’t Le Pen’. A passerby told me she voted for him because he was a president for France. She originally voted Melanchon.

The next evening, I had met a friend for a kebab opposite gare du nord station, and on the television we all went quiet to hear the headlines that ‘hope had won’. The arabians serving us, had almost certainly voted for Macron. Almost instantly, a huge amount of police vans went by, and closed the road, there were screams and people running out of the station. There were a few more policemen with machine guns than normal. ‘Stay safe’ said the owner, sighed the shop owner with a face of resignation. He’d seen this before.

It turns out there were three ‘people of interest’ for the terrorism unit, but the police returned empty handed.

The next day, I took the bus to Brussels, on Europe Day (fun fact, if you work at the EU institutions it counts as a national holiday). This is the day Europe celebrates the founding of the European Union.

On the bus, I woken by the sudden slowing down as I saw in front a small Renault Clio in blue and white stripes in front which had the sign ‘suivez-nous’, follow us. And so we were taken off the motorway, onto a little village road, and pulled up next to a little shabby blue and red building. Border control, between France and Belgium. Border Control on Europe Day – a little ironic.

In the middle of the motorway is a tall concrete artwork – symbolising peace.

We were all removed from the bus, with all our luggage and put into a little room. The woman in the headscarf was first, she put her luggage through the scanner, and was asked quite a few questions, then was the black mother and her 16-month old child.

‘He was taking photos’ said the policewoman, pointing at me. The woman clutched her gun as I took my phone out of my pocket. I had taken a picture of the small old building they were using, and that was enough for some more questioning, and the stern policemen forcing me to delete the offending picture before I could leave. 

One week on, Macron may have won, but fear is still in the lead.

Brexit as a stagiaire.

I’ve been working at the European Commission for over a month now, and it’s great. I even had a security conference to not post anything about the inner workings about it on the internet. If you’re reading this, then I’ll probably be in jail by now.

It’s fascinating in Brussels, because it’s such a big institution doing big things. It does so many things, and employs so many people, that you understand why change is slow, change is gradual, and it makes you appreciate what is there already and what improvements need to be made. For example, where I work, they do international cooperation with countries all around the world, making real change in peoples lives, and it’s really quite nice. i’ve lerant things I never thought existed. They talk about ‘White Papers’ that will change Europe forever. Little do they know nobody cares. However, there are moments I witness during work hours that I call ‘Nigel Moments’, moments where you think I wish Nigel Farage was here to witness such shocking things you find out. ‘You really spent HOW much on facebook advertising during the economic crash of 2009?’ I thought to myself.

It’s not all bad. They do a lot of good things, that will probably never see the light of day. There is always and underlying tone to everything I do, I say, and wherever I go. ‘I’m from England, unfortunately’, I say awaiting the laughs, some do partake, but most just do it out of pity, as they (as well as I) am pretty sure it means I won’t be getting a job like theirs in the near future. Once people realise I’m English, it changes the way they look at me. There’s definitely a sense of pity in there somewhere. In my sector (so, the floor of my office), I’m the only native speaker of English. It helps. I get to read through every important document that passes through as I have to grammar check it. Having read this far through this post, you now realise how laughable it is that I’m the final point of call for a grmmar cheque. I’m also the official Brexit spokesperson in my office, any sort of news even a little bit related to Brexit, the office asks me my official opinion. If only they know how unpatriotic I am and how little I know about what goes on, because I’m in Brussels. However, I do work at the EU, so it’s pretty obvious isn’t it?

On Wednesday the 29th of March, or as some people ‘affectionately’ called it ‘B-Day’ was the day Britain triggered article 50, to leave the European Union. I, being a little cocky and arrogant, thought I could walk into the press conference with the European Council President Donald Tusk. Yeah, right. Nonetheless, I took a late lunch break, and I walked over to the building, showed my crappy pass that says in clear capital letters STAGIARE just so the security guards make you go through security (none of my co-workers do) and check my haircut is the same, and well, I smooth talk the security guard, by asking him where the press conference is, and he politely tells me where to go. Like directions and everything. I walk in, and sit in the centre seat at the back next to the awaiting cameras. The previous meetings I’d been to with important people reassured my English colleagues that English will remain the dominant language in the EU, which is lucky for lazy English people. However, I thought this was about to change, because I looked in the Interpreting booth, and I could see English, German and French. But, I was wrong, everything was in English. Even the French spoke English. I had the misfortune of sitting in-between some of the English written journalists.

The two on the left, sounded so posh, and so aristocratic, discussing the intricacies of the triggering of article 50 it was almost like a comedy scene. If only they wrote 1% of what they were saying, the news might actually be a little more informative, but i couldn’t find anything of the sort. To my right, was young-ish man with an ‘accent’. You know, someone from the villages, like Manchester (I imagine the men on the right thinking that). From what I gathered watching him during the time I was there, he had one mission. Be negative about the EU. He made it seem like a breeze. He did a radio interview before, making the arrival of a letter sound like a bombshell that the EU was not ready for. It was so unprepared, the same man was at the organised press conference response 15 minutes later. He was alongside his producer and camera man, both of them clearly bored the ‘man with the accent’ with technical information. Donald Tusk walked onto the stage he said his prepared two minutes speech, which was quite emotional. ‘What else can I add to this? We’ll miss you.’ It was one of the more emotional moments in politics, he seemed like he cared, which is rare in these sorts of occasions. The minute he was off the stage the man beside me was back to it. ‘May has caught them out’ ‘May is stronger than EU combined’ ‘EU trembling at knees because Brexit’. It was like this man was on a different planet to me. Maybe it’s because I’m in the ‘Brussels Bubble’.

I walked outside, to see the 7 TV cameras all lined up in a row, ready for the six o’ clock news in their respective countries. My favourite was one TV channel’s political correspondent asked a simple question to the present off air, and he replied ‘I don’t know, I just read the lines’. One reporter (who should know better) kept on walking over to a delivery van to check his appearance in a removal van’s wing mirror. But most surprisingly, this high tech delivery, with all these wires and satellites, is that the most important things, news collections, countdown to going live, is all almost down to mobile phones. Journalists know just as much as we do, but they just have a really nice camera.

I went back to work, from that exciting lunch. I was hungry, but I’d seen history be made. On the 29th of March, 1936, Adolf Hitler received 99% of the votes in a referendum to ratify Germany’s illegal remilitarization and reoccupation of the Rhineland, receiving 44.5 million votes out of 45.5 million registered voters.

Who knew referendums were such a bad idea?

Don’t turn off the water

Day 4

My roommate was up bright and early. He was going with the other Brit with a Chinese friend to check out Wal-Mart and get a sim card. I stayed in bed and then I decided to brave the bathroom for my first shower. It’s a fantastic power shower, the heat and everything. It’s perfect. But there is one problem. The drain for the shower is on the other side of the room, with the toilet in-between, so when having a shower it creates a permanent puddle in the bathroom, which is a slight error in its design.

By the time I’ve gone downstairs to use the WiFi in the lobby, and done some admin, my roommate arrives back having been unsuccessful. Wal-mart is closed on a Sunday in china, but in the US (you know, the land of the free and all that) it is always open on a Sunday.

I decide I should try to register for the university in the student union, as, that is why we are here after all. However, I have been trying the past few days, but each day, the reply is ‘try again tomorrow’, I have my fingers crossed, that today is, err, tomorrow. We enter the building, and a lady escorts us into her room, and finds our names on the register and ticks them off. So they do have a record of us existing, that is refreshing to hear. She says we need a Chinese name, in Chinese characters. She repeats my name over and over again and pauses, she writes two characters, and shows them to me and says ‘wau-ker’, with a falling/rising tone in the middle. I was born again. Like every other person I meet, before I leave they ask for my WeChat ID and I give it to her willingly.

We wait in reception, with the China Communist Party flag hanging, and I take my picture with it. The passing Chinese students laugh. Bloody tourists. Then, we move on to the next room, I walk into the room with my friends, to see some french students are trying as well. They are in deep conversation with a Chinese lady (in Chinese) to get a room all of the four can sleep in, or a room for two each. She can’t help them, and so, they depart. So then I sit, she takes my passport, and I have to write my name on a list. One column for English name and one for Chinese name, I get her to write my new Chinese name, as I don’t want to write my own name wrong for the first time, I think I need a little more practise. She tells us this isn’t official registration, this is just letting them know that we are here, I presume registration, will be tomorrow.

It’s time for lunch, and a Korean girl who was there at the same time joins me. She’s wonderful and charming, and called Gippeum, with a bounce to it, but her English name is Grace. She has been to England, and tells me about her love for Harry Potter, the English accent, and that it is well-known that English men, are gentlemen. Well, I do try my best and we’ve only just met.

Brexit gets a passing mention. We are all disappointed and a little anger remains, but we all come to different conclusions as to whether it will happen or not. Those who voted leave will suffer the most – we all voted remain, and left to go to china.

The ‘other Brit’ I mention is Libby. She’s done things like this before, she’s been to India with the British Council, as well as countless other places she likes to mention. She’s from

Somerset, and unlike the others, have no connection to Wolverhampton. She has chosen to live in a different block to us, but still, it’s only 250 metres away.

This evening, the final Brit arrived, making it two girls and two boys, the fantastic four one could say. Dominique is wonderful, her smile beams across any room she walks into – I know this because she is the only one I’ve met before China. She was at the meeting about going and we introduced ourselves then. Tonight her smile shines a little less so than usual. She has arrived without her luggage as her airline have lost it. She confides in our little English-speaking group.

She has arrived with little more than her passport, phone and money, so we then go to the bustling night market to get her some bedding to sleep on. Gippeum comes along, as she knows where the 9.99 yuan store (yes, you guessed it, a 99p store) and man, do us brits love a bargain.

We have some street food, a bit of chicken on a stick, and some tofu in a cup. Gippeum asks me how old I am, and that in Korea, if you are older, you are treated as you are wiser. She tells me that she’s twenty-three, and I say I’m twenty-one, but when we say our birthdays, they are not that far apart. She was talking in ‘China years’, for the Chinese calendar, which (I think) makes me twenty-three as well.

We get to the 9.99 yuan store, and I find the perfect instrument to clean our bathroom floor when it floods. I walk back to the dorm, and one of the Chinese students tells us that the Water will be turned off for three days, in the entire campus for engineering works. Great.

