Let’s Rate the Walk-out Songs for the 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates

Culture

Nineteen of the 525,600 Democrats currently running for president descended on the Iowa Democrats Hall of Fame this weekend for a pep rally event in which they tried to court the state’s voters through a series of Legends of the Hidden Temple–style challenges. Only the first part of that sentence is true, alas, which is sadder for democracy. Who wouldn’t enjoy watching Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg going head-to-head on the Steps of Knowledge? Instead, Iowans were treated to a succession of energetic speeches and, more importantly, to the music each candidate chose to walk out to. The latter is the political version of lip-syncing for your life. This will be crucial in determining whom Olmec will choose to anoint as our new president.

There are a lot of really fantastic song choices here. Unfortunately, I must break the news to you that none of the 77 people running for president chose to “Cut to the Feeling” as their walk-out music, which is, frankly, offensive. Additionally, some of them chose songs that I have literally never heard of in my entire life, which is offensive to me specifically. I can’t be standing around an Iowan rally, ready to get my entire civic duty life, holding my Shazam up to the speakers and hoping it can figure out what’s playing over the screaming of a crowd. This is stressful! For me and for Shazam.

With that major complaint registered, let’s get to the list. Gavel gavel gavel! Music court is now in session, with me, your judge: an empty spinning chair from The View.

Cory Booker: “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers

Points have been made! The slinky bass opening, appreciate it! Bill Withers’ silky voice, yes please indeed! Choosing this song as walk-out music basically demands a slow strut across a stage with a more than a little stank in your neck bob, which is a lot of sauce for a presidential candidate. On Cory Booker, I would like to see it. As far as song messaging goes, this is also a pretty solid choice: upbeat, hopeful, kind of about love without actually talking about boning. I’ll allow it. Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Eric Swalwell: “Caught Up in the Country” by Rodney Atkins

The first 30 seconds of this song is just a list of things that are kind of great, but also just things. To wit: Wind chimes, front porch / Good dogs, wood floors / Work boots, open doors.” Ah, indeed! Atkins then goes on to explain that these are all things he loves about country living, but to be honest, they could just as easily be a checklist of items in one of those “Find the difference” photo games. Either way, this is a solid lyrical choice for a political candidate, as it speaks to a certain kind of American narrative that a lot of voters seem to glom on to whether or not it reflects their lives or not. All these people are walking around in work boots on wood floors? I have concerns! Anyway, the beat is good. Rating: 7 out of 10

Bernie Sanders: “Power to the People” by John Lennon

This is such an on-the-nose choice for Bernie. A protest song from back in the day that gets the word “revolution” in there in the first minute? Chef’s kiss with a raised fist! I will be honest, I cannot imagine Bernie walking out to such a funky song, with its shout-sung chorus and gospel choir backup singers, but that incongruity is what endears so many to him. I would like him to alternate this song with Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.” This is just a personal choice, but I am the Music Judge so my opinion carries extra weight. Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Tulsi Gabbard: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye

A bop indeed! Try to resist clapping along with this soul classic, I dare you. Truly an excellent walk-out music choice—it inspires nostalgia, creates an instant party, and sort of makes you feel like you’re watching the curtain call for a jukebox musical you enjoyed well enough. My only quibble is that for a candidate who is not leading the pack of nominees, the idea of a mountain, even one that is ultimately surmountable, between the candidate and the voters seems like a little bit of a self-own. Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Pete Buttigieg: “Never Giving Up” by Batchelor

This is so much more hype than I ever anticipated. I was not prepared! A rap song that samples “High Hopes” by Panic! At the Disco? Let me find out Mayor Pete has some swag in those Dockers. I truly don’t know how this came to be, but I am not complaining about it at all. This song is almost too much fun, but it’s a great choice lyrically. Plus, musically, it sounds familiar, but it’s brand new, which is symbolic. Also, can’t you just imagine Chasten bouncing around to this in the background like Mr. Schue egging on the Glee kids at Regionals? Rating: 9 out of 10

Kamala Harris: “Work That” by Mary J. Blige

You literally can’t go wrong with Mary J. This is particularly true of a song that includes the lyrics “Let them get mad / They gonna hate anyway.” Senator Harris did not come to play around with these Iowans! The song also tells the listener, “I just want to be myself / Don’t sweat girl be yourself / Follow me.” I mean, the directions seem pretty clear. This, like Booker’s song choice, is a great strut anthem with the added benefit of leaving room for a shoulder shimmy, should the spirit move. Rating: 9 out of 10

John Delaney: “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Johnny Cash

A honky-tonk bop and a list song! We’re approaching walk-out song bingo. Johnny Cash tells the listener that he’s been everywhere and then he…just tells us the names of towns. Like, a lot of towns. Three minutes of towns, like he’s auditioning for the Animaniacs. This is an interesting strategy that I am not totally sold on, even if it seems effective. If there’s one thing that people love, it’s hearing the name of the city they live in. Like when Lady Gaga says “Hello Cleveland” at a show and people rend their garments in ecstasy. Geography, what a concept. Rating: 7 out of 10

