As the flag-waving scenes of this election week recede in the rearview mirror of the campaign bus, the numbers of the discontent increase in the ether like those brooms in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice: the inundations of environmental collapse in the fast-disappearing “real” word have their digi-logue in the metastasizing mobs of Meta. Those mobs like to be enchanted by a good tune with a catchy lyric, or, even better, by a bad one with a nasty message.
Your steadfast Musical Patriot is generally out of earshot of the melodic memes of militias and malcontents, deaf to the clangorous chords of the distempered clavier. But sometimes a seething sonic surge is so powerful that it reaches even to that moral and musical high ground I’ve so long defended.
Before offering any judgements on two chart-topping “Let’s Go Brandon” tracks, however, let me remind the world that Musical Patriotism is unwaveringly opposed to nationalism, exceptionalism, and power chords on Sunday. The Musical Republic is a place where all children sing, where the body politic dances to the beat of the Good, and from which Andrew Lloyd Webber is forever banished. Unlike the nations of the G7 (that unstable, testosterone-laced, white-keyed named dominant chord), our pacific Commonwealth has no bombastic national anthem, but resounds instead with uplifting music of independent thought and unpredictable beauty whose craft is admired through the rational consensus of its critically-minded, yet always fair citizenry.
Even in these utopian climes consonance (that sweet, untroubled sonority of the Harmony of the Spheres and most versions of Christian heaven) must be troubled by dissonance to give music shape and meaning. There is nothing more boring than perfect intervals droning on in all eternity.
Which brings us back to the tuneless “Let’s Go Brandon” tunes just mentioned—harmonically inert, but politically volatile. The Brandon backstory is well-known to vigilant CounterPunchers, but I’ll retail it here in broadest outlines.
An unwitting NBC reporter named Kelli Stavast was interviewing the alliteratively-named Brandon Brown on live television after he won a Nascar race at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway at the beginning of October—an eternity ago on the supersuperspeedway of meta-modernity. As the enthusiastic interviewer congratulated the elated victor, she assured him that even the grandstand crowd was thrilled at his success. Stavast understood them to be shouting “Let’s Go Brandon,” and told the race driver as much. In fact, the fans had taken up a slogan already heard at various other sporting events and anti-vaccination protests going back still farther into the dim reaches of September: “Fuck, Joe Biden!” Ted Cruz posed with a sign with those words in Houston during the World Series. The Texas Senator also decried Stavast’s mishearing of the Talladegan grandstanders as the epitome of Fake News. “Let’s Go Brandon” erupted again in Game 4 in Atlanta with Donald Trump in attendance. The slogan was music to his tone-deaf ears.
The Musical Patriot would never stoop to defending the sanctity of the office of the U. S. President. Indeed, I acknowledge the irreverent wit, however thumb-sucking, to this coded vulgarity, the closed-caption translation now heard by all regardless of political persuasion. What can the security state do about hateful speech—or for that hate speech—when it is delivered in this harmless diction? Nothing. The same goes for Hate Songs.
The feedback loop of social media and mass sporting events was ready and waiting to be sampled and packaged by politically-minded, brand-savvy “musicians.” First to capitalize ago was the New Jersey rapper Loza Alexander, whose “Let’s Go Brandon” dropped on October 10th and quickly amassed a million hits on YouTube and climbed to no. 2 on iTunes top songs list. This election week it broke into the Billboard top 40, and even made it into the top 100 on the global charts.
In the video Alexander appears in front of the backdrop of the Talladega grandstand wearing a red Trump hat emblazoned with the imperative: “Make Music Great Again.” As the beat cruises endlessly around the speedway the rapper bops and weaves on top of Brandon Brown. While rear-twerking with the racecar driver, Alexander helpfully translates the title to his song into physical gesture by raising his middle fingers raised. Every time he utters the Let’s Go Brandon mantra the crowd at Talladega shouts the real slogan one more time: “Fuck Joe Biden!” Alexander pulls in his fingers to make a fist and shakes it. It’s up to you to decide if that’s a friendly rhythmic accent or a threat.
The lyrics are not exactly brimming with invention. Mostly he fills out his two-minute masterpiece (about the length of time it takes to get through National Anthem come Super Bowl Sunday) with the redundant jeer “Ayy, you know what they saying though” and the Talladegans chime in again to make things clear once again. The best line Alexander can muster is: “Don’t want this commie, cause we’re not in China.”
The looped beat keeps circling the track, never going anywhere: an unwittingly apposite sonic signifier of the static rage that animates half of the American populace. Alexander grins and seems to be having a happy time of it, laughing all the way to the bank.
Ten spots higher than Alexander on Billboard struts Christian rapper Bryson Gray with his exploitation of the same slogan. His video begins with Biden’s sampled voice assuring Americans that if they’re vaccinated they won’t get Covid. These words are heard over intertitles of that bit from Revelation about the mark of the beast, i.e., Biden. Gray makes this connection clear, too, later rapping that, “These politicians are just demons in disguise (fact).”
As Biden stutters on—is it his own loop or is Gray making it worse in post-production?— about the vaccinated not getting Covid, Revelation gives way to the Gospel of Luke’s defense of the Second Amendment: “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.”
This rapping Man of God is indeed on a fully-armed Crusade, brandishing and caressing his pistol grip assault rifle like a crucifix or sex toy. His hat says “Make America Great Again,” his t-shirt wants to “Impeach Biden.” Like Alexander, Gray fills out his disaffected stanzas with abundant use of Ayy,” but the syllable packs way more menace coming from his lips.
Gray does his thing in front of a plain wall, dimly light. It might even be smokey, as if he’s on a gun range. His sidearm has been singing. Intermittently a Proud Boy type seen wearing a death-skull t-shirt and Mackinaw jackets flashes across the screen, lip-synching Gray’s lyrics. This is the rapper Tyson James, who along with a young Republican renegade Chandler Crump, joins in the dark dance.
As for conspiracy theories, Gray makes the same old conspiracy theories more explicit: “Pandemic ain’t real, they just planned it, ayy, ayy.”
He even works in a bit of Trumpian economic thought along with Wall-Street-meets-and-Bible Belt eschatology:
Market ’bout to crash, this is what you chose
Ruinin’ the country, I think that’s the goal
You gon’ take the mark, I take narrow roads
I’m a man of God, I can never fold.
The final lines make a not unclever parallel between censorship and the now world-famous NASCAR driver’s first name:
“You ask questions, they start bannin’, ayy, ayy (facts)
Let’s go, Brandon, ayy, ayy (let’s go)”
At three-and-a-half minutes, Gray’s “Let’s Go Brandon” is a veritable epic compared to his competitor’s scant lines. Gray’s video is also a whole lot scarier, both in its images and the intensity of its anger.
The Let’s Go Brandon chant was heard early this Tuesday at the campaign headquarters of victorious Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. Probably some of the Youngkin faithful had one or both of these rappers’ iTune hits coursing through their EarPods.
Will one of these top-forty “Let’s Go Brandon” songs become the New Battle Hymn of the Republican Party? Has Trump, who consistently endured the humiliation of entertainers refusing to take up his invitations to sing at inaugurations and political conventions, already signed up his roster of musicians for his 2024 Restoration?
Don’t consult the oracle of YouTube. Take refuge in the Musical Republic a long way from Talladega.
(David Yearsley is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His latest book is Sex, Death, and Minuets: Anna Magdalena Bach and Her Musical Notebooks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)