Day 5

I had my last shower this morning for a while before they turn the water off at midday. I fill up a bucket of water to live off before they turn it back on again.

Me and my friends decide to try to get a Chinese sim card today. We’re worried about our communication skills, but as we are about to leave, my Korean friend who directed me to the correct place on my first day walks by. He offers to help us get a sim card, as he has nothing to do apart from avoid packing for his flight tomorrow back to Korea to renew his visa. He walks us far across the campus down to a basement supermarket with a mobile phone stall. There is no queue, but there is a crowd. We eventually get to the front and the Korean (Son-Gwon-Lee) talks the talk and gets us all sim cards with a ten pound deposit, as well as some mobile internet. As if he hadn’t done enough, he then takes us out to lunch. We walk to a massive, brand new shopping mall, and go to a traditional Chinese hot-pot restaurant. We have an individual hob on the table for each person, and they come with a pot of broth and you order the extras to boil in your pot: pork, lamb, shrimp, sweet and non-sweet potato and noodles to finish off. You have a pot of sauce (of which you create yourself) to dip your boiled food in to cool it down and eat. It was wonderful, but in my first few days I am having a baptism of fire in using the chopsticks, trying to get slippery shrimp out of a pot of boiling water with steam flying in your face, It’s fair to say I’m improving. We come to pay the bill, and for 4 hotpots, every single extra you can imagine, and drinks, its

201 yuan (around £20). Son-Gwon-Lee then whips out his phone to find a 200 yuan voucher leaving us to pay 1 yuan. We paid 10 pence.

As the water is still off, I go and buy a 4 litre bottle, you know for necessity. After carrying the bottle on our walk in the 30 degree heat, I have a little daytime nap, before I get to grips with my girlfriends visa.

Me and the brits go to dinner and I have some dumplings before off to my favourite supermarket to get some more bedding (None of them can cope with the hard beds. They are buying more mattresses and padding by the day.

I sit in the lobby of our residence, for the WiFi, and see everybody pass through to video call their family and friends from back home. The Uzbeks are the most connected to home. They are here video calling on WeChat as well as everything else. They get me to say something in Uzbek and I am a star. I think it’s because of my perfect uzbek accent. Bizarrely, they are all arsenal fans, and they know little English, but they know what I mean when I say Olivier Giroud is rubbish. ‘Liverpool number one’ I say to them, and they reply in pantomime style with ‘no no no, Arsenal number 1’.

I talk to a few of the mexicans, Alejandra is one of them who took me out to lunch when I arrived, and is utterly charming, but she does it with such grace, I feel when I try to follow-up I always come across as a little to eager to please. However, she introduces me to the Chinese ‘yogurt in a bag’. It’s around the same shape and size of a mozzarella bag, and it is surprisingly refreshing. I go back upstairs to find my roommate binge-watching family guy on DVD. I always make him jump when I walk into the room because he has his earphones on.

Day 6

This morning is the campus tour for international students, given by three chinese female students. One with a camera, and the others at each end of the group. They want us in two lines, one boys, one girls, we all look a little bemused, and the order soon fizzles out over the two-hour, 6km walk in the burning sun on the humongous campus. There are many buildings for different subjects, as well as a hospital, 9 canteens, an impressive library and a couple of supermarkets and basketball courts along the way. This is not even mentioning the huge blocks of accommodation for students (and non-students) and their 8 bed dorms (with their classmates), public showers and communal kitchen. The international students are treated like gods compared to the home students. We walk around, and the photographer gets us in perfect group photo spots, that will almost certainly be used for their next ‘diversity’ brochure. Alisa, the international student coordinator gave me a painting, she had painted. A beautiful painting of flowers, it was greatly appreciated, and it hangs on the wall next to my bed, so I see it when I wake up in the morning. I walk, with a spring in my step, to the chinese test, having quickly looked up some key chinese words, and had a skim read of the words needed for HSK Level one. I arrive a little late, and in the small classroom, with no teacher present, around half of us are standing. So, some of us, are moved into what looks like a welcome room, with some pictures of important people and some shiny golden flag masts with numerous countries represented. We are given the exam, which is all in Chinese characters, meaning most of us can’t read it, (you are level 3 out of 6 levels if you can read characters…), the teacher seems a little bemused, and gets a Pakistani

student in the other room to explain to us what we need to do in the exam, in English. This just made the Koreans more confused. We write our names on the paper, and leave, that was an interesting 20 minutes. Dominique went to the airport which is two hours by taxi away but her near 4 1/2 hour round trip turns out to be successful, to pick up her lost luggage, she bemoans the lack of clothes she has had with her, and I didn’t even notice. I went to the canteen. I also went to the supermarket, I bought some fruit which I could eat later. I went and sat by the athletics track in the evening to watch the dancers, the people doing tai-chi, the walkers, the runners, and the lovers on the grass in the middle. By the time I’ve read the last of my newspapers and magazines I got on my flight to china, it’s pitch black, and there are more people, the hustle and bustle continues till late, and the locals are, as always, fascinated by me. Some even come and sit next to me and talk to me in Chinese, and even when I convey to them that I don’t understand. It seems to only encourage them, or at the very least, offer me a cigarette. With a warm handshake and a smile, I leave to go back to the residence, to talk to some of the westerners, who are still bemoaning the fact that we don’t have water. I go up to my room, and I find that my bucket of water has been decimated by my roommate, he used the toilet and used my water to flush it down. He didn’t realise it was my water, he says.

Day 7 Wednesday

I wake up to the sound of a drip on our bathroom. I have never been so happy to hear the bathroom leaking – the water is back on! I feel clean again, and I fell like I can do a lot more and be a little less smelly.

Alejandra, takes me and the girls to an international school, who need some English teachers. It’s the top floor of a huge shopping centre. Alejandra works here once a week, teaching one to one, but I think that they want us to do groups. Alejandra is wonderful, the ways she talks to us all, like she’s known us for years, and at the same time that we are all new and exciting to her. Many of us lose the hope and optimism of our youth, but Alejandra gives off the aura of joy for the rest of us. She gives us a short tour of the shopping centre, which is four floors, and includes an indoor market, numerous kids play areas, and a full size ice rink.

The international school is on the top floor in the corner. ‘SIN China International Education. The receptionists are very happy to see us and guide us through to a meeting room to meet the boss. Amanda, is everything I imagined her to be. She is tall, elegant, in a long formal black dress and looks like a boss. She looks a little stern, but when she walks into our room, to see our foreign faces, she looks like she has seen her new-born child. We are offered a platter of mangoes (locally sourced, we’re told) and watermelon and a drink of ice-cold water. Alejandra translates what Amanda says to us, although she does understand what we are saying in English. She asks us to talk a little about ourselves to hear our accents, and we all pass with flying colours, not that there is much competition, we will be the only English people who work here. I am relieved that the brummie inside of me didn’t come out to play. We are taken into another room, where they show us what they require from us, teaching us a demo class. Every move we make, acting out, smiling, listening, there is a camera at hand to take a picture of us. After the induction, and they have all added me on WeChat, I soon

see that me and my compatriots faces, are the new faces of the international school. They clearly see us as a goldmine, even if none of us have experience of teaching English. They give us the taxi fare to get home, but, being the bad students that we are, we get the bus home and save the £1 for a rainy day. On the bus tv, the news is constantly rolling, which is sometimes a little perturbing. They showed a massive car crash on a bridge from the viewpoint of a car camera, at the exact moment, we were going over a bridge. Perhaps they should think that through a little bit. The next news item is that the heroic Olympians have arrived back in China, and that the even more heroic Paralympians have departed. Some things never change.

For my evening meal, I go to the canteen with matt. I eat chicken and rice, he gets a ramen, which, he destroys with half a ton of chilli powder. He later wonders why he feels a little under the weather….

I am feeling full of energy after the return of running water, and I want to get a little fitter. I accompany mexican Jonathan to the gym, who is taller, stronger and older than me. But most of all, he feeds and takes care of all the dogs who live outside our residence. So much so, they follow him everywhere he goes. In order to walk around in peace, I meet him on the main road, as instead of going through the main door past the dogs, he jumps out the back of the building from the first floor (it’s not really that high, but high enough for me not to do). He has a six month subscription, but he gets me in as a taster session. We walk upstairs in the warehouse-like building, and find all the machines and equipment, on a red and black carpet. A short, but incredibly muscular chinese man, walks up to me and introduces himself in english. His English name is ‘Rock’. I smile and say ‘you mean The Rock?’. ‘No, there’s another guy called that, so I’m just called Rock’. I say my name, and like a lot of Asian men I have met, they say ‘Paul Walker’, who was the star in the Fast and Furious franchise. Yes, that’s news to me as well. He gets me pushing heavy things, surrounded by all these muscular Chinese men, that is a little odd, as one does not normally see Chinese people fine tuning their abs, let alone any Chinese bodybuilders in Wolverhampton.

I return back to the residence, to see Alisa, the residence assistant. We sit and talk for hours about our anxieties and our futures, as well as what a terrible news network CNN is, and what the west thinks of the South China Islands. At least you guys just build most of the land, whereas the Brits normally colonise, I joke. We talk about the similarities of Ying and Yang and French Philosophy, the difference between the body clock of a Chinese student and a Brit (they get up at 6am, not 6pm), and most devastatingly, she is leaving her job to go and live in her old student residence with her friends, so she can focus on preparing for her masters (which is two years away) and her future career. She gives me a gift, and she tells me about the ‘normal’ chinese residence. It is an 8 or 9 bed dorm, with many dorms on each floor, with one kitchen to share, and public, cold water showers. Maybe us internationals should stop complaining about our difficult roommates and think ourselves lucky.


Today is orientation class. I arrive a couple of minutes late, but I’ve missed nothing. They put on the Powerpoint, telling us that we should go to class, not to get a pet, not to party all

night, not to move out of the residence without telling anyone, and not to padlock our door. They say this with a little too much gusto to suggest this happens a little too often, and that there are few consequences that go with it. Also, the scholarship will be a month late. Who doubted it?

I get some street food for lunch, a bread roll with chicken and what looked like noodles, but as my friend informs me, potatoes. It’s all very nice. In the afternoon, we go back to the international school to deliver our demo class, that they requested us to learn, we each perform in sections, but I’m always first up, so the others learn from my mistakes. It’s all quite tiring, but whatever we do, the Chinese love us. We celebrate our success by spending the taxi fare on mango bubble tea.

