From U2 to 'Black-ish,' Trump already impacting pop culture

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After Donald Trump was elected, U2 decided to delay release of their long-planned album, "Songs of Experience."

Irish rock band U2 are rethinking the release of their long-planned next album, Songs of Experience, and instead will spend 2017 celebrating the 30th anniversary of their 1987 release The Joshua Tree.

The reason: Donald Trump.

The president-elect's victory, guitarist the Edge told Rolling Stone, made the band - who play Lincoln Financial Field on June 18 - decide pre-Trump songs might not work in a reordered universe.

"We just went, 'Hold on a second - we've got to give ourselves a minute to think about this record and think about how it relates to what's going on in the world,' " he said.

Last week, the Golden Globe Awards were presented to honor excellence in movies and TV. But, of course, the awards show was not ultimately about big winners like La La Land, Moonlight, or Black-ish actress Tracee Ellis Ross. It was about Trump.

That was true from the monologue jokes Jimmy Fallon told to more cutting remarks by The Night Manager winner Hugh Laurie ("I accept this award on behalf of psychopathic billionaires everywhere.") to, of course, Meryl Streep's headline-grabbing speech. The acclaimed actress excoriated Trump for mocking a disabled reporter, inciting a trademark "over-rated" Twitter rebuke from PEOTUS the next morning.

In pop as in politics, it's all about Trump.

After Trump's news conference last week, Inquirer writer Thomas Fitzgerald characterized the president-to-be as still the same political creature he was while running for office, "a guy who plowed through the campaign like some kind of political Godzilla, breaking things and dominating the landscape."

And Trump looms over the pop culture picture as well, much as he did in the town hall debate with Hillary Clinton when he was a hulking presence, stalking the stage and rarely leaving the frame.

Get ready for four more years of that. Last year's election was the loudest and brashest in history, thanks to the 24/7 news cycle, the fully developed social-media echo chamber, and, most of all, Trump, who proclaimed himself "the ratings king" in a tweet digging at New Celebrity Apprentice host Arnold Schwarzenegger this month.

Any hope that would change in 2017 went out the window on election night, when it became clear that Clinton's united front of Beyoncé and Jay Z and Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen was no match for the one-man celebrity wrecking crew that is Trump himself.

So what now? President Obama moves out of the White House this week - after a farewell party attended by Chance the Rapper, Robert De Niro, Questlove, Solange, and Paul McCartney, among others - and makes way for Trump.

The inauguration is set for Friday, giving the music and entertainment world an opportunity to register a silent protest by largely electing not to show up. Inaugurals are usually A-list affairs, with lots of balls that require big names. Frank Sinatra sang for John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, and Springsteen, Beyoncé, Aretha Franklin, and Pete Seeger serenaded Obama in 2009.

But the story in the lead-up to the Trump inaugural has been about celebrities declining to show. There are exceptions: Country tandem Big & Rich will perform, Pittsburgh classical-pop teenager Jackie Evancho will sing the national anthem, and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner will attend.

The list of performers who have said they've been asked to perform and said no is much longer, however. It includes Elton John, Garth Brooks, Andrea Bocelli, Céline Dion, and Charlotte Church.

British singer Rebecca Ferguson said she would show if she could sing "Strange Fruit," Abel Meeropol's antiracist song about the lynching of African Americans, a song Billie Holiday made famous in 1939. Moby has said he was contacted about DJing at an inaugural ball, and after declining made a playlist for Billboard of songs he would have played if he had taken the gig, including Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and the Clash's "I'm So Bored with the U.S.A."

All this has afforded opportunity for much Trump-mocking snark in the media. The Garden State Inaugural Gala will be thrown Thursday. But instead of Springsteen himself, a cover act, the B Street Band (who, to be fair, also played the same ball for Obama in 2009 and 2013), will headline. Inaugural committee chairman Tom Barrack has said that "instead of trying to surround him with what people consider A-listers . . . we are going to surround him with the soft sensuality of the place." What does that mean? Barry White and Donna Summer songs warming a cold January morning?

But once the inauguration is over, the question of how pop culture will respond to the Trump era will remain. Black-ish got a good start on grappling with the situation last week. The ABC sitcom depicted (a) a family full of depressed Clinton supporters, (b) a white female voter who made the case for Trump, and (c) an impassioned speech about love of country while Nina Simone's version of "Strange Fruit" played in the background.

That type of multiperspective approach typically suits drama (or, in this case, comedy) better than pop music, a better fit for protest songs that stir the emotions from a righteous perspective.

In the Trump era, we're sure to have plenty of those. In the aftermath of the election, in fact, many mavens suggested a new golden age of protest music is on the way. Last month, cabaret artist and Dresden Dolls singer Amanda Palmer proclaimed that "Donald Trump is going to make punk rock great again." Drawing a parallel with Weimar Germany, she argued that "frightening political climates make for really good, real, authentic art."

If that proves true, though, will it be heard by anyone who doesn't already agree? In bubble-vs.-bubble social-media battles, artists letting loose with political views are instantly derided as whiny, spoiled elites whose efforts do little more than fire up the other side. Streep's Golden Globes call to "take your broken heart and make it into art" was soul-stirring, but by dismissing massively popular entertainments like football and mixed martial arts, she also provided Twitter ammunition to detractors like UFC head Dana White.

But even if it amounts to preaching to the converted, Trump's omnipresence is bound to spur a protest-song boom. Last week, during a conversation at Monmouth University occasioned by his Born to Run memoir, Springsteen was asked for his two cents on the value of protest music. "Has anybody ever had their mind changed by a song?" he asked himself, according to NJ.com. The answer was lengthy, but the gist was that protest songs are important "in the same way that hymns are important in church. . . . Music makes us strong - stronger in our beliefs. And in a certain moment, the right song can start a fire."

ddeluca@phillynews.com

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@delucadan

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