32 DNC-Themed Tunes To Sing At Karaoke

Last week, I brought you #RNCkaraoke, to let you “literally drop the mic on what may be the most irrational, racist, and misogynistic political convention in modern American history.” Now, in the interest of bipartisan shenanigans, I invite you to pick that mic back up for #DNCkaraoke, a far more nuanced — but just as fun — Magical Musical Mockery Tour.

Not gonna lie, the RNC playlist was a lot easier to assemble: Throw in a little “Springtime for Hitler” here, a little “End of the World as We Know It” there, polish it off with “Your Racist Friend,” and boom, done. But like the Dems’ campaign season itself, #DNCkaraoke requires more complexity and serves broader constituencies. So, as you watch the Democratic National Convention this week, you’ll find tunes for folks who are ecstatic, and conflicted, and disgruntled; songs about power and about heartbreak; feminist swagger via badass women ballads and cautionary tales about the life or death stakes on Election Day and beyond; and, of course, songs that taunt the opposition.

From riot girl to hip hop to punk rock, Broadway to bubblegum pop to salsa, #DNCkaraoke is a big tent. There’s room enough for all our voices to sing us toward a brighter future . . . or at least to distract us from the inevitable frustrations of a political convention heavier on compromise and lighter on justice-focused public policy than most progressives would prefer. Use this playlist throughout the DNC and again all the way through November!

Songs To Herald Our First Female Soon-To-Be President!

1. Finally, CeCe Peniston

It’s about damn time. It has been 44 years since Shirley Chisholm, America’s first Black Congresswoman, made history as the first woman to seek the Democratic nomination for President — yet the United States still trails the world in electing or appointing women as heads of state. As of January, 2015, there were 22 female world leaders currently in power, but until now America’s only female presidents have been fictional (Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Veep and Geena Davis on Commander In Chief). Clinton has to sing this song in the shower, especially after coming so close in 2008, right?

2. Run the World (Girls), Beyoncé

My chosen family includes six nieces; the youngest is in diapers, the oldest is in junior high. Regardless of policy disputes, I love that Violet, Rosie, Ella BP, Ella M., Jossie, and Kymara are growing up in a time when this video isn’t unrealistic fantasy or simple wish fulfillment.

3. Short Skirt Long Jacket, Cake

“I want a girl with the right allocations/ Who’s fast and thorough/ And sharp as a tack . . . ” Cake is looking for a wealthy woman “with a mind like a diamond” who “gets up early” and “stays up late” “picking up the slack.” Remind you of anyone*?

*Pissed off New Yorker PS: No Senator who voted for the Iraq war and the USA PATRIOT Act has “fingernails that shine like justice,” so maybe replace that phrase with something like, oh, “sends emails that hide from Justice” [department].

4. Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves, Eurythmics with Aretha Franklin

“Now this is a song/ To celebrate/ The conscious liberation/ of the female state”; that’s probably why this is still so fun to sing at karaoke 31 years after its release.

5. A Little Respect, Erasure

A little respect is hardly too much to ask from a corporate media landscape that still insists on reporting on Hillary Clinton’s (and other female politicians’) “shrill,” “whiny,” and “nagging” voice; dress size; appearance; and a host of other irrelevant, gendered details that are virtually never present in A-section stories on male politicians. The press subjects women on both sides of the aisle to this sexist double standard, which has been documented to discourage women from seeking political leadership and lessens their efficacy in office. As I’ve written and spoken about in media literacy lectures for more than two decades, when news outlets cover female legislators in this manner, they send the message that women are ladies first, leaders a distant second . . . if ever.

6. Bad Reputation, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the RNC ignored all legitimate policy critiques against Hillary Clinton, instead focusing on unhinged, hate-tinged chants of “Lock Her Up!” and “Murderer!” But if we’ve learned anything since the 1990s, it’s that opponents spewing slander have never stopped Clinton from achieving her goals. “An’ I’m never gonna care ‘bout my bad reputation/ Oh no/ Not me/ Oh no/ Not meeeeeeeee!”