I get back and I do some washing, and two friends, one from Zambia, and one from Nepal, join us for dinner. We go to the canteen and I get what I think is Chicken on a stick, but could be tofu, or something in-between. Dominique a vegetarian, is a little perturbed.

I play badminton with Alisa, and we have a wonderful time. I will miss her when she leaves the residence. The Uzbeks think I am flirting with her by spending a little too much time with her, but it is just me being charming, I’m sure. Me and all the Uzbeks have partners, but I make a joke about getting a Chinese girlfriend for the time we are here. They said they prefer the Koreans, but they then proceed to tell me that they are Muslim, live in a Muslim country, and that they will marry their girlfriends, and that they are celibate. Their views on the world are fascinating. Their views on homosexuality are quite disconcerting and their view that their dictator is a modern-day ‘Ghandi’ maybe a little off the mark. However, their unadulterated love for the music of James Blunt does make me smile, and they are impressed with my knowledge of Uzbekistan and their ever-shrinking sea (I know, I spend too much time on Wikipedia).

I access Facebook for the first time in a while, to see all these notifications and see all the wonderful people wishing me luck. It does stop me from lying awake listening to the ever constant drip in the bathroom.

My first few days in China

Day One

I have arrived in Beijing Airport after my long flight, which felt a little shorter as I was surprisingly upgraded to ‘premium economy’ (no, I didn’t know that existed either). I didn’t even ask, I didn’t even plead at the boarding gate – all I did was scan my ticket and a little receipt came out – NEW SEAT. PREMIUM ECONOMY 22K.

I sat down next to an older German man – who was persistent about his need to move seat to one where he could stretch his legs a little better – he recently had an operation. I thought this was just a plea to get into first class, yet he was happy when he switched with the young woman in the seat behind me. She laughed out loud at the British movies about royals she was watching with Chinese subtitles. I smiled.

After the flight I went to the toilet in the airport – my first ever Chinese toilet break – how exciting. One toilet is a hole – the other two are ‘normal’ ones, but with a little more water in them and when you press the button everything whooshes away in rapid speed and then it slowly starts to fill up again. Yes, I know, the excitement has only just begun.

I fill in my boarding card – the type of my visa, where I am staying – nothing unusual. I walk through another seemingly normal control check, yet I peek behind my shoulder and I see the staff looking at a heat scanner, to see whether the visitors are ill.

I then walk past the glass lift, to see a man with a straw hat on, almost like a museum piece with his frozen look in the still, see-through lift, but he was just going about his business. Maybe I wouldn’t stick out as much as I thought – I didn’t pack any oversized straw hats with me.

After collecting my things – consisting of nervous emotional baggage and some other items, I then boarded the airport train into the city, which was in fact a bombardier train, ‘another great British business doing well abroad outside of Europe’ i imagined Nigel Farage saying in a speech. However, what was most bizarre is that this airport train, had no luggage racks, and no place for luggage, meaning every other seat had a massive suitcase on it. Fantastic British design, I thought.

I then went to Beijing railway station, I was impressed by the large halls of the metro stop, the people management, and that a member of staff is present at the start of every escalator.

I returned above ground to beautiful blue sky. But this is China? Where is the pollution? I thought it was always black, always raining and difficult to breathe, but actually – it was wonderful. The street vendors were out in force, the people queuing to get into the station, and to get into the ticket office – the holy grail. I looked to see the 30 cashiers, with a long, but straight queue at each one. A little neon sign said: ‘English – Cashier 16’. I joined that queue and there were three american students there, all with internet. I turned on my WiFi, yet none would connect, and those that did needed a Chinese phone number. Shit. I turned to the hipster Americans , after all the US and the UK has this special relationship right? Especially in China, right?

‘you got WiFi?’, I asked.

‘Nope. I’ve got 3G’, said the guy in the Kobe Bryant jersey (who was clearly old enough to know better). Stupid yanks.

Half an hour later, I arrive at the front of the queue, and buy my ticket for around £18 off the woman, and I am her last customer. She turns round her sign, and everyone behind me crashes into the queue adjacent and hopes to recover their place – some are lucky, others not so much. I realise i’m at the wrong train station, so I have to get on the metro again just a couple more stops. I queue again to buy a ticket for the metro for around 30p. In this outside queue, there are many people giving leaflets to people: a metro map, with a taxi number on it. The men, who are mostly disabled, are mostly successful in giving it away to the public. All of the men work for different companies, you can tell by the different colour of the glossy paper, yet when one person takes one, and they are reading it in the queue, another man strolls past and puts their leaflet on top, and does the same to the next person. A simple sales technique, that’s for sure.

I get to Beijing south railway station, still without WiFi, but I find a McDonalds, I get a happy meal ( I know, I’m just like every other Brit on holiday – but fear not, I’m ashamed of my first meal as well). I have WiFi, I phone dad, to say hello, and that I’ll be on my way to Jinan soon enough. I have the urge to change my ticket to an earlier time, which means another queue for information, and then another queue for exchanges. The only earlier train I can get is in first class, so I take it. I get on, they offer me a bottle of water and some biscuits, but the hostesses walk by selling mini tubs of haagen-daaz, yet I resisted. An hour and a half later, I arrive at the massive Jinan railway station, I go to reception, I ask do you have WiFi? No. Are there hotels? Not near here. Great. I get a taxi for around £3 and I show him the address for my university, he drives me there fascinated that I’m different. Smiling at me and talking to me – knowing full well I have no idea what he’s saying. So he resorts to saying English words. London! He shouts three times, after I decipher the strong Chinese accent. I smile and ask him about football. I say Wayne Rooney, Manchester United, but I get a response from David Beckham.

We drive along the large motorway-like roads, with constant beeping of the horns from all drivers, just letting everyone else know they’re there. I arrive at the Uni, but as it has just turned to darkness, I think it’s a little too late to start to try to find my accommodation, so I get my phrasebook out and ask the taxi driver for a hotel near here. He looks around, and points at one, and we say our goodbye. I walk across the road, past the bustling street markets, through the mopeds, that never stop, and walk into the hotel, they are eating, but they send their son out, who speaks English, to tell me they have family staying but there is a posh hotel down the road. I go there and check in, with a little haggling and after the receptionist phoned up all her friends to come help her understand me, or at the very least come and look at the foreigner, Peace at last. I skyped my parents, and googled where to go, wait – google is blocked so I ‘Binged’ it instead. What a sad state of affairs.

I fell asleep, but at 11:43 I woke up. I panicked and thought I have to be out of my room in 15 minutes, so i got up put all my stuff in my suitcase, and then opened my curtains to see darkness. My jet-lag was messing with me, it was only midnight, so i just went back to bed.


Day Two


The plan today was to find my building in the university. It’s a big campus, on a hill, with a couple of athletics tracks, tennis courts, but dominated by big concrete buildings. I ask some Chinese, with a little help from my phrasebook where my building is. They look at me – say something in Chinese with little emotion, and then go about their daily business, which admittedly is very little help to me. Nonetheless, I find the international building, a big tall concrete block with a couple of international flags on it. I go inside, the door is locked, but I was through the cafe on the side. I go up to all four floors with my suitcase in hand and still I find no-one. Then, I see a young black man, the first one I’ve seen in china. I ask him do you speak English? He looks unsure. I ask him ‘parlez-vous francais?’ He nods. I never knew how grateful I would be to have studied french, for it to be my saviour in the middle of an empty building in China. He says no-one is here, so he will take me to the right place. We walk down stairs, and he gets on his moped. He puts my suitcase on the front and i’m on the back, as we drive around pedestrians and on the Chinese main roads to the other side of campus, trying to understand his Cameroonian accent whilst driving at high speeds. It turns out i’m at the wrong building, but a Korean guy takes me to the correct one, where my accommodation is.

I walk in and there are some Mexicans, wonderful Mexicans who welcome me with open arms, they’ve been here a while, they know how tough it is…and we go out for a Chinese meal in a restaurant, they give you a piece of paper to write down what you want, and then I get to test out my rusty skills with chopsticks, which actually aren’t too bad among foreigners, but i’m sure i’m an amateur amongst the Chinese. I get them to order what they like, as they know best: they’ve been here for two years, they came for six months, but they continued to stay as they liked it so much. We take almost half of the food we ordered in doggy bags for later, and I have made two new Mexican friends and a Korean.

I then go shopping, to the local supermarket, which I find on baidu maps (note that it’s not google) and walk there with my bag in hand. In the supermarket, there are many assistants wanting to sell you things, you can’t go down an aisle without someone offering a free sample, or encouraging you to buy a more expensive brand. I smile at them, and once they see the blank look on my face, they move on to the next person.

I walk home to find that my door lock is broken – I’m locked out of my room on day one. Fuck. So the wonderful girl that is the student assistant gives me the key to an empty room for the night and the Mexicans give me something to sleep on. I planned to go to a party that night, but since I didn’t have access to anything in my room, I called it a night and went to bed.


Day Three


I was woken by a knock at the door, by Alesia, the student assistant, to tell me that my room has been fixed and that my new flatmate has arrived. How exciting. His name is Matt, has a beard and glasses and looks exactly like one of my music professors, and bizarrely he studied music. Maybe they’re related. We make small talk and talk about our journeys, and then we decide to go to shopping, I need some bedding to add to my shopping from yesterday and he needs to start afresh. I find out, he’s from the midlands, Sutton Coldfield in fact, he likes trams, and he thinks Jeremy Corbyn is a good thing. I think i’m gonna be alright. I tease him for the fact that he’s been staying at the Hyatt for 3 days to settle in, and he tells my that his father’s PhD is in Latin. We go into the shop and get some bedding, the same sales assistant greets me in the bedding section like an old friend, she comes again to try and help us, and I’m surprisingly good at communicating with her. Matt, who speaks a little Chinese gets a little hung up on understanding everything, but you’ve just got to go with it, and that’s what I do. After we buy all the stuff, we navigate the shop, we walk past the self service rice, with all types of different grain. Then we went and looked at the fish, fresh, frozen and alive. You can also buy live turtles and live frogs, how do they eat them, I wondered. They wouldn’t just have a pet store in the fish section next to all the other food would they?

