Presidential inaugurations are a massive cultural event — a kind of debutante ball for our politicians. This year's inauguration, though, feels especially important: Not only does it follow a harrowing election cycle, but it's the end of Donald Trump's America and the start of perhaps a new era (for better and worse) with Joe Biden elected as the 46th president.
The Electoral College vote is due to be certified in Congress today (despite the shenanigans of certain Republicans), which means the inauguration is just two weeks away. The parade is now virtual, and the crowds will be smaller than usual, but there's no denying the role of music in this daylong celebration. So, since our suggestions for campaign music clearly benefited Biden's campaign, here are songs to feature during his inauguration. Be it performances and covers, or just blaring from speakers during the day's events, these selections exemplify a Biden presidency. They sure beat Toby Keith or 3 Doors Down performances.
Jay-Z and Kanye West, 'New Day'
Regardless of whatever's occurred with Kanye West as of late, he and Jay-Z were riding high in 2011 with Watch the Throne. An unsung album standout, "New Day" sees Hov and Yeezy speaking to their unborn sons, promising a new beginning of optimism and success after both MCs struggled in their trips to the top. That certainly connects with both Joe Biden the man (the son of a car salesman), as well as the general sense of hope his campaign purveyed in reinvigorating the spirit of a prosperous middle class. It's a song about
working hard and flourishing, and after the last four years, it's a tune we'd all love to hear again.
Death Cab For Cutie, 'The Sound of Settling'
It's not that all Democrats and left-leaning folks loved Joe Biden; it's that settling meant four years of normalcy as opposed to four more in utter hell. But President Biden can turn that to his favor with this classic from Death Cab for Cutie, which talks about finding love even if that means the story isn't exactly some romantic saga. It's a cheery, hugely infectious ode to just being happy with what is, and that's pretty much the hope of the entire Biden presidency to a T. Sure, we can't have everything we want, but at least we're mostly content.
Etta James/Beyoncé, 'At Last'
One of the biggest moments from Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration occurred when Beyoncé covered Etta James' classic "At Last" while the new president danced with his wife, Michelle. The idea of Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, somehow replicating that moment would only cement whispers into how the Biden president is built (partially) on Obama's legacy. But as with most things, Biden is wise to lean into that, and recycling "At Last" could be a moment to show the White House is again filled with a loving and decent couple. The fact that "At Last" also works as a metaphor for our own collective relief is just an added bonus.
Neil Young, 'Rockin’ in the Free World'
Donald Trump pissed off a slew of musicians during his campaign and first term. From Adele and Twisted Sister to Neil Young and the Rolling Stones, it seemed like few acts wanted tp lend their songs to Trump. So it'd be a nice bit of trolling if Biden successfully picked one of those same tunes for his big day. Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" could be a controversy-free choice. Or, he could opt for the on-the-nose pick of the Stones' "You Can’t Always Get What You Want." But the best choice is Young's "Rockin’ in the Free World" — it's a middle finger to Trump and a display of badass behavior. Plus, the more we play this song, the better the world just feels.
Lesley Gore, 'You Don't Own Me'
Inauguration night isn't just about Biden. We're also celebrating Kamala Harris, the first black and South Asian woman elected as vice president. Given Harris', um, uneven support amid liberals (she's got a long history of unpopular choices dating back to her time as California's AG), we need a proper anthem. Lesley Gore's 1963 classic "You Don't Own Me" feels like an apt choice. Does it celebrate female power and equality? Sure thing. But does it also (respectfully) play up Harris' nature as a calculating political dynamo? Yes, yes it does. That proper balance will hopefully inform Harris' own work as the country's second-in-command.
JoJo, 'Leave (Get Out)'
Without further beating the "tell Donald Trump to kick rocks" horse a bit too much, Biden's inauguration should feature enough key moments telling off the former president. In a perfect world, he'd pick something like YG's "FDT," except Biden's too classy (and a centrist) to go with such a crass choice. Instead, he's better off with JoJo's "Leave (Get Out)," the unofficial anthem of ridding one's life of liars and scummy dirt bags. Is it an odd selection given that it's mostly a breakup song? Maybe, but that distinct lack of awareness feels perfectly in line with Biden as a whole. Plus, just think of the mass singalong this could generate.
Fred Rogers, 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?'
Biden effectively won this election because he promised to be the greater unifier at a time of unheralded division in the U.S. And if he really wants to follow through, he'll need a secret weapon: Fred Rogers. America's favorite kindly neighbor (sorry, Ned Flanders), Rogers' gentle croon could further drive home Biden's role as a bringer of peace, love, and unity. He might even go as far as doing a little dance routine at some point during that day's proceedings, or lip-synching along while donning his own end-of-evening cardigan. Either way, Mr. Rogers could turn this inauguration into the love fest Biden really needs to hit the ground running.
Pearl Jam, 'Do the Evolution'
Pearl Jam’s underrated "Do the Evolution" is a satire on, among several other things, consumer culture and harmful exceptionalism. But Joe Biden can turn any spoof in his favor, and this is no exception. One, it’s a great way to give America’s "cool uncle" a little bit of edge. And two, it’s no stretch to say that, as the pro science and pro common sense president, he’s a massive "evolution" from Trump. If absolutely nothing else, it could be a chance to see Biden and company slam dance around the stage. Talk about making America great again.
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