What each 2020 Democratic candidate’s walk-out song says about them, according to Pandora’s musicologist

  • The 2020 campaign is offering voters an eclectic playlist, with over 20 candidates walking out to different songs at events and rallies across the country.
  • INSIDER consulted Nolan Gasser, chief musicologist and architect of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project, to read the tea leaves and help extrapolate what voters might take away from 2020 Democratic candidates’ walk-out songs.
  • “While it is dangerous (impossible, really) to assert a direct line between a single song and an individual’s personality profile, this is often all they give us,” Gasser said.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

With over 20 candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination, we’ve got quite an eclectic playlist for this year’s election.

At rallies and various events across the country, each campaign has picked a walk-out song for when their candidate comes out to greet the crowd.

INSIDER consulted Nolan Gasser, architect of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project and its original chief musicologist, to read the tea leaves and help extrapolate what voters might take away from 2020 Democratic candidates’ walk-out songs.

Gasser, the author of “Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste,” does offer this disclaimer: “While it is dangerous (impossible, really) to assert a direct line between a single song and an individual’s personality profile, this is often all they give us.”

Walk-out songs can become inextricably linked to candidates (and some artists will try to distance themselves from politicians who use their songs, or even ask them to stop playing them).

Since, the 2016 election The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” has been used by President Donald Trump at various rallies (to the band’s chagrin). And at least three songs of Katy Perry’s discography bring back memories of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign: “Roar,” “Rise,” and “Fight Song.” Perry was a Clinton supporter and performed at the Democratic National Convention (and some argued Perry’s songs were able to say things Clinton couldn’t on the campaign trail).

“Presidential candidates must cultivate two things: public enthusiasm and a distinct identity. Beyond the content of their speeches, the candidate’s ‘theme song’ offers perhaps the most visceral and immediate means to those exigencies,” Gasser said. “Their chosen song is a targeted effort to reflect the personality, style, and vision of the candidate, while at the same offering the crowd a spirited means to welcome him or her to the rally stage.”

In reviewing the candidate’s song choices, Gasser said some “appear rather poignant and revealing” while others “seem more forced or questionable in their authenticity” or “just odd as either a reflection of personality or as a presidential campaign message.”

He pointed out two interesting trends in the song choices:

  • With the exception of Marianne Williamson, every female candidate chose a female artist (or a male/female duet in the case of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard), while every male candidate chose a male artist – except Julián Castro (who chose a song by the late Tejano singer Selena).
  • Two different candidates chose songs by the British punk band The Clash, as well as by that most-American of singers, Bruce Springsteen.

Gasser cautioned that his analysis is “slightly tongue-in-cheek,” adding that “rather than pass judgment, or be snarky, I’ve tried to give the candidates the benefit of the doubt and assume a sincere attempt to convey something revealing, useful, and engaging to voters by virtue of their chosen campaign song.”

He offered two lines of analysis for each song: the first is a reflection of the music and musicological discourse of the song; the second is a streamlined summary of the lyrical message.


Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont: “Power to the People,” by John Lennon.

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FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington
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Reuters

According to Gasser’s analysis, Sanders is signaling to voters, “I’m a revolutionary, a firebrand, an innovator; a soulful and fearless leader willing to fight to return ‘power to the people’. Unlike others, I’m not afraid to scream: ‘we want a revolution’ so as to end the days of ‘a million workers working for nothing.'”

Read more about Bernie Sanders’ campaign here.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts: “9 to 5,” by Dolly Parton.

By Gasser’s deduction, Warren’s song choice tells voters, “I’m gritty, blunt, downhome, and (like Dolly) tough as hell. I too grew up ‘working 9 to 5’ and ‘barely getting by’, which is why I’m now fighting to give you a ‘better life’, and to end – once and for all – the ‘rich man’s game.'”

Read more about Elizabeth Warren’s campaign here.


Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana: “High Hopes,” by Panic! at the Disco.

“I’m young, energetic, optimistic, a bit unpredictable, and today,” Buttigieg’s song suggests to voters, according to Gasser. “I’ll admit ‘it’s a little complicated,’ but vote for me, and together we’ll make ourselves ‘something greater;’ we’ll ‘rewrite our history;’ and we’ll once more have reason for ‘high hopes.'”