Before we unpack our stuff, I decided to wipe over the room with a sponge, and brush up and mop up around our petite room which is en-suite and has a desk, a built in wardrobe, two beds, two chairs, a flat screen TV (with no input) and a fridge/freezer. Cleaning the room turns out to be a good decision seeing as there’s a lot of dust around. I then move the fridge, to clean under it, and a lizard appears out of nowhere on the wall between the map of California (no, I don’t know either) and the flat screen tv. Matt is not getting involved in this. I run downstairs to ask my Mexican friend what to do, he doesn’t bat an eyelid. Pick it up and chuck it out or just let it live alongside you, he says utterly bemused as to why i’m perturbed that there’s a fucking lizard on the wall. I go back upstairs, Matt, stood frozen looking at the lizard waiting for me to do something. So, I decide that I would empty my box full of washing capsules, and try put the lizard in the box and then chuck it out. I was successful, even if the lizard was damn quick.

After that, we ate the leftovers of the food from yesterday, some beautiful fried aubergine with spices, sweet and sour pork, stir fry beef, and some dumpling things, but i’m not entirely sure what they are. It was all nice. I ate most of it, as my roommate, sat me down and broke it to me that he’s a vegetarian, and he’s going to see how it goes in china, as it may be too difficult for him. So he nicked the aubergine, and I had the pork.

I did a bit of Skype in the lobby, (there is no internet in my room, but the lobby WiFi is near perfection. I used my VPN (it hides my IP address to avoid the blocking of websites) to access my Facebook for 5 minutes, before it disconnects. Then, Libby arrives, she’s the third out of the four Brits who are coming to arrive, so we welcome her, we go shopping for bedding, again, I buy some fruit, and we go out for dinner with this Chinese girl. We get to one of the many university cafeterias at 6:30, it’s like an empty warehouse, with a service counter in the corner, so we wonder over, and I get rice, beef and peppers with a spare rib. There are some chillies in with the red peppers, ooofft. It’s empty because it’s 6:30, everybody eats at 6, sometimes a little earlier, and lunch is at 11:45/12. We were the last ones to eat. Weird foreigners, the dinner ladies thought i’m sure.  You go and give your money to one lady who gives you tokens, and then you give tokens to the lady who gives you the food.  The Chinese girl we were with was lovely. She felt so free to talk about taboo subjects in china, because she was with foreigners, she complained about the lack of Chinese morals, her views on abortion, and how the character of Sheldon in the big bang theory has drastically changed from series 7 to series 8. It went dark early, around 7/7:30ish and we walked back to the residence, to talk in the lobby with some other internationals. They told us the water might be off for the next two days, (they turn it off randomly, but don’t worry, the maximum was only for a week) and that the Chinese people are sometimes a little weird. For example, we are sitting in the lobby of the international residence. There’s a guy there reading the paper, a friend asks him where is he from. China. Who are you waiting for? No-one, he says. He just wants to get the wechat of some international students. So we give him our wechat and he shakes our hand and leaves. He’d been sitting there for at least an hour. A day in the life of an international student. I haven’t even mentioned that when you walk around, groups of Chinese girls (it’s only been girls as of now) come and talk to you in the street, ask for a picture with them, and your wechat to practise their English, I am always willing, and I’m sure it will help with my Chinese as well.

The Mexican also said sometimes we all eat in the lobby by the window, and that chinese students come and watch, because they’ve never seen foreigners eat before. ‘It’s a bit like a zoo’, he laughs.


Is music being used as a political tool?

In an age when music is being used to encourage people to buy cars, perfume and chocolate, this paper explores how music is being used to ‘buy’, or, at the very least, influence our vote in political elections through emotional manipulation, using case studies from both sides of the Atlantic. This study reviews the current theoretical knowledge of music and emotional manipulation in listeners and how, by association, it affects the identity of the broadcaster. After reviewing the election campaigns of Tony Blair, David Cameron, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – and their use and choice of music through political campaign songs, Spotify playlists or Desert Island Discs appearances – it is concluded that they are thoughtfully designed to induce emotional manipulation and/or to construct an identity for political gain in their respective election campaigns.



The music and literature of a country cannot be altered without major political changes. (Plato op.cit. Clynes, 1982, p.388)

It may appear that politics and music are distant fields of study, yet the two often intertwine and have done since as early as in the time of Plato; sometimes explicitly and sometimes rather more subtly. Music is an increasingly common, and significant, factor in political campaigns in the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK). In the twenty-first century, music plays a vital part in election campaigns although one may not be completely aware of it, as its insidious inclusion in campaigns renders it subliminal. The United States and the United Kingdom currently lead the way in using music as a political tool, for better and/or for worse.

The considered, intentionally political, use of music has increasingly crept into the politics of the twenty-first century. The present author is eager to understand the reasoning and the effectiveness of such an aural tool, as well as its impact on elections, politicians and on our culture as a whole. This dissertation will explore the UK and the USA, as these are two of the major Western powers, with political systems and election cycles that are imitated globally. They are often identified as primary examples of open democracy. This ties in with the fact that both nations have a flourishing cultural scene, particularly in music, which dominates Western cultural output. For example, the French Government has implemented laws to force French radio stations play more French-language music (Samuel, 2015) over and above English-language music currently dominant.

The aim of this dissertation is to explore examples of how music is being used as a political tool. The dissertation will be in two parts: firstly, it will explore the theoretical knowledge of the use of music to change emotion in the listener and to create identity in the broadcaster, drawing from the numerous pieces of work on the topic of music and emotion, and music and identity. Relevant materials from as fields such as psychology, linguistics, and sociology and cultural studies are included. Secondly, it will seek to link the theoretical with the practical through case studies exploring political campaign songs and instances where politicians use music to alter emotion and create an identity (both of the politicians as individuals and of their respective ideologies).

There are many academic works on the topics of music and politics. However, there are few that combine the two, with the possible exception of Street’s Music and Politics (2012). This dissertation will draw on studies from a range of schools of study including sociology, music (classical and popular), politics and cultural studies with a focus on the study of music and its consequences – particularly on the effects on emotion and feeling. These are explored in The Handbook of Music and Emotion (Juslin and Sloboda, 2010) and other works by academics such as Sloboda and Juslin. The dissertation will utilise sociological texts such as DeNora’s Music in Everyday Life (DeNora, 2000) and Clarke’s Music and Mind in Everyday Life (Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010): the two primary sociological studies of music. Musical Identities (MacDonald et al., 2002) explores the effect of music on identity, and provides a starting point for my study of music and identity in politics.

From film soundtracks through advertisements to political campaign songs, music is being used in all walks of life to encourage society to do, buy, or feel something. Primarily, it feeds a consumerist ethos, often to create a modification in behaviour. DeNora, in, Music in Everyday Life, states:

Music is mobilised as a resource for producing the scenes, routines, assumptions and occasions that constitute ‘social life’. (DeNora, 2000, p.146)

However, in the political context it must be borne in mind that music has had an impact on our political actions and cultural thought in the past, with many political and activist campaigns bringing their message to the forefront of cultural engagement through music. In the mid-twentieth century, for example, Shostakovich used symphonies to show his discontent with the Soviet Union and the political processes in his own country. The Third Reich had ‘approved music’ (and, more significantly, music it deemed undesired and harmful thus was, as such, was banned). Equally, even earlier in the twentieth century, and before, the Black Rights movement, particularly in America, has used music since the time of slavery, such as the anthem: ‘We Shall Overcome’.

In more recent times, many musical subcultures have been aligned to radical politics: the right-wing Skinheads in 1960s England; Death Metal subcultures with anarchist tendencies, and the seemingly ideologically free trend of easy listening in the UK and America from the 1950s to the present-day that actually has a core value and ideology of status quo conservatism ideology. These subcultures have been explored in such texts as the Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture (Purcell, 2003), Subcultures, Pop Music and Politics: Skinheads and ‘Nazi Rock’ in England and Germany (Brown, 2004), as well as in Popular Music Studies Reader (Bennett, Shank and Toynbee, 2006).

When exploring music and emotion, it may be a logical step to study whether or not music is a political tool to create a positive political identity and enhance political gain. A key question is has music become much more of a mainstream political tool and an actively used political tool, to ‘sell’ politicians to the electorate? This question is at the heart of this paper and frames the dissertation. Political figures are always keen to enhance their likability rating and their humane – possibly even ‘human’ – persona. This is particularly the case where many suffer from an identity problem due to the public’s apathy, even downright hostility, towards them. Consequently, it is important both to explore existing academic work on the topic of music and emotion, on one hand, and, music and identity, on the other, to determine whether music helps or hinders politicians and then to examine in what direction the relationship between music and politics is destined to travel in the future.

Theoretical Review of Emotion and Identity in Music

The capability of music to manipulate the listener is the key theme to be addressed. The present chapter discusses the increasing body of literature on the subject of music and emotion, subsequently exploring the notion of music and identity. In recent times, there has been a rise in studies of both music and emotion, and music and identity, yet both are relatively new topics of research. Thanks to the flourishing of such literature, the sub-topics of these areas are new, exciting and a virtual step into the unknown. Music has many uses in so many different spheres of society that it seems as if the possibilities of these new developments are endless; politics is certain to be a specific cultural form and practice that will seek to benefit from any new studies that work to change the emotions of the electorate for political gain.

Previous Academic Studies on Music and Emotion

It is important to note that, given the many and varied definitions of emotion, this essay will adhere, in order to minimise confusion, to the definition of emotion in relation to music as outlined in The Handbook of Music and Emotion. This definition of music and emotion is a useful tool for politicians given its clarity and applicability in any given political scenario. However, one must remember that there are many sub-components to the creation of emotion through which music needs to be addressed. In The Handbook of Music and Emotion, its authors, state that:

Emotion refers to a quite brief but intense affective reaction that usually involves a number of sub-components – subjective feeling, physiological arousal, expression, action tendency, and regulation – that are more or less ‘synchronised’. Emotions focus on specific ‘objects’ and last minutes to a few hours. (Juslin, and Sloboda, 2010, p.10)

The idea that emotions may be altered by music is still ‘speculation rather than empirical enquiry’ (DeNora, 2003, p.84); that could be due to a lack of earlier scientific studies. However, many studies do conclude that music may be, and is, clearly utilised to manipulate emotions as explored in Music Structure and Emotional Response: Some Empirical Findings (Sloboda, 1991). Sloboda’s controlled tests found:

[A] clear differentiation between musical structures on the basis of the physical reaction they provoke. Tears are most reliably provoked by melodic appoggiaturas (…) and shivers by sudden harmony changes. (ibid., p.115)

Goldstein, one of the discoverers of endorphins, found in his studies that ‘music was especially effective as a stimulus’ as half of those questioned experienced ‘characteristic tingling sensations known as thrills’ (Goldstein, 1980, p.126). Panksepp, who named the field of neural mechanisms of emotion ‘affective neuroscience’ (Panksepp, 1992, p.554) has made many studies into the aspects of music. They include The Emotional Sources of ‘Chills’ Induced by Music, which deemed that ‘“chills” [experienced on hearing music] are related to the perceived emotional content of various selections, with much stronger relations to perceived sadness than happiness’ (Panksepp, 1995, p.171).

