The Internet lost its mind a few weeks ago when a remix of a popular rap song, "Mercy," featured Nicki Minaj rapping, "I'm a Republican voting for Mitt Romney, you lazy b-tches are f-cking up the economy." Music and politics blogs alike marveled that the Trinidad-to-New York transplant was endorsing the GOP nominee for president.
Here's hoping the media doesn't jump to similar conclusions with Randy Newman's new song, "I'm Dreaming of a White President."
I'm dreaming of a white President /Buh buh buh buh/ 'Cause things have never been this bad/ So he won't run the hundred in ten seconds flat/ So he won't have a pretty jump shot/ Or be an Olympic acrobat/ So he won't know much about global warming/ Is that really where you're at? / He won't be the brightest, perhaps/ But he'll be the whitest/ And I'll vote for that.
Newman said of the song, which is sung from the viewpoint of person who votes solely on race: "I think there are a lot of people who find it jarring to have a black man in the White House and they want him out. They just can't believe that there's not a more qualified white man."
His song is available for free download, with listeners encouraged to donate to the United Negro College Fund.
Newman's overtly racist lyrics may be more obvious than Minaj's sly-though-vulgar line about Romney, and his wistful piano couldn't be more different than Minaj's pounding beats. But both use the same tools of narrator and satire that make literal readings of music (and all forms of art for that matter) an unreliable indicator of an artist's intended message or personal beliefs.
Newman has been a vocal supporter of Obama, saying Romney isn't "serious candidate for president." Meanwhile, Minaj is more known for her outrageous stage antics and technicolor wigs than her political leanings.
When asked about Minaj's supposed endorsement of Romney, President Obama told a radio DJ, "I'm not sure that's actually what happened. I think she had a song on there, a little rap that said that, but she likes to play different characters. So I don't know what's going on there."
Minaj confirmed his suspicions, tweeting, "Ha! Thank you for understanding my creative humor & sarcasm Mr. President, the smart ones always do... *sends love & support* @BarackObama"
The many alter-egos Minaj has employed in her music—some of her characters have songs explicitly named after them—should have been a tip to listeners that her "Mercy" lyric was not to be taken as a full-throated plug.
As Newman explains, "I often write songs in character. You can't always trust or believe the narrators in my songs. So why listen? Good question."
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