Read more about Pete Buttigieg’s campaign here.


Sen. Kamala Harris of California: “Work That,” by Mary J. Blige.

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U.S. Senator Kamala Harris holds her first organizing event in Los Angeles as she campaigns in the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race in Los Angeles
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Reuters

“I’m hip, vibrant, confident, resilient, optimistic, and a bit old school,” Gasser says of Harris’ walk-out song. “Don’t worry about what folks say about me – or you; we are stronger than they think, and if you ‘follow me’ we’ll ‘work this thing out’ and take the country back.”

Read more about Kamala Harris’s campaign here.


Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York: “Good as Hell,” by Lizzo.

“I’m contemporary, sassy, defiant, confident, and committed to empower those tired of the current ‘bulls—,'” is what Gillibrand’s song suggests to voters, Gasser says. “The status quo is saying you’re invisible, but join me, and together we’ll ‘boss up,’ do our ‘hair toss,’ and feel ‘good as hell.'”

Read more about Kirsten Gillibrand’s campaign here.


Former Vice President Joe Biden: “We Take Care of Our Own,” by Bruce Springsteen.

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FILE PHOTO: Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Biden speaks in Concord
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Reuters

“I’m tough, determined, bold, patriotic – an average Joe who’ll never abandon his compatriots,” Biden’s song signals to voters, according to Gasser. “Like Springsteen (and Obama), ‘I’ve been lookin’ for the map that leads me home;’ unlike the current ‘cavalry,’ I hear the ‘bugle blown’ to ‘take care of our own.'”

Read more about Joe Biden’s campaign here.


Montana Gov. Steve Bullock: “Small Town,” by John Mellencamp.

“I’m honest, reliable; a straight-shooter who doesn’t need to put on airs to show my strength and convictions,” Gasser believes Bullock is telling voters. “I ‘got nothing against a big town’, but I also won’t forget ‘where it is I come from’, and I’ll bring that ‘small town’ strength to lead America.

Read more about Steve Bullock’s campaign here.


Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey: “Lovely Day,” by Bill Withers.

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Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey waves to the crowd of protesters after addressing abortion rights activists during a rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on May 21, 2019.
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Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

“I’m optimistic, idealistic, spiritually-minded, an old soul, and your calm-in-a-storm candidate,” Booker is signalling to voters, Glasser says. “These days might ‘seem impossible to face’, but with your vote-giving me ‘just one look at you’-and ‘I know it’s gonna be a lovely day’ once again in America.”

Read more about Cory Booker’s campaign here.


Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota: “The Bullpen,” by Dessa.

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FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar speaks in Minneapolis
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Reuters

“I’m fierce, independent, notorious (like RBG), and proudly unconventional,” Gasser believes Klobuchar is signalling with her walk-out song. “Some may say I’m ‘soft or irrelevant’, but like Dessa (also from Minnesota), I’ve got ‘fire in my fist’, enough to be the ‘china doll’ and restore the ‘bullpen.'”

Read more about Amy Klobuchar’s campaign here.


Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland: “I’ve Been Everywhere,” by Johnny Cash.

“I’m tireless, dedicated, traditional, experienced, and grounded in the history and varied identities of this great – and big – country,” Delaney is telling voters, according to Gassers analysis. “To prove worthy of your vote, I’ll travel from Boston to Charleston to Dayton to Louisiana – indeed, to be ‘everywhere, man.'”

Read more about John Delaney’s campaign here.


Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado: “The Rising,” by Bruce Springsteen.

“I’m steady, trustworthy, passionate, dedicated, and ready to lead us to a new tomorrow,” Bennet seems to be signaling to voters, Gasser says. “If you are willing to ‘lay your hands in mine’ and move beyond this current ‘sky of blackness and sorrow,’ then ‘come on up’ and join me for ‘the rising’ day in America.”

Read more about Michael Bennet’s campaign here.


Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas: “Clampdown,” by the Clash.

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Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate O’Rourke speaks in Salem
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Reuters

“I’m young, fearless, energetic, shamelessly iconoclastic, and here to fight the ‘clampdown’ being perpetrated on Americans by selfish politicians,” O’Rourke is saying with his song, Gasser believes. “To all ‘the young believers’, I say: ‘anger can be power’; so, vote for me, because I ‘know that you can use it.'”