Further research into music’s role in adolescents’ mood regulation found that adolescents had:

[S]ome strong experiences from parties and concerts (…), and there the aesthetic pleasure was mixed with the atmosphere created by the context, location, and crowd. (Saarikallio and Erkkila, 2007, p.98)

This is, potentially, the significant piece of research for politicians hosting events and political rallies; here, instant ‘chills’ and ‘tingling sensations’, often indicated by core (key) ‘sound bites’ of ideological messages, are designed for instant audience ‘aesthetic pleasure’. These have an influence both within an audience’s own space as well as on those watching either via a live broadcast or in subsequent news reports by broadcasters, apparently balanced (in the UK), or less so (in the USA).

Additional studies have found that emotions are linked to the key of the music. One of the earlier studies on this subject, which paved the way for the studies of today, is the Experimental Studies of Elements of Expression in Music; Hevner found that ‘the major mode is happy and playful, the minor mode is sad, dreamy, but qualities such as excitement, vigour are not determined by either mode’ (Hevner, 1936, p.246). Kastner and Crowder wrote that children as young as three ‘show a reliable positive-major/negative-minor connotation when played musical passages in major and minor modes’ (1990, p.189). Cooke, in The Language of Music (1959, p.4), states that music is ‘the language of the emotions’, and, Meyer (1956, p.13) in Emotion and Meaning in Music argued that the difference [between being stimulated or not] lies in the relationship between the stimulus and the responding individual’. Both Cooke’s and Meyer’s work are ‘important contributions’ according to Davies (1994, p.29), as ‘[Cooke and Meyer] invite the thought that music has referential meaning as linguistic utterances do’.

Hence, with further scope for studies ahead, the study of the emotional effects of music, according to Scherer, a Professor of Psychology, (2004, p.251), ‘is likely to continue to thrive’. In Music and Mind in Everyday Life (Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010, pp.83-86), the authors touch on six main mechanisms of emotion induction and representation. These are: ‘Auditory Information; Emotional Contagion; Evaluative Conditioning; Episodic Memory; Semantic Meaning, and Expressive Performance’. These mechanisms are formulated similarly to Aristotle’s On Rhetoric, where the modes of persuasion are more simply described as: ‘ethos, pathos, logos’ (Aristotle. and Kennedy, 1991, p425).

Therefore, despite a few theoretical disagreements, it is agreed by almost all relevant academics that music not only can, but also does affect the type of emotion felt by the individual listener. However, the type of music, and what features the music has, from melodic appoggiaturas to major keys, is a major factor in whether or not music is able to or actually does have a significant impact or effect on emotion.

Previous Academic Studies on Music and Identity

Moreover, there is evidence to support the idea that identities may be created through music. In What Are Musical Identities, and Why Are They Important? MacDonald highlights research that underlines:

[The] ways in which identity with musical styles affects adolescents’ identification with various youth and/or other social groups. The research shows that the music we all choose affects many other non-musical aspects about ourselves, our identity to ourselves and others, and that young people use their liking of particular forms of music to ‘ally themselves with members of their peer group. (MacDonald et al., 2002, p.17)

The conclusions are that ‘music can act as a powerful identity for adolescents, perhaps more than any other aspects in their lives, and that as such it represents a fundamental influence on their identities’ (ibid., p.17). Such a thesis is reinforced by the work of Clarke when he states in his conclusions on the topic of music psychology that:

[M]usic is one way in which people learn about the values and behaviours appropriate to a culture, but it is also a way in which individuals can construct a sense of who they are. People’s musical tastes are in some sense also a representation or even a component of who they are. (Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010, p.108)

Bourdieu, the French sociologist who discussed theories around the dynamics of power, influenced the current ideas around ‘cultural capital’, argued that ‘one can buy into a particular class status by buying into the musical taste that goes with it’ (cited in Harper-Scott and Samson, 2009, p.53).

Clarke, a prominent musicologist, makes the unavoidable claim that music is a major part of our lives and something through which we, as humans, may associate with others:

[M]usic pervades everyday life in homes, on trains and planes, in cars and shops, at births and deaths, at weddings and at war, in concert halls, clubs, stadiums and fields. Music marks and orchestrates the ways in which people experience the world together. (Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010, p.1)

Street suggests that ‘music’s association with various social and political movements is not to be regarded just as window dressing, but rather as integral to these movements’ (Street, Hague and Savigny, 2008, pp.15-16).

DeNora concludes in her research that ‘music can remind [people] of who they were at a certain time’ and that music may be used as a ‘powerful aide-memoire’ (DeNora, 2000, p.66). Thanks to DeNora’s research, the opportunities for the politician’s political use of music to manipulate and benefit campaigns appear endless. As a simple example, a politician could use music to remind the electorate of how good or how bad the past was, and therefore bring forward a political point about a better future. Such a politician’s move could demean a sitting incumbent and boost the player’s own image as a positive future leader. DeNora concludes by saying: ‘the sense of “self” is locatable in music’. Consequently, music may provide the terms and templates – a working paradigm available to political strategists – for elaborating self-identity, because identity’s identification such that ‘music may be understood as providing a container for feeling (…) but to be sustained, and made known to oneself and others – must be established on a public or intersubjective plane’ (p.68).

However, another important factor in using music effectively is the cultural context in which the music is played, in order to move the listener in the direction of the political identity or message (ideology) one wants to portray:

Whether listeners pay attention to the acoustic characteristics of the music or its meanings depends on how they listen, and what they are listening for – defined not just by their preoccupations, but by cultural conventions. (Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010, p.76)

The arena in which the voter is listening is significant, and the use of music has to come across as natural. Preoccupations and cultural conventions may be a distraction, as musicologists Peddie and Smethurst state:

[T]here are many reasons why a songs intended original political meaning escapes the listener. Those reasons are based on actions of commercial mediators, the limitations of listeners and factors inherent in the music. (Peddie and Smethurst, 2006, p.9)

Thus, ‘intent’ may not be achieved depending upon the audience’s cultural sophistication of the music used (rooted in age, culture or other factors). Put simply, if they neither know nor like a particular piece of music, or the listener is preoccupied, its use may well be irrelevant or even counterproductive.

It has been argued that even if ignorance of any particular piece of music is the case, it may well still have some impact through its musical construction, use of tone and chord sequencing (as mentioned above). In musical terms, Clarke (2005, p.91) states that ‘when listeners perceive motion in music, they experience a particularly strong and quite physical identification with music’. London, a prominent musicologist specialising in metre, has argued: ‘alternating long and short notes in a particular metre and at a particular tempo can create a perceptual or cognitive effect’ (London, 2004, p.6). If a listener can ‘identify’ with music as Clarke and London have stated, then one could hold a more favourable view of the context and hence identify with a politician using particular music. This is the principle essential to advertising.

Other sectors have used music to create an identity or persona for either a person or an inanimate object or product; one globally significant sector is the retail consumer field. The retail sector regularly uses music to encourage sales by reinforcing their brand or product, be it a person or an object, using music both in their stores and, primarily, in advertising campaigns. For example, on broadcast television and radio, and increasingly in social media, music is now a key component often more important than the actual visual information or ‘look’. DeNora identifies this when she writes, in Music in Everyday Life (2000, p.146), about the use of identity construction through music in the retail sector: ‘in all these circumstances, the retail outlet produces potential sources of identification for the consumer’. When Zolo, a political scholar, states that ‘as the media in general plays an ever greater role in politics and as politics becomes an extension of mass media’ (Zolo cited in Cloonan and Street, 1998, p.38). The result is that, with its increasing use in political campaigns and as a means of identity, i.e., the brand of politics a politician is seeking to establish, the use of music is blurring the differences among mass media, advertising, entertainment, politics, and the music industry itself. Thus, such a lack of distinction among cultural boundaries, ones that used to seem much more solid, is inevitable with the increased use of (popular) music in all forms of cultural activity. It is no great surprise that by extension culture, cultural associations, and music in particular, are playing a greater role in politics.

According to previous academic studies, there are different forms of musical identity. The link between music and national identity is mentioned in Musical Identities (Folkestad cited in MacDonald et al., 2002, p.160), one of the first books to explore and actively identify a clear link between music and identity. It states that ‘[music is a way of] obtaining security in one’s own identity whilst simultaneously achieving knowledge of others’’.

The same could be said for gender identity, given that there are:

[A]ssociations of particular kinds of musical materials in western art and popular music with masculinity and femininity [that] can be traced through musical history (…) there is unequivocal evidence for the marking of gender by musical preferences, beliefs and practices. (Dibben in MacDonald et al., 2002, p.130)

Tagg argued that there were gendered meanings in television theme tunes, alongside gender stereotyping:

[F]emale characters had a slower average tempo, (…) male characters tended to have more rhythmically and intervalically active bass lines and greater rhythmic irregularity. (…) Female characters featured piano, strings, flute and mandolin, whereas the males were played by electric guitar, trumpet and xylophone. (Tagg, 1989, pp.11-12)

Certain songs have been selected for use in conjunction with successful elections even when the political figure is not necessarily advocating the same sentiments as the music does. The book of Popular Music in Theory demonstrates that:

[I]n 1987 John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ was collectively sung at a Conservative Party Conference in Britain to greet Margaret Thatcher – one of Britain’s most right-wing leaders, who led one of the governments least sympathetic, [to its critics] to social democratic principles since the Second World War’. (Negus, 1997, p.193)

Thus, the atmosphere in which it was played was the very opposite in tone to that intended in the song and its lyrics, yet it contributed to a right-wing political victory. Irony in politics and music is, it seems, never far from the surface.

Cross, a researcher exploring the biological and cultural bases for human musicality, states that:

[A] cross-cultural perspective on music suggests that it also involves multiplicity of reference and meaning: a piece or performance is simultaneously capable of bearing many different meanings. (Cross cited in Clayton, Herbert and Middleton, 2003, p.23)

Thus, intent is not necessarily matched by reception (or exploitation).

