Announcement rally walkout songs are the only ones that actually matter

There aren’t many professions where you get walkout music just for showing up to do your job. It happens for talk show hosts and baseball players, and every four years presidential candidates get to do it too.

Candidates walk out to music on a regular basis, beginning with their campaign announcement or kickoff rallies. Of all the songs they’ll take the stage to, though, their announcement song is the most significant. You only hold a rally like that once per campaign. It’s a song for history. Choose wisely.

In January I started a playlist to track the songs candidates first walked out to, beginning with former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, who used “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds at his rally in San Antonio.

Like everything else at an announcement rally, walkout songs are about sending a message. It’s a chance for a candidate to show their personality — like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who used “Clampdown” by the Clash — or to use music to reinforce their agenda. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts walked out to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” a No. 1 hit in 1981.

Empowerment is a recurring theme. Sen. Kamala Harris of California used Mary J. Blige’s “Work That” (“I just wanna be myself / Don't sweat girl be yourself”), and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York used Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” (“Boss up and change your life / You can have it all, no sacrifice”).

The two candidates who walked out to songs about cities — former Vice President Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders — were both elected to the U.S. Senate from small states (Delaware and Vermont, respectively), but neither held their rallies there. Biden was nearby, walking out to Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, while Sanders announced in Brooklyn, the borough where he was born, and walked out to Jay-Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard” featuring Santigold.

Interestingly, two of the youngest candidates in the race both used the same song, which also happens to be the newest song on the list: Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes.” South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 37, walked out to the instrumental version and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, 38, had some Brandon Urie vocals in there. “High Hopes” peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January. I put it on the playlist twice.

A candidate’s announcement song isn’t the song he or she has to walk out to forever. President Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower to Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” four years ago but has used Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA” at recent rallies. And though the pop song most associated with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign is Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” she actually first walked out to Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.” But there is something special about that first song. A decade after then-Sen. Barack Obama threw his hat in the ring, he took the stage at his presidential farewell address to his announcement walkout song, U2’s “City of Blinding Lights.”

A walkout song list from a recent Iowa Democratic Party event showed some candidates have branched out to new music. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, for example, dropped his announcement track “Don’t Wanna Fight” by Alabama Shakes for One Republic’s “Good Life,” which was a choice. Swalwell didn’t repeat “High Hopes,” but Buttigieg did.

There’s not a song for every candidate on my playlist since not every candidate played one at their first big rally (why someone would skip the opportunity to publicly soundtrack one of the biggest days of their lives with a pop song is beyond me). But now that the field is set, it’s been interesting to see what songs Spotify’s “Recommended Songs” feature suggests for the playlist.

It’s a mix of classic rock, R&B, and pop songs about strength and independence from female singers, including Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” Demi Lovato’s “Confident,” and Britney Spears’ “Stronger.” Even “Fight Song” pops up sometimes when I hit refresh.

The diversity of the 2020 field is evident in the songs they picked for their big day. From rock to pop to Lizzo, if your tastes are eclectic, you might enjoy putting them all on shuffle.

Tracklist:

  1. Joe Biden - “Philadelphia Freedom” Elton John

  2. Cory Booker - “Lovely Day” Bill Withers

  3. Pete Buttigieg - “High Hopes” Panic! at the Disco

  4. Julián Castro - “Turn! Turn! Turn!” The Byrds

  5. Kirsten Gillibrand - “Good as Hell” Lizzo

  6. Kamala Harris - “Work That” Mary J. Blige

  7. John Hickenlooper - “Don’t Wanna Fight” Alabama Shakes

  8. Amy Klobuchar - “The Bullpen” Dessa

  9. Beto O’Rourke - “Clampdown” The Clash

  10. Tim Ryan - “Closer to Free” BoDeans

  11. Bernie Sanders - “Brooklyn Go Hard” Jay-Z feat. Santigold

  12. Eric Swalwell - “High Hopes” Panic! at the Disco

  13. Elizabeth Warren - “9 to 5” Dolly Parton