Three months ago, I asked myself a question: what is it that we actually know about Joe Biden? Reality TV star and real estate mogul Donald Trump has let himself be known to the American imagination for decades. Conversely, despite a lengthy track record of public service, most folks probably only know Joe Biden as the 47th vice president of the Obama administration.
So, what is the best way to elucidate one of the most pivotal political figures of the current moment? Well, one could just ask him…but I’m an underemployed twentysomething that has no direct access to Washington, so for my own purposes I figured that probably wasn’t going to work.
Instead, I turned to one of the most democratic and profoundly emotional outlets available to the body politic today: Spotify.
Scouring the music streaming giant for content that might give me insight into the position Biden enjoys in the cultural ethosphere, I found 39 tracks that had “Joe Biden” in the title. And while I can’t say what I found answered every question a potential voter might have about Biden, it did provide a potent snapshot of where our nation sits a mere 22 hours before polls close (at least in my home state).
The 39 tracks in question break down into a few fairly distinct categories: conservative anti-Biden, progressive anti-Biden, pro-Biden, Black Biden ballads, battle-based, and esoteric. And while it would take me a lengthy amount of time to thoroughly interrogate each song, there are a few that are worthy of a look.
This is probably the most controversial segment of my list, at least among absentminded, young proxy professionals who care enough to search “Joe Biden” in Spotify on the eve of the election. Filled with the hallmark name-calling and dubious accusatory content that seems to be a special penchant of Trumpism, these beats are about what you would expect.
Glutted with pretty mediocre rock, country, and country-rock tuneage, these songs would stand as a peak pinnacle in the world of parody if it wasn’t that these artists already took themselves so, so seriously. (Greer Craig’s Spotify bio in particular encourages potential fans to “listen to the lyrics of his songs and feel the energy, the pride, and the TRUTH.”)
In particular, there seems to be quite a fascination among this segment about both the Burisma “scandal” and the “creepy” moniker some conservative commentators have attached to Biden. Three tracks in specificity made some reference to Biden molesting children in their titles, despite no credible evidence of such.
Battle screeds for the MAGA faithful, this is as stilted a view of Joe Biden as you’ll find.
Most of these were drawn up back in February and March when the outcome of the Democratic primary process was legitimately in doubt (or at least in flux) and the hard truths of the COVID-19 pandemic had yet to fully grip the nation. Still, several are quite dismissive about the man who may be president in just a few weeks, lambasting him as a vanilla poser who caters to the mushy political middle (to put it mildly).
“Fuck Joe Biden” by Rastakraut was an especially fascinating track, serving as a sort of hybrid between progressive anti-Bidenism and the esoteric weirdness of other related ventures. In fact, the live version of the track claims the mantle of an outward call of progressive rage over Biden’s nomination (and also recalls sexual assault allegations that have dogged the former VP).
Ultimately, if the polls are to be believed (and there’s no particular reason at this point that they might be disbelieved, other than a creeping recency bias) then where White progressives such as Davis Rogan (“Joe Biden Will Do Just Fine”) come to roost will be especially interesting. If one thing is apparent again and again in these anthems, it is that there is a real and visceral emotional discontent with Biden as both person and politician. And as you’ll see, the countervailing emotionality is not nearly as fervent.
This section is thin. As in, pretty much just those two songs thin (though you could also include Rogan’s aforementioned tune). The greater consideration I give to this whole process, the more I wonder whether the antipathy for Joe Biden expressed in these songs has as much to do with his being a member of the tired establishment as anything else. Because such exhaustion is clear in the endorsements that these melodies give.
Song a Day makes a dualistic appearance here, providing a resigned screed that acknowledges the sharp divide between Biden and Trump. And yet, his acquiescence does seem to have limits as he admits over the twang of a guitar that he voted for Ralph Nader in the 2000 election (infamous, I know). The track caps itself off with a poignant, cherry-on-top sigh as Song a Day lets the last cords trickle out.