This chapter has explored the existing theoretical knowledge on music being used as a tool in society, in culture and in politics, to create an identity for the one using music, probably alongside emotion in the listener. This dissertation has argued that there is clear evidence to suggest that music is used, intentionally and with occasional great sophistication, to create emotion and identity (maybe even an emotional identity). Equally, the present author has argued that it is unsurprising that music is used to influence our political opinions, just as it is in our consumerist every-day lives it is systematically ever-present and far-reaching in our political practices and procedures. Consequently, music is without doubt another tool in the box that may help a politician to election victory (or political loss, if mismanaged). Next, this dissertation shall examine the current state of research and knowledge about politicians’ use of music to manipulate emotion within a direct political sphere. To that end, the next chapter explores case studies of politicians using music for political gain.

Politicians using Music for Emotional Manipulation

Case Study 1: Tony Blair/The Labour Party and the use of music in the 1997 General Election Campaign


Given the overwhelming evidence that music may be used to create emotion (individual and consumerist and, as such, political) this may be the reason why politicians across the political spectrum from Left to Right are mobilising music worldwide in their campaigns in many and varied ways. On the political Left in the UK, Tony Blair’s Labour Party in 1997 (and throughout his political career) used music as a political tool for inspiring hope (an ephemeral emotion from emotional ephemera). Blair and the Labour Party used two key campaign songs as walk-on music at conferences and key speech locations, in party political broadcasts and at Labour Party rallies: ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ (D:ream, 1993) and ‘Proud’ (Small, 2000). The songs were used to such an extent that ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ and ‘Proud’ became synonymous with Blair’s election campaigns. Both songs, pop hits (‘Things Can Only Get Better’ was number one in 1993, and ‘Proud’ was number 16 in 2000 (Polyhex, 2016)), were written not for the Blair campaign, but were familiar to the public. The songs are experienced as positive, with their harmonic features, and in their anthemic construction and its upbeat musical tempo as well as the way they build musically to various staggered crescendos. To the listener these features hint of a sense of aspiration and pride, in essence parallel with the key sentiments of Blair’s political message.

Musically, in construction, in ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ the music and vocals start with a lone voice with a chordal piano accompaniment. The song continues into an embellished piano with the voice adding grace notes and appoggiaturas to the lyrics; these, as well as the rhythm section, and the use of all major chords, are repeated throughout. The repetitive lyrics and the sound of a choir accompanying and whipping up the vocalist, gives a sense of an electorate rallying behind Blair (as an individual and the Party politically). Both ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ and ‘Proud’ use choirs (reinforcing the ‘anthemic’ or church-like quality of each song). In Heather Small’s ‘Proud’, the first 25 seconds lack a voice, just three simple yet powerful pedalled chords with a flute-like instrument and some barely audible electronic sounds in the background in order to create tension. Then, upon the introduction of vocals and other instrumentation, an unexpected harmony change occurs with the pre-chorus chord progression rising a semi-tone from the verse and the inclusion of a B minor chord resolving to a G major chord. This, along with a positive change in mood of lyrics and a rapid crescendo of ascending scalic notes on the violin, creates a sense of ‘happening’ and inspirational intent for the listener.

The choir in ‘Proud’ encourages the vocalist, with the use of the musical tool of question and answer: ‘We need a change!’ Small sings expressively, with the choir replying: ‘Yeah!’. Both of the songs used by Blair, and the Labour Party, are excellent examples that demonstrate all of the qualities utilised by music to effect emotion in a political situation. According to the musical analysis of the songs chosen by Blair and the Labour Party’s campaign, they use primary music features – such as melodic appoggiaturas in the vocals of ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ and sudden harmony changes in ‘Proud’. Sloboda’s (1991, p.115) research found these primary musical tools may be used to create emotion (emotional response); both songs are heavily reliant on major chords described as ‘happy’ (by Hevner, 1936, p.246) and ‘positive’ (by Kastner and Crowder, 1990, p.189).

Furthermore, the Tony Blair/Labour Party Campaign tried to create an emotional sense of togetherness through the deliberate choice of these songs because of the musical features they possess and which lead to emotion manipulation as defined in Music and Mind in Everyday Life (Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010, pp.83-86). The use of choirs is a musical tools to create the feeling of ‘togetherness’ and ‘emotional contagion’ (Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010, p.84) through numerous voices and reassurance by the choir behind the vocalists in both songs; particularly, the question and answer featured in ‘Proud’ is described by Clarke (in Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010, p.84) as one of the six main mechanisms of emotion induction. This features along with another main mechanism Blair uses: episodic memory, an important element to ensure that ‘music may evoke a memory of an event from the listener’s life’ (Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010, p.84). Small’s song ‘Proud and its recurrent lyric: ‘What have you done today to make you feel proud?’ is an apposite example of the way in which a song refers (as did the Labour/Blair campaign did) to in order to ‘evoke a memory of an event from the listener’s life’ (Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010, p.84). These songs were considered particularly suitable for the election campaign as their musical features manipulate emotion.

The two songs were used throughout the election campaigns of Blair and the Labour Party in many ways: as slogans in speeches, party political broadcasts, and the songs’ titles themselves especially encapsulated the feeling and were fundamental in underlining the key message that Blair and the Labour Party wanted to convey to the electorate – hope. Subsequently, Blair and the Labour Party won the election in 1997 with the ‘largest number of Labour MPs (419) in history, with the largest swing since 1945’ (Crewe, Gosschalk and Bartle, 1998, p.xvii) and ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ became, by logical extension, the theme to the post-victory celebrations. The way in which the tune had grabbed the attention of the electorate is particularly telling in this extract of the Labour Party campaigner John O’Farrell’s recollections of the campaign:

[T]he specially extended sing-along ‘Labour-have-just-won-a-landslide’ mix. The lights swung over us and we clapped our hands in the air chanting ‘Tony! Tony!’ (O’Farrell, 1999, p.323)

This links to the ‘strong experiences from popular music concerts (…) with the aesthetic pleasure created by the context, location and crowd’, as identified in the research of Saarikallio and Erkkila (2007, p.98).

In the following general election in 2001, Blair used ‘Proud’ and won again. The influential demographic, that came out to vote for Blair’s and the Labour Party’s message of hope and optimism and change, was young people (18-24’s). Blair’s use of popular music gained traction with young voters, even with the media’s disregard for the youth vote: ‘they are the don’t vote, won’t vote, don’t give a damn vote’ (Toynbee, 1997). Blair appealed to the youth vote in particular by using the popular music of the day to induce emotion, as listeners were paying attention to the music through cultural conventions, as mentioned by Clarke, Dibben and Pitts (2010, pp.83-86).

Blair also talked specifically about music in some of his speeches: ‘I am (…) from the rock and roll generation, the Beatles, colour T.V, all the rest of it, that’s where I come from’ (Bennett and Stratton, 2010, p.95). The Labour Party and their leader Tony Blair

[R]ode the wave of enthusiasm of British style and youth culture, and harvested political capita from Cool Britannia, the term encapsulated the newly invigorated nation in the wake of the election of Tony Blair. Blair tapped into the nerve of contemporary youth culture, with, for example, Noel Gallagher, the front man of Oasis, invited to a prestigious reception at Downing Street. (Addison and Jones, 2000, p.141)

Studies show that ‘[r]ock [music] is chosen almost exclusively by the younger age groups’ (Lamont and Fournier, 1992, p.164 cited in Fink, Robinson and Dowden, 1985) so it is no coincidence that these particular artists were chosen.

Blair and the Labour Party certainly gained inspiration from campaigns such as Rock the Vote: an apolitical campaign that courted various public figures, from music, comedy and the arts for various events such as voter registration, concerts and comedy, all for the cause of voting. Musicologists Cloonan and Street conclude that:

These events [Rock the Vote] should not be cynically dismissed as trivial moments in the ever-changing popular culture scene. They are, in fact, powerful emblems of the ways in which political aspirations both express themselves within, and draw inspiration from, popular culture. (Cloonan and Street, 1998, p.38)

It is certain, particularly given the academic research cited above, that Blair himself, carefully and thoughtfully, used music to manipulate emotion in the electorate, reinforcing his message of hope both as a political ideology and as a personal identity for public response through the ballot box.

However, Blair is a politician who has experienced both extremes through using music in politics. The emotions that he ‘gave’ the electorate differed starkly over time. Close to the end of his tenure, the tune that had brought him so much success – ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ – became a phrase through which to ridicule his achievements in government. The Telegraph mocked the campaign in an opinion piece where it was stated: ‘It began with Tony Blair’s promise that things can only get better. They haven’t’ (The Telegraph, 2006). Even in the following election of 2001, voter turnout among the young was low, because of ‘distrust and cynicism’ (Dermody and Hanmer-Lloyd, 2004, p.202) just as it once was: ‘the big winner was apathy. The Labour vote fell by two million and three out of five young people stayed at home [i.e., did not vote]’ (Cockerell, 2003, p.7). This could be seen as a warning sign for those hoping for constant success. Music in politics may be a limited resource for opposition parties and politicians, especially when they apparently fail to deliver upon any of the promises inherent within the very music used to gain voter support in the first place. The Blair/Labour Party example identified above suggests that perhaps (popular) culture tools, such as music, may be used only in moderation to be truly effective, and that they work better in opposition before Realpolitik kicks into the emotion stimulated by music used merely as a political tool.

Case Study 2: Barack Obama and the USA Presidential Campaign of 2008


Another example of music’s part in politics is Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign (USA). In the spring of 2007,, a member of the hugely successful band Black Eyed Peas, gathered some of his celebrity friends to turn Obama’s concession speech at the New Hampshire Democratic Primary into a song and music video. They did so to show their support of Obama becoming the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party of the United States.

The video is in black and white. Obama’s speech runs in the background of the video, while famous faces sing the words that Obama speaks. They repeat the buzzwords of his speech and subsequently the title of the song: ‘Yes We Can’ (, 2008). The music video alone, uploaded onto YouTube, subsequently gained over 20 million views; many more if the numerous downloads and other video streaming sites additionally hosting the video were counted. The ‘Yes We Can’ music video was one of the many ways in which Obama utilised, i.e., reached and encouraged, his supporters and their use of popular culture as well as his own (including music, pop stars and social media), turning them all to his advantage. Significantly, the video was the most widely viewed and most effective element of the campaign. It also elicited from the global public itself a plethora of additional video responses from the public doing their own versions, also in their native languages (such as in French and Spanish), extending its significance even further. The Spanish versions, for example, are an additional political factor in places such as California where the dominant language is Spanish rather than English (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013, p.10).