Read more about Beto O’Rourke’s campaign here.


Rep. Eric Swalwell of California: “Caught Up in the Country,” by Rodney Atkins.

Swalwell wants voters to feel like, “I’m downhome, even-keeled, passionate, patriotic, and inspired by a vision of endless potential for this country,” according to Gasser.

“With your support, we can build ‘freedom as far as we can see’ and get ‘caught up in a country’ that once again gives us ‘room to breathe,'” Gasser says, analyzing the lyrics.

Read more about Eric Swalwell’s campaign here.


Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee: “Mr. Blue Sky,” by Electric Light Orchestra.

“I’m dynamic, optimistic, visionary, admittedly old school, and above all passionate about maintaining our clean ‘blue sky,'” Gasser says of Inslee’s music choice. “We can all wonder ‘where did we go wrong’ to find ourselves here, but vote for me, and together we’ll make it ‘a beautiful new day.'”

Read more about Jay Inslee’s campaign here.


Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio: “Old Town Road,” by Lil Nas X.

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Tim Ryan
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Michael Kovac/Getty Images

“I’m soulful, thoughtful, spry, with a uniquely fresh mix of traditional American roots and hip youthful energy-needed now more than ever,” Gasser hypothesizes about Ryan’s choice. “I’m aiming to ‘take my horse’ all the way to the White House, so hop aboard as we shake up that ‘old town’ in DC.”

Read more about Tim Ryan’s campaign here.


Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper: “Good Life,” by OneRepublic.

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Gov. John Hickenlooper
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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

According to Gasser’s analysis, Hickenlooper is telling voters, “I’m upbeat, hopeful, driven, experienced, and in touch with this moment in time. We can wallow in things ‘to complain about’, like the ‘bullshit that don’t work now,’ but far better – if you’ll join me – to work together to truly build ‘a good, good life.'”

Read more about John Hickenlooper’s campaign here.


New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio: “Rudie Can’t Fail,” by the Clash.

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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio
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REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

“I’m raw, tireless, unpretentious, a man of the streets, and unafraid to mix it up in the often ‘rude’ and ‘reckless’ world of politics,” Gasser says of de Blasio’s choice. “I looked inside to ‘realize my soul’ to make this decision to run for president, and now, like Rudie, I ‘can’t fail.'”

Read more about Bill de Blasio’s campaign here.


Andrew Yang: “Return of the Mack,” by Mark Morrison.

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Andrew Yang
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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Here’s what Yang wants voters to feel, according to Gasser: “I’m admittedly an odd choice, but I’m confident, hip, unpredictable, and – if you give me a chance – I’ll ‘show you that I’m real’. The American voter can rightly say, ‘you lied to me,’ but now it’s time for our ‘return,’ and to finally ‘run the show.'”

Read more about Andrew Yang’s campaign here.


Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” by Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye.

Of Gabbard’s song choice, Gasser hypothesizes she wants voters to feel that she’s “fearless, optimistic, a spirit-minded old soul, and undaunted to meet any challenge.”

In terms of a lyrical analysis, Gasser says of Gabbard, “When it comes to this country, ‘my love is alive, way down in my heart,’ and there ‘ain’t no’ problem big enough to ‘keep me’ from tackling it head-on.”

Read more about Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign here.


Marianne Williamson: “Higher Ground,” by Stevie Wonder.

Gasser hypothesizes that Williamson wants voters to know, “I’m blunt, strong, agile, spiritual, and an old soulful soul who is willing to fight to bring this country back to a ‘higher ground.’ We American ‘sleepers’ have got to just ‘stop sleepin;’ but vote for me and together we won’t let ‘nobody bring us down.'”

Read more about Marianne Williamson’s campaign here.


Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro: “Baila Esta Cumbia,” by Selena.

According to Gasser’s analysis, Castro wants voters to feel that he’s “vibrant, joyful, optimistic, and proud of my Hispanic roots – ethnically and politically.”

“We’re a land of immigrants, who bring their culture, spirit, and hard work – so, ‘las manos en alto’ (hands up): vote for me and we’ll ‘baila’ (dance) to a new day,” Gasser said as he digged into the song’s lyrics.

Read more about Julián Castro’s campaign here.


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Samantha Lee/Business Insider

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