We’re So Conflicted . . .

7. Settle for Me, from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I know, I know — I’d prefer a President Elizabeth Warren or a President Eleanor Holmes Norton, too. But those aren’t our options and, just like suitor Greg for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rebecca, we have a very reasonable alternative eagerly waiting for us at the polls. “If he’s your broken condom, I’m Plan B/ So lower those expectations and settle for me.”

8. Ironic, Alanis Morrisette

I’ve hoped for a female president my whole life. Now that I finally get to cast my vote for a woman who can (and must) win, she happens to be a politician I’ve had substantive public policy differences with since the early 1990s. The curse of a long-term memory means I’m still not over her actively stumping for the Welfare Reform bill that further impoverished poor women and children, and for the homophobic and misogynist Defense of Marriage Act, which had dangerous implications for women enduring domestic violence, and for her demonizing Black youth to help pass her husband’s crime bill. As Alanis prophesied, “Who would’ve thought? It figures.”

9. You Can’t Always Get What You Want, Rolling Stones


10. Love the One You’re With, Stephen Stills

Senator Bernie Sanders got closer to the Democratic nomination than he or any of the punditocracy ever thought he would, thanks to his focus on economic reform and the fervent enthusiasm of his supporters. But though Sanders eventually endorsed Clinton and urged everyone to turn out for her in November, some of his supporters have yet to let go, booing him when he spoke on Monday afternoon about the need to elect Clinton/Kaine and defeat Trump, and pledging to vote for Trump instead of Clinton. This is what many of their friends will be crooning at them until Election Day: “Don’t be angry/ don’t be sad./ Don’t sit cryin’ about the good times you had/ There’s a girl next to you/ and she’s just waiting for something to do.”

11. Know Your Enemy, Rage Against Machine

“WHAT?! The ‘land of the free?’/ Whoever told you that is your enemy!/ Now something must be done/ About vengeance, a badge and a gun . . . so sick of complacence now.” Clinton is running left of her previous record in office, due in part to the influences of Bernie Sanders, the Black Lives Matter movement, and political calculus about what it takes to win. Yet her safe, centrist choice of Virginia Senator Tim Kaine for VP is a good reminder that progressives and liberals who vote for Hillary cannot get complacent on and after November 9. Hopefully this track becomes an earworm reminding social justice-minded Clinton voters to hold her accountable to uphold her promises to the Left once she wins.

What’s At Stake In Election 2016

12. Call It What It Is, Ben Harper

“They shot him in the back/ now it’s a crime to be black . . . Call it what it is: murder.” Just weeks after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed by law enforcement, the RNC trotted out Rudy Giuliani to promise (read: threaten) that Donald Trump will do for the country what the callous, racist, destructive former Mayor did for New York. The stakes of this election couldn’t be higher, so sing this one with all your heart.

13. Baltimore, Prince

“Does anybody hear us pray/ For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray?/ Peace is more than the absence of war/ Absence of war/ Are we gonna see another bloody day?/ We’re tired of the cryin’ and people dyin’/ Let’s take all the guns away.”

Bill Clinton’s administration played a shameful role in criminalizing African Americans in ways that encouraged the conditions that have led to law enforcement playing fast and loose with Black citizens’ safety. The Democrats and their POTUS nominee have been slow to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement, but after being pushed by BLM activists, Hillary Clinton now willingly declares that Black lives matter and that our laws need to back that up. In contrast, a Milwaukee sheriff declared on the RNC’s opening night that the acquittal of one of the Baltimore police officers implicated in the death of Freddy Gray was “good news.”

14. Hello Birmingham, Ani DiFranco

“Now I’ve drawn closed the curtain/ in this little booth where the truth has no place to stand/ and I am feeling oh so powerless/ in this stupid booth with this useless little lever in my hand/ and outside my city is bracing for the next killing thing . . .”