The musical features of ‘Yes We Can’ stimulate emotion in listeners in many ways, the clearest being the sudden harmony changes quoted by Sloboda (1991, p.115) and the use of crescendo where the chorus is repeated. ‘Chills’ have been associated with crescendos by Panksepp (1995, p.171). The use of the crowd is key to build up to the chorus with their shouts of: ‘Yes We Can’ (, 2008). The root chords progression throughout most of the song is G major, B major, E minor and C major9; however, the song lacks the dominant chord of D major, which may make the listener feel there is more to be done. Perhaps this factor symbolises Obama’s need for individual action (memory) from the listener; he cannot achieve it all on his own, given the barriers, he and society face as potentially the first Black President of the USA). Vernallis states that the song ‘feels like it undulates rather than progresses’ (Vernallis, 2011). The sudden harmony changes could be a musical tool as evidence shows that ‘harmony changes create shivers’ (Sloboda, 1991, p.115).

Vernallis, the author of the article Viral Web Media and the Obama Campaign, continues to draw the sentiments of the song and the campaign together. She points out how the various musical aspects of the song that link with the Obama campaign and the feeling that it probably gives the listener are essential components of the song and the campaign:

A European American female sings ‘oh’ on the end of a third beat. [John] Legend then sings something close to ‘hope’, as if the ‘oh’ has transformed and become crystallized into a palpable object; later he seems to reach up and grab the high-pitched word. (Vernallis, 2011)

The melodic appoggiaturas by John Legend could aid emotion induction, given research that shows how ‘tears are most reliably provoked by melodic appoggiaturas’ (Sloboda, 1991, p.115). These musical tools of musical manipulation may be linked back to all of Clarke’s mechanisms of inducing emotion referenced above. The expressive performance by John Legend; the ‘emotional contagion’ through the stares down the camera by the performers, evoke the memory of Obama’s speech, and the event. The semantic meaning, too, is induced through many musical techniques, including how:

The vocal phrases often bridge across the four-bar cycling harmony. This creates a propulsiveness that, along with added voices, more strongly rhythmic performances, and a rising melodic contour, might suggest gathering forces. (Vernallis, 2011)

The rhythm, of course, plays a major part in inducing emotion: ‘the clapping suggests a 6/8 pattern, while the chanting of “Yes We Can” is 4/4’ (Vernallis, 2011). In London’s research around the Psychological Aspects of Meter, the slower and faster rhythmic strata line up together in ‘Yes We Can’; this leads to, as London identifies, to ‘a perceptual or cognitive effect’ (London, 2004, p.6). Such synchronisation captures the motion of a crowd rallying together and could lead to emotional contagion, as suggested by Clarke, Dibben and Pitts (2010, pp.83-86).

Chapter Summary

The chapter has provided two examples of major political figures using music as a campaign tool in modern-day politics. They have done so successfully and in collaboration with other popular musical eras: BritPop in the case of Blair and, for Obama, the emergence of YouTube and its exploitation by Black popular music artists). Both the Blair and Obama case studies have used positive songs with lyrics in the songs resonating with the messages of their respective political campaigns. All of the music described may be linked to evidence that the music used may affect emotions.

One similarity between the two case studies that is particularly striking is that all of the music played in the case studies involved a choir or a crowd. Their part in the song was in order to create a feeling of welcoming togetherness and ‘emotional contagion’ (Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010, pp.83-86), one of the main mechanisms inducing emotion. Furthermore, it tried to capture ‘the aesthetic pleasure [that] was mixed with the atmosphere created by the context, location, and crowd’ (Saarikallio and Erkkila, 2007, p.98) demonstrated in studies around music and its impact in concerts.

The next chapter will explore the notion that music may be used to create an identity for politicians. If music may indeed be used to create emotions, and is being applied by politicians as a tool, it may be asked whether music could go further in creating an identity for politicians themselves and for their agendas.

Politicians Using Music for Identity Construction

A particularly intriguing and fascinating way in which music is used in politics, is the way individual politicians use music both to ‘create’ and to ‘project’ a likeable persona through the advancement of their own musical preferences and tastes. DeNora states that ‘the sense of “self” is locatable in music’ (DeNora, 2000, p.68). DeNora’s arguments encourage and confirm empirically the hypothesis that politicians, in the creation of a political and personal identity (often merging the two), could be aided through having their public persona, facilitated, even constructed, with music not only as its tool, but also as its building blocks.

As previously stated, music may contribute towards creating many different forms of political identities. Examples include a national identity; a political party identity; an interest group identity (increasingly so with the splintering of mainstream politics), and an ethical identity. There are studies, as above, that conclude that ‘music can be used increasingly as a means by which we formulate and express our individual identities’ (MacDonald et al., 2002, p.1). In the UK, for example, Desert Island Discs is a musical choice programme of some significant cultural and historical standing (created by Roy Plomley and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 since 1942) in which significant public figures are interviewed; these guests pick their eight favourite tracks they would take if they were a castaway on a desert island.

Desert Island Discs creates the perfect atmosphere for influencing a listener, as the effectiveness of identity construction through music depends on ‘how they listen, and what they are listening for – defined not just by their preoccupations, but also by cultural conventions’ (Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010, p.76).

Desert Island Discs is not a political show. Rather, it is an arena where the politician has much more control over the interview than over a usual political interview. The vast majority of past and present Prime Ministers and Party leaders have appeared. Some critics suggest that politicians choose their tracks ‘very carefully’ (Furness, 2014); with current (2016) presenter Kirsty Young suggesting that, the music chosen apparently by politicians is not selected by them alone. Young has stated that: ‘I’m sure [politicians] show it to the communications department. I think probably there’s a bit of a compromise, as there is with every politician’ (Furness, 2014). If politicians are taking their music choices so seriously, i.e., with an eye (or ear) as to how it reveals who they are, they must feel that choices such as these do have a significant effect on the electorate.

In one particular work, Cohen and Duberley (2013) analyse the selections of guests on the show who are known solely for their work in the field of science. The authors make the link that programmes such as these allow individuals to create a narrative of and about their lives through a narrative of their making, using the medium of music. In using music, the individual enables the listener to understand the progress and the process of the narrative of their lives, and the feeling and emotion that the music may bring to the individual.

It [the discussion of music] is here in particular that interviewees express emotion, including passion, sadness and regret as well as utilizing music to convey some core aspect of their self-identity. (Cohen and Duberley, 2013)

As a listener, one may create a link between the music the interviewee chooses and a piece that the listener also likes (if an attempt is being made to construct a ‘populist identity’). Cohen and Duberley (2013) emphasise that Desert Island Discs has benefits for the interviewee ‘concerning the development of understanding of the interweaving work and non-work preoccupations and wider social values in the development of careers and the construction of identity’ (Cohen and Duberley, 2013). That way, a narrative through music may be used to construct or, at the very least, enhance, an identity. This could be one of the reasons why politicians take appearances on Desert Island Discs, as well as other instances when describing their musical tastes, so seriously.

David Cameron, the current Conservative Party leader, appeared on Desert Island Discs as Leader of the Opposition in May 2006. Cameron picked a wide and varied range of music to take with him: the music (see Table 1) ranged from Bob Dylan’s ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ and The Smiths’ ‘This Charming Man’ to Mendelssohn’s ‘O, for the Wings of a Dove’ (Magee, 2012, p.444). Such a wide selection covered all social class bases. Studies show that there is a class distinction in music, as Bennett states: ‘The elites from our samples are clearly steeped in classical music, and stand in direct opposition to our working class interviewees’ (Bennett, 2009, p.92).

Table 1 – David Cameron on Desert Island Discs (Furness, 2014)

Artiste Title
Bob Dylan ‘Tangled Up In Blue’
Benny Hill ‘Ernie’
Pink Floyd ‘Wish You Were Here’
Felix Mendelssohn ‘O, For the Wings of a Dove’
Radiohead ‘Fake Plastic Trees’
The Smiths ‘This Charming Man’
REM ‘Perfect Circle’
The Killers ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’

The Smiths, a left-wing anti-establishment band of the 1980s, hated the ‘desert island’ endorsement from Cameron so much that the guitarist of the band said of Cameron’s pick: ‘I forbid David Cameron from liking the Smiths’ (Adetunji, 2010). Many thought that Cameron, a well-off, privately educated Oxford graduate, was portraying himself as having a more common, populist musical taste than one would otherwise expect of such an ‘Old Etonian’ and all that that implies (establishment, upper-class high culture tastes). It may be said that it is due to Cameron’s creating a ‘self-image’ that a listener ‘develops by a process of monitoring our own behaviour and making social comparisons, constantly comparing ourselves with others (…) that particular situations and social groups exert a powerful influence in what we do and what we say’ (MacDonald et al., 2002, p.8). Furthermore, the choice of The Smiths is a similar situation to that of when ‘in 1987 John Lennon’s “Imagine” was collectively sung at a Conservative Party Conference’ (Negus, 1997, p.193) and did not have the same sentiment, yet as the research shows, ‘[Music] involves multiplicity of reference and meaning’ (Cross in Clayton, Herbert and Middleton, 2003, p.23).

Moribund Music: Can Classical Music Be Saved? suggests that:

[A]lmost all politicians now claim to love pop and rock. Maybe they do, but I can’t help wondering how much pressure any politician who didn’t like them would be under to pretend otherwise’. (Beckingham, 2009, p.40)

Other critics, political and cultural, have argued that such public-relation-aware actions are due to the fact that politics is becoming more professionalised. Huq discusses this issue as follows:

In an era when politics has become deeply professionalised no decision can be left to chance. Each detail is meticulously assessed in advance by advisors who select what will play well and what will not. David Cameron’s eclectic choice of playlist on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2006 featured a bit of classical music, a dash of Benny Hill and music by the Smiths. It sounded like it was chosen in committee, and it probably had been. (Huq, 2014, p.97)

However, the phenomenon of Desert Island Discs having been ‘chosen in committee’ is not associated only with those of Cameron’s class or politics. It is systematic in nearly all politicians’ appearances on Desert Island Discs, and is the topic of much debate. For example, when Ed Miliband, then Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party at the time in 2013, appeared on the show, The Guardian rather tellingly commented: ‘Virtually the first thing Kirsty Young asked him was if he had chosen the music himself, reflecting widespread public suspicion about this sort of thing’ (Petridis, 2013). Miliband chose songs (see Table 2) such as ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ i’Afrika’ (the revolutionary anthem that was chosen as the national anthem of South Africa after the end of Apartheid). This was a choice that could be considered as underlining his left-wing credentials of freedom and equality, and his knowledge and understanding of other cultures, features vital for a left-wing party committed to cultural diversity.


