One Nation Under Godsmack
Why Donald Trump is America’s First Butt Rock President
Each president has his own soundtrack. Clinton was all rock-and-roll, from his sax performance of "Heartbreak Hotel" to his well-documented love of Fleetwood Mac. Dubya was pure country, with his cowboy boots, good ol’ boy mannerisms, and hawkish foreign policy. Obama was soul, thanks to his frequent use of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" at campaign rallies and his famous rendition of "Let’s Stay Together.” And Trump… well, he’s clearly butt rock.
What is butt rock, you ask? For the fortunately uniformed, let me give you a brief introduction. Butt rock is a style of music that peaked in popularity in the late 90s — early 2000s and includes subgenres such as nü-metal and post-grunge. It’s name comes from a national radio ad campaign put out by Clear Channel which boasted that its hard rock stations played “nothing but rock” (see what they did there?). The butt rock sound features 4/4 timing, heavy but bland guitar riffs, and knock-off Eddie Vedder vocals often sung by a Criss Angel lookalike. Some of the most popular butt rock bands include Creed, Bush, Puddle of Mudd, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Staind, Seether, Theory of a Deadman, Shinedown… really, anything that might appeal to a guy with a wallet chain making out with his pregnant girlfriend while in line for a rollercoaster.
Most butt rock songs deal with issues that the average butt rock listener can relate to, such as causing property damage and committing assault. The opening line of Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” is emblematic of the genre:
It’s just one of those days where you don’t want to wake up / Everything is fucked, everybody sucks/ You don’t really know why, but you want to justify rippin’ someone’s head off.
Everyone has heard butt rock at some point in their life, whether it was blaring from the speakers of a sixteen year-old’s ’92 Ford Impala or from the sound system of a local sports bar. Some of us have even had the misfortune of playing in a butt rock band. If you’re a musician and you’re not sure if you played in a butt rock band, ask yourself the following questions:
- Did your lead singer end each verse with a “yah” sound? (example: “Your darkness is protruding through your skull-yah”)
- Did your band include a DJ?
- Did your videos and album covers use H.R. Giger inspired animation?
- Did any of your band members ever give an interview in which they pointed out that they “aren’t making music for Britney Spears fans?”
- Did your band hail from a mostly white town with a methamphetamine problem? (e.g. Canton, OH; Gainesville, FL; Fresno, CA)
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, there’s a good chance you were in a butt rock band.
Butt rock is played almost exclusively by and for young, angry white men from middle class backgrounds who feel victimized by society. Butt-rockers embrace a vindictive us-versus-them worldview and revel in their own political incorrectness.
Butt rock is essentially suburban strip mall blues. It’s the roots music of Trump’s America.
It’s an anomaly that our first (and hopefully last) butt rock president happens to be a billionaire playboy who frequented Studio 54 and made a cameo on Sex and the City, but such are the mysterious currents of history. Other than having the same amount of respect for women as a Woodstock ’99 mosh pit, Trump has little in common with the music or its listeners. And yet, through fate or folly, he has not only clinched the butt rock vote, but has come to embody the butt rock aesthetic through his policies. Take, for example, his stances on business and trade, which are often compared to those of right-wing rabble rouser Pat Buchanan. But one could argue that they share just as much in common with the lyrics of butt rock icon Kid Rock. In his song “Cowboy,” Rock says he wants to go to Tijuana to “find Motown and tell them fools to come back home.” He then expresses his incoherent desire to “start an escort service for all the right reasons,” perhaps the most Trumpian song lyric ever penned.
Trump even seems to have been influenced by the giants of the genre in his approach to the media. On Twitter, Trump uses some of the same PR techniques made famous by Fred Durst, the Limp Bizkit frontman who practically wrote the Internet troll playbook. While Web culture was still in its infancy, Durst became a pioneer in exploiting online outrage to his benefit. He realized that the best way to get free press on the blogosphere was by making inflammatory statements, then countering any backlash with angry, anti-establishment rhetoric and a big dose of ‘woe is me.’ For example, when pressed about his homophobic guest verse on Korn’s “All in the Family,” Durst responded:
“We didn’t mean it in any homophobic way. But, of course, it’s another reason to not like this obnoxious band, this guy who starts riots at shows, stage dives, pulls chicks on stage, tells promoters to kiss his ass. You gotta hate this guy. Well, I hope it turns into the guy you love to hate.”
(Durst’s wish came true. A poll by Rolling Stone magazine named Limp Bizkit the “third worst band of the 90s.” Second and first place went to fellow butt rockers Nickelback and Creed, respectively.)
Even Trump’s foreign policy seems to be in sync with Durst’s own geopolitical worldview. In 2014, Durst praised Russian president Vladimir Putin, calling him a “a great guy with clear moral principles and a nice person.” He even contemplated moving to the annexed region of Crimea, saying he wanted to be a part of “the great future of Crimea and Russia” and expected “other creative Americans” would follow him.
So, when it came to booking musical acts for the Trump inauguration, it made sense that butt rock would be prominently featured. Of course, like any major GOP event, it had to include Toby Keith, the outspoken conservative country star famous for evangelizing the use of footwear to sodomize Middle Eastern despots. But Keith belongs to a bygone, neocon faction of the Republican Party that has lost most of its steam since the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The torch had been passed to a grittier, energy drink chuggin’, ass-whoopin’ movement of reactionaries. Trump needed an act that embodied the paranoid rage and fragile male ego that had propelled him to the White House. He needed a group whose image screamed, “I’ve got this pool table next, motherfucker!”
Organizers couldn’t have found a more perfect band than butt rock relic 3 Doors Down to headline the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration,” which was held the night before the inauguration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. According to manager Angus Vail:
“3 Doors have that God, guns, and country black-and-white sort of viewpoint … They believe it and that’s just the way they see America. It’s pretty hard to argue with. You say, ‘What about the nuances, what about the grey areas?’ and they say, ‘No, no, God, guns, America is the greatest country on earth.’ They stick to that viewpoint.”
A TMZ video shows lead singer Brad Arnold in Washington the night before the event saying, “Man, it’s all about America. We’re proud to be here. We love America, man. This is gonna be a great experience. It’s a great honor to be here and we’re proud to be here.”
While the performance was universally panned by music critics and political pundits alike, those in attendance appeared to enjoy it — or, at least as much as anyone can enjoy a 3 Doors Down concert. A journalist on the scene reported the crowd’s excitement when the band tore into its 1999 hit “Kryptonite”:
“As the song’s catchy riff dawned, you could hear a thousand surprised voices rise in unison as people turned to their friends to exclaim, ‘I know this song!’ By the end of the first chorus, however, they had returned to their conversations.”
Trump gave his official butt rock seal of approval to the band by taking part in what looked like a very guttural sing-along to their schlocky arrangement of “God Bless the U.S.A.,” much to the dismay of his Secret Service agent.
It’s now up to political scientists and speculative fiction writers to imagine what a Hillary presidency might have looked like, and most importantly, what passé, turn-of-the-millennium rock genre it would have personified. Perhaps, in an alternate universe, Twitter users spent that cold January night ridiculing Jet’s shamefully on-the-nose rendition of “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” while the nation’s soon-to-be first female/garage rock revival president smiled and shimmied along in the wing.