Jay Inslee: “Mr. Blue Sky” by Weezer

Songs about beautiful days and the beauty of those beautiful days are almost as popular as songs that list American cities. Because this is a Weezer song, even the happy has a tinge of melancholy hidden in the crevices. The chorus asks, “Mister blue sky please tell us why/ You had to hide away for so long / Where did we go wrong?” This feels very apropos for this moment in American history. And is possibly a metaphor for climate change. This song makes me think too much and now I’m sad! Rating: 8 out of 10

Tim Ryan: “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X

LOL, Tim, really? This song is good and I love hearing it 14 times every weekend in various bars, clubs, rideshares, and SoulCycle classes. However, I have doubts about any candidate’s ability to make this work as a walk-out song unless said candidate is riding out on a horse. And even in that case, the song becomes the horse’s walk-out music. I don’t know, hon. Rating: 6 out of 10

Kirsten Gillibrand: “Good As Hell” by Lizzo

Lizzo is an automatic 10. That said, the lyrics are partially about moving on after a shitty relationship. It’s apropos for the political moment but I do not want to think about being in a relationship in any way with Donald Trump. Call me Natalie Imbruglia, ‘cuz I’m torn. The beat is solid, though, and again, Lizzo is perfect. Rating: 9 out of 10

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

Oh my God, someone’s grad school party playlist just came on and these Iowans are not ready! The song lyrics repeatedly contends, “You lied to me,” which is an odd choice here. But I don’t mind. Andrew Yang is out here telling us that he is the Mack and he is returning —from where? and when?—and I have to respect the swagger. Rating: 8 out of 10

Marianne Williamson: “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder

This is an excellent song and an excellent song choice. It’s a perfect tempo for walking and waving and, in some, could inspire a little step-touch walk. I also love that Williamson, the most openly spirit-focused of all the candidates, chose a song that casually references reincarnation and past lives. Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Elizabeth Warren: “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton

This is the best song of the bunch, and arguably one of the best songs ever written. It maybe should be our national anthem? It’s the perfect walk-out song as well. That typewriter beat? CRANK IT UP, LIZ!!!!!!!!!!!!! When this song comes on, I freaking rave and I’m not even sorry about it. “9 to 5” highlights the fact that Elizabeth Warren is constantly working (although technically the song references an eight-hour work day, also A+) and also that she is aware that your job is hard and you wish you could just hang out with the cast of Grace and Frankie all afternoon instead. Rating: 11 out of 10

John Hickenlooper: “Good Life” by OneRepublic

A little slow but still a great, cozy Dad Rock anthem. It includes the lyric “To my friends in New York, I say ‘Hello’ / To my friends in L.A., I say ‘Hello,'” which is also almost a geographical list. Still, the first words of the song are “Woke up in London yesterday,” and as a patriot I am offended. Who are you campaigning to, John: Meghan Markle? Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Amy Klobuchar: “The Bullpen” by Dessa

This is an intensely good choice and a real surprise from Klobuchar. Dessa is absolutely incredible and the lyrics to this song are total fire. “Forget the bull in the china shop / There’s a china doll in the bullpen.” Pump it, Amy! Oh, and then there’s this line: “And I love this job, but good God, sometimes I hate this business.” Klobuchar coming through with the hot verses from a great female MC. I’m undone! Rating: 10 out of 10

Steve Bullock: “Small Town” by John Mellencamp

How many candidates have used this for walk-out music over the years? To be honest, it feels a little pandering. Here’s a breakdown of the lyrics: everyone that John knows, has ever met, or can think of is from a small town. Every single one. The coastal cities don’t exist. Chicago? Chica-get out of here, more like. This song would never be caught dead listing cities. This song is so obsessed with small towns that, instead, it’s going to list every resident of every small town. That’s America! Rating: 7 out of 10

Bill DeBlasio: “Rudie Can’t Fail” by The Clash

LOL whut? This is amazing. It’s a little weird for the mayor of New York to walk out to a song that contends that someone with a name very close to Rudy cannot fail. I’m honestly confused. Cute song. Confusing walk-out music. What’s going on, Bill? Rating: 4 out of 10

Michael Bennet: “The Rising” by Bruce Springsteen

Another song that has probably been played to death on the walk-out music circuit. At a certain point, you’re just riding on Springsteen’s shoulders here. It’s anthemic and American in an inspirational but sort of amorphous way. This feels less like campaign music than a victory song. Rating: 7 out of 10

Beto O’Rourke: “Clampdown” by The Clash

This is so Beto it’s almost parody. That said, this is the second song on the list by British band The Clash and I would like to gently remind the candidates that this is America, a land of small towns and wood floors and mountains of indeterminate size and cities that have names. Rating: 6 out of 10

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