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When pop and politics collide

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 5 May 2017

It is a distraction that National could do without this election year. Instead of battling the opposition, they are facing Eminem’s lawyers in the High Court.

The US rapper is suing National for breach of copyright. It is about the use of background music in one of the party’s 2014 campaign adverts.

And indeed, even if you are tone deaf it is hard to miss the similarities between Lose Yourself and what the Nats describe as the sound-alike work Eminem Esque.

The court will decide if copyright laws have been breached, and I am not qualified to offer my opinion. All I wonder is why politics and pop music so often collide around election campaigns.

For anyone familiar with Eminem’s song, it would have been a strange choice for National. At least if it made you recall its largely autobiographical lyrics.

Lose Yourself is about Eminem’s difficult path into the rap scene and estrangement from his daughter. “He goes home and barely knows his own daughter,” is probably not something the Nats’ campaign managers would have liked to see associated with John Key.

At least there was only music in National’s ad. Once lyrics get involved, it becomes even more complicated.

Tony Blair’s campaign, which swept him to power in 1997, used D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better. Sounds like a song made for a party that had been out of office for 18 years.

The only problem was that the rest of the song had little to do with politics. Instead, it sounds more like the singer discussing how he managed to overcome his demons:
“I, sometimes I lose myself in me / I lose track of time / And I can’t see the wood for the trees / You set them alight / Burning bridges as you go / I’m too weak to fight you / I’ve got my personal hell to deal with.”

Not quite the scenario in which you would call on Tony Blair for help. And things did not get much better with him anyway.

But wait, it gets worse. In her 2005 campaign, Angela Merkel chose the Rolling Stones’ Angie as her song. Never mind that it is about explaining to that ‘Angie’ why the relationship is over. In fact, at that point Merkel had not even been elected chancellor.

Compared to that, National’s Eminem-esque song may have breached copyright. But at least it spared us any ill-suited lyrics.

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