Another choice of Miliband’s was the pop hit ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams, which reminded him of his wife (creating an impression of the romantic in him in addition to his ‘populist’ credentials). ‘Angels’ was voted the ‘best song of the past 25 years’ (Sedghi, 2013) by the BRIT awards. Its selection by Miliband was seen as pandering to the electorate, in the hope of enhancing his identity as a man of the people. This may also be seen as a ‘powerful aide-memoire’ and that ‘music can remind them of who they were at a certain time’ (DeNora, 2000, p.65). This is because when ‘Angels’ was released, Labour was in power. It could be interpreted as suggesting that music can remind one of what one wants or wanted to be, rather than what one now may be. Such a view, i.e., playing to the audience members’ hopes rather than their realities, is a key sentiment often tapped into by a politician in order to be viewed favourably by the electorate. A politician of hope rather than despair always does better, as appears to be shown in Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ campaign.

Such choices need to be appreciated within the context that the two most popular pieces of music chosen by politicians on Desert Island Discs are classical. ‘Jerusalem’ and The Enigma Variations are well known British pieces of music that strengthen the idea of national identity, which Folkestad in MacDonald et al., allude to in Musical Identities: ‘[music is a way of] obtaining security in one’s own identity’ (Folkestad in MacDonald et al., 2002, p.160).

Table 2 – Ed Miliband on Desert Island Discs (Furness, 2014)

Artiste Title
Enoch Sontonga ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ i’Afrika’
Hubert Parry ‘Jerusalem’
Paul Robeson ‘Ballad of Joe Hill’
A-ha ‘Take on Me’
Neil Diamond ‘Sweet Caroline’
Robbie Williams ‘Angels’
Josh Ritter ‘Change of Time’
Edith Piaf ‘Non, Je ne Regrette Rien’


Cameron and Miliband chose music dominated by male singers; in their appearances on the show, all songs except one, picked by Miliband, were performed by men (‘Non, Je ne Regrette Rien’, sung by Edith Piaf, was the only female vocal selection). Dibben writes in Musical Identities that: ‘popular music with masculinity and femininity can be traced through musical history’ (Dibben in MacDonald et al., 2002, p.127) thus it should not be surprising that politicians who are aiming to be in power use male-dominated – ‘strong’ – music to enhance their identity of being powerful. The sole song sung by a female, ‘Non, Je ne Regrette Rien’, could legitimate the comments on the music choices as their having been decided ‘by committee’: having only one song by a woman could be seen as a token sop to rouse female voters. This doubtlessly ties in with existing ideas around the gender identity roles in music as previously discussed by Dibben, including the diminished presence of women in music and their wider impact: ‘This marginalisation of in musical life, in turn, reinforces the marginalisation of women in real life’ (Cusick in Cook and Everist, 1999, p.475). Instrumentation is even gender-stereotyped: ‘female characters featured piano, strings, flute and mandolin, whereas the males were played by electric guitar, trumpet and xylophone’ (Tagg, 1989, pp.11-12). The use of masculinity is apparent in Cameron’s choices of ‘The Clash’ and ‘The Killers’, as both heavily feature electric guitar in their music.

Given the evidence, both politicians have used music to create an identity, in these instances mainly in order to seem more human and similar to ‘the common man’. The choices made by Cameron and Miliband were also very ‘masculine’, although a constant criticism of these leaders in the press was that both lacked a combination of charisma and strength.

In the USA, no programme such as Desert Island Discs exists in the media per se. However, American politicians use Spotify (a primary music streaming service available globally and particularly in the USA) as a means of constructing identity through musical taste. Hillary Clinton, for example, during her presidential campaign in 2016, released The Official Hillary 2016 Playlist on Spotify. Clinton used her playlist to appeal to her ‘diverse’ voter base: Black/White, male/female, old/young, Hispanic/American, and, hip/classic America Songbook titles. She reportedly paid $90,000 dollars for help in compiling her playlist (Browne, 2016).

All of the songs featured in the Official Hillary 2016 Playlist on Spotify (see Table 3) have a narrative within the selection: that narrative is one of a positive upbeat message combined with being a ‘fighter’ and a ‘believer’. Such an interpretation is clear from the titles of the songs, let alone from the music itself. What is equally interesting is that all of the songs featured were all released after 1997: a fact one would usually question regarding a playlist that is clearly not representative of her age, for someone who is of a privileged class and a powerful member of the political and cultural elite.

Clinton is clearly using this playlist to gain the youth vote (as Obama indicated in the earlier case study). Her choice of popular music, including rock, is more likely to be favoured by the younger members of society. Artists such as Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson have huge young support, as is demonstrated by their vast social media following. Studies show that ‘different age groups have quite distinct patterns of musical taste (…) and that rock is chosen almost exclusively by the younger age groups’ (Lamont and Fournier, 1992, p.164 cited in Fink, Robinson and Dowden, 1985).

By appealing to, and through, youth culture to the younger voter, and by using popular music theme tunes in an election campaign in order to engage with the young, Obama managed to gain their vote by using tools that other candidates simply did not at that time adopt. These are routinely used now.

Clinton is merely following good practice. As Macdonald concluded, ‘music can act as a powerful identity for adolescents, perhaps more than any other aspects in their lives, and (…) as such it represents a fundamental influence on their identities’ (MacDonald et al., 2002, p.17). The use of music to gain the youth vote in particular is well founded.

Clinton also includes one song in Spanish, which like Miliband could be interpreted as a token gesture to the Latin American community, a key demographic in deciding the next USA President.


Table 3 – The Official Hillary 2016 Playlist (Browne, 2016)

Artiste Title
American Authors ‘Believer’
Gym Class Heroes ‘The Fighter’
Katy Perry ‘Roar’
Kelly Clarkson ‘Stronger’
American Authors ‘Best Day Of My Life’
Pharrell Williams ‘Happy’
Jennifer Lopez ‘Let’s Get Loud’
NONONO ‘Pumpin’ Blood’
John Legend ‘Wake Up Everybody’
Sara Barelles ‘Brave’
Kris Allen ‘Fighters’
Jon Bon Jovi ‘Beautiful Day’
Marc Anthony ‘Vivir Mi Vida’

All of the politicians discussed have used music to create an identity. Their various identities have specific goals and the music is selected with a view to a particular way for a listener of perceiving that identity. All have chosen music, thus have projected a musical taste and sensitivity, which has the intentional aim of being characteristic of music capable of altering emotion.

Furthermore, all of the case studies featured have ‘bought into’ the notion of ‘cultural capital’, whereby ‘one can buy into a particular class status by buying into the musical taste that goes with it’ (Bourdieu cited in Harper-Scott and Samson, 2009, p.53): these politicians have used music as currency to gain traction with certain elements of the electorate. Whether or not they have done so effectively may be a question that may be difficult to isolate and judge effectively in its success or failure in huge political campaigns. However, music could be seen as a snapshot of how the politician manages to convince the electorate of the listeners’ ability and identity in order for them to feel linked to the individual politician or political ideology. Perhaps equally importantly, politicians have demonstrated their ability to use of all of the tools available during a campaign, including music and its dissemination through traditional outlets such as BBC Radio 4 and new platforms such as Spotify and social media. After studying these examples, it has become clearer that politicians need to approach using music carefully: as an identity construction tool and with a tone that does not convey to the listener, the electorate, the feeling of tokenism or selected-by-committee, but which was almost definably approved by a committee – if not chosen by one.


The main aim of this dissertation was to examine the use of music by politicians in modern-day politics. In the previous chapters, certain themes have emerged. It has been demonstrated that there is clear evidence of politicians using music intentionally, as a political tool for political gain. As was identified in the above case studies, politicians have used music to change and manipulate emotion in their respective electorates and to construct specific political identities. The case studies on music and emotion used positivity in their campaigns, and used music to emphasise this message in order to resonate with voters.

All of the music described may be linked, used and related to evidence that music used may affect emotions and may be connected with the main mechanisms of emotion induction (Clarke, Dibben and Pitts, 2010 pp.83-86). Furthermore, as indicated, music is evidently used in the creation of a new identity, at best, possibly to reinforce an existing perception of a politician’s identity, at worst. The music chosen, by politicians and in politics, to create an identity has been intentionally chosen because of its emotionally manipulative characteristics: those capable of altering emotion in the listener. Politicians have used music as currency or cultural capital to gain traction with certain parts of the electorate. However, it must be recognised that music is only one of many instruments that are part of a larger image construction by a politician or an ideology.

Music needs to be viewed as part of the wider cultural capital of the arts. In the twenty-first century, particularly within Western culture, we are consuming more than ever in an ever-shorter time. All the while, the yearning for money and power (often symbolised by technology and its use) is narrowing into an increasingly homogenised political economy, one where politicians and their ideologies seem increasingly pasteurised, and one that is desperate for any sort of tool that could make a politician stand out from the crowd.

Future studies could aim to answer the question of whether or not the use of music to manipulate emotion and construct (political) identity is conscious or unconscious. i.e., is evidence-based or merely perceptual, and how it is actually received by the listeners as compared with how it is intended to be received.

The constant use of music in politics could turn more people away and have the opposite effect to what the politicians are seeking. Musical taste is multi-faceted, variable and truly personal. It is telling that in the ‘success’ case studies cited (all are associated with a winning campaign, both politically and personally), each has used music for their first, primary, election test yet reduced the importance of music in their subsequent re-election campaigns. This may perhaps have been so as not to remind the electorate of the failed hope that was initially induced, avoiding evoking memories of positive campaigns that turned to dust. In this context, the links between memory and music and music’s ability to trigger negative thoughts out of positivity would perhaps constitute a further dissertation.

Like many other political tools, music should indeed be used. However, music needs to be used wisely and in moderation, taking in to account its limitations and potential to backfire. As such, there is considerable scope for music to be used even more widely than it is currently used in political spheres.