The only unreserved endorsement of Biden, PARENTS’ “Joe Biden,” is an airy set of vocals played in a loop over the crashing cacophony of a drumset. Repeating the “ridin’ with Biden” tag that’s popped up in various spots over the last few months, the song is peppy but decidedly light on policy or character testimonial. Still, one minute and 13 seconds is a slight bulwark against the washing tsunami of other Biden characterizations.
Black Biden Ballads
As an intersection of race and the body politic, these tracks from Black creators are of incredible sociological interest. What most struck me was the manner in which opinions ranged from almost ambivalent rejections of Biden (and his running mate, Kamala Harris) to outright pro-MAGA overtures. In many, the particulars of the political moment were deemphasized altogether in favor of a familiar name for a staid rap beat.
The place that Joe Biden occupies in modern rap obviously cannot hold a candle to the personification that has come to characterize Trump’s relationship with the genre for decades. According to Chris Richards of The Washington Post, Trump’s name has appeared in over 300 songs over the past 30 years. And while that broad generalizability is not something that Biden has been able to match with his (subjectively lesser) time on the national stage, the “Biden” brand’s role in rap and hip-hop nonetheless seems to be as incredibly flexible as its Republican counterpart.
While I thought I left Epic Rap Battles of History well behind me in high school, it seems that they’re still at it, releasing a Trump v. Biden video just a week ago. And to be honest, I liked it a lot more than I probably should. Though I don’t know the political background of any of the YouTubers that are part of the ERB collective, there are some insightful lines that distinguish both candidates over the course of the showdown (Biden’s turn about Trump being best friends with Jeffrey Epstein was a particularly cutting take).
Likewise, Maltese YouTuber Grandayy (who is in fact the most subscribed to YouTuber in all of Malta) has constructed two different Biden v. __ rap battles, cutting together sound bites from the Democratic nominee and his opponents. These efforts are ultimately steady beats but are not nearly as “ooh and aah” inducing as what they’re churning out at Epic Rap Battles.
For some reason, perhaps simply thanks to the celebrity that comes with high-profile political office, a number of indie outfits have crafted a series of tracks that feature the “Joe Biden” name without layering in much substance about politics. Or, at least not much that I can tell.
I mean, do you know what “I’ve never rode a magic carpet” or “snuck into our favorite window, into the dignity of life” is supposed to mean to the 2020 election? Neither can I. Maybe that’s why I happen to think Dogs at Large’s effort is my favorite on the entire list: like this entire year, it is chockfull of absolute uncertainty. And yet, the hope of future love and yearned for togetherness that the song also speaks of seems to be the perfect antidote for what ails us. I’m more than ready to let go and join together again, to love one another again.
So, what does all of this say about the state of the race less than a day before it comes to a thundering (almost) conclusion? I don’t know. It’s not a neat and tidy package, no matter how hard I’ve tried in these pages to wrap it up as such.
There are songs that don’t exactly fit any of these molds, such as the near-perfect meme “Joe mama Biden deez nuts” by Boof Bois and the call back to the question of marriage equality and the vice presidential debates between Sarah Palin and Biden in 2008 with “Pardon Me (Sarah Palin and Joe Biden Debate)” by Tom Goss. Some totally overlap the categories I’ve created. And I’m sure there are plenty, plenty other songs out there that have been and will be penned about the figure of Joe Biden.
Yet, other than diffuse criticisms that Biden is either too moderate or some kind of pedophile, I’m not sure that this exercise was terribly instructive in the manner that I had hoped it would be.
I suppose what I can say with certainty is this: whoever wins tomorrow will not instantly end the division that currently stresses the foundation of our nation. That much is apparent from the raw emotionality nestled in these lyrics.
For now, Biden benefits from DJT’s immense unpopularity. Come January, should he win, the bogeyman of Trump will be banished from Washington (even as its shadow might remain) and the time will come to get to work. Biden will have to emerge from his basement and take the Oval Office. What will he be able to accomplish then?
(P.S. if you’d like to sneak a peek at the playlist, feel free to do so here)