Written after the 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian by anti-abortion zealot James Kopp, this song reminds us that one of the only things Bill Clinton’s administration did right from a social justice perspective was to try to crack down on domestic anti-abortion terrorism, including violence against clinic staff, clinic bombings, and attempted murders of abortion providers. And Tim Kaine’s questionable record on abortion notwithstanding, a Hillary Clinton administration promises to strongly support reproductive justice: For starters, Clinton has called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, a funding ban that has caused punitive hardships for low-income women needing reproductive care since the mid-1970s. The levers of American democracy may feel puny, but there are life and death consequences if we fail to pull them, as when Robert Lewis Dear murdered three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic in November, declaring himself a “warrior for the babies.”

15. American Land, Bruce Springsteen

I’ve never understood why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie worships Bruce Springsteen so much, considering how accessibly lefty his lyrics have always been. Load up “American Land” and sing pensively about this nation of immigrants. “The McNicholas, the Posalski’s, the Smiths, Zerillis, too/ The Blacks, the Irish, Italians, the Germans and the Jews/ Come across the water a thousand miles from home/ With nothin in their bellies but the fire down below.” With this foundational U.S. value under attack by Christie’s party, it may be time for The Boss to write an updated verse for “The Mexicans, The Muslims, The Refugees too . . . “

16. Latinos en Estados Unido, Celia Cruz and Willie Colón

Trump’s obsession with border walls and his slurs against Mexicans have already led to Latino Americans suffering hate crimes, verbal abuse, and discrimination, and that’s before he had any legislative power. Sing along with Celia Cruz (in Spanish, to really piss off The Donald) and when you’re done, think about steps you can take to ensure the safety and dignity of Latinos in the United States.

Power: Who Has It, How To Get It, And What To Do With It

17. The Room Where It Happens, Hamilton cast recording

“The art of the compromise/ Hold your nose and close your eyes/ We want our leaders to save the day/ But we don’t get a say in what they trade away/ We dream of a brand new start/ But we dream in the dark for the most part.”

Politics has always been a dirty business, but I’m feeling a little better about the unseen bargaining that will take place now that Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been ousted as DNC chair, and Donna Brazile has stepped in to right the ship. But regardless of who’s at the helm, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show tune perfectly captures the slime coating the back room deals-with-the-devil most of us will never know about.

18. Land Of Confusion, Genesis

“There’s too many men, too many people, making too many problems.” You can say that again, creepy vintage Ronald and Nancy Reagan puppets . . .

19. Family Affair, Mary J. Blige (or It’s a Family Affair, Sly and the Family Stone)

Ah, political dynasties. What’s the over/under on the seemingly inevitable 2040 presidential race between Chelsea Clinton and Ivanka Trump? (These song titles also work for Jeb!’s unfathomably expensive waste of everyone’s time.)

20. Formation, Beyoncé

Hillary Clinton cannot win the presidency — no Democrat can — without the mass support of Black women voters, who turn out to the polls at a higher rate than any other demographic voting block across gender, race, and ethnicity. So of course her campaign hopes Black women will “get in formation” to send her back to the White House: If they aren’t #WithHer, we will be much closer to Trump wheeling and dealing from a gold-encrusted Oval Office. But while many Black women are enthusiastic Clinton staffers, surrogates, and voters, others reject her candidacy on social justice grounds, especially but not exclusively because of her role in promoting decades of over-incarceration of African Americans.

Because of this split, a quick plea to the Clinton campaign: For all that is good and holy, please do not release any official #ImWithHer videos using “Formation” as a backing track (that is, unless Queen Bey herself offers to be a Clinton surrogate). The last thing we need is another cringe-tastic, co-optive campaign fail like “7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela.” On the other hand, “Formation” could be energizing as a karaoke track for Black women active in Democratic politics who hope to build excitement for their candidate and to defeat defeat Trump’s white supremacist campaign.

Hat Tip To The Haters

21. Hate on Me, Jill Scott

The GOP’s hatred of Hillary Clinton evokes the over-the-top zealousness of torch-waving villagers off to burn a witch. Entire political organizations have been founded just to call her a “C.U.N.T.” , and media outlets have gleefully called her an “ugly” “feminazi” “bitch.” Jill Scott’s ode to haters is a great palate cleanser to wash away that misogyny.

22. Mr. Integrity, L7

Bernie Bros, your 15 minutes are up. (No, #notallBerniefans, but yes, they did exist.)

23. Get UR Freak On, Missy Elliot

There’s no better poster girl for DNC Karaoke than First Lady Michelle Obama, who killed this Carpool Karaoke sketch. Only question is: Can you keep up with Michelle Obama rapping “Quiet!!/ Shhh, hush your mouth/ Silence when I spit it out/ {spit sound} in your face/ Open your mouth/ give you a taste/ Holla, ain’t no stoppin’ me/ Copywritten, so don’t copy me/ Y’all do it, sloppy-ly/ And y’all can’t come close to me” along to Missy while Missy was in the backseat? (Though the Late Late Show taped this segment weeks before the RNC, viewers could be forgiven for assuming FLOTUS was taking a sly dig at Melanie Trump for plagiarizing her speech just two nights prior.)

Songs To Win By

24. I Got Big Ovaries Baby, Gaye Adegbalola

“I got a whole lot of nerve/ You know I ain’t got no shame/ I’ll fight for my rights/ cause Bitch is my middle name.” Gaye Adegbalola brags about having “ovaries of steel,” which are just what’s needed to go up against the most misogynistic and irrational presidential candidate in contemporary American history.

25. Fighter, Christina Aguilera

I like to think of Hillary Clinton singing this to Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump. (Let’s not imagine her in Christina’s wardrobe, though. Nope.)

26. Titanium, David Guetta

Dedicated to Rep. Trey Gowdy, who wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and more than two years on a Bengazhi witch-hunt that failed, yet again, to implicate Clinton in any criminal wrongdoing. “I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose/ Fire away, fire away/ Ricochet, you take your aim/ Fire away, fire away/ You shoot me down but I won’t fall/ I am titanium.”

27. More, Usher

“I’m a beast, I’m an animal, I’m that monster in the mirror/ The headliner, finisher, I’m the closer, winner. / Best when under pressure with seconds left I show up.” Let’s hope so, Hill. Let’s hope so.

Stopping The Tangerine Menace

28. Any Other World, Mika

All that swag aside, what happens if Clinton loses? “It’s all in the hands of a bitter, bitter man/ say goodbye to the world you thought you lived in.”

29. All You Fascists Bound to Lose, Woody Guthrie

Don’t worry, though, it won’t happen. All Trump’s fascists are bound to lose.

30. Nazi Punks Fuck Off, Dead Kennedys

Until then, you know what to tell ‘em!

And Finally . . .

31. Canadian Idiot, Weird Al

“Sure they got their national health care/ Cheaper meds, low crime rates and clean air,” but STOP SAYING YOU’RE MOVING TO CANADA IF TRUMP (OR CLINTON) WINS!

And One Last Addition . . .

I submitted this piece to my editors/karaoke partners on Monday morning, before the DNC released an apology to Bernie Sanders for the email hack which revealed an official lack of impartiality and a suggestion to target his religious affiliation, before all hell broke loose within the Democratic party leadership, and before Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as chair of the DNC (all of which took place before the convention even began). In light of these developments, I propose one game-day addition, dedicated to Wasserman Schultz:

32. Hit the Road Jack, Ray Charles

Buh-bye, Debbie . . . don’tcha come back no more.


Thanks to Frances Badgett, Rowan Beckett Grigsby, Colleen Pound, Tony Diaz, Andrew Irwin-Smiler, Therese Shechter, and Rose McGrath for suggesting some of these tunes.

Lead image: Wikimedia Commons

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