‘Such a sad event’: why musicians hate the Tory party conference – The Guardian (blog)

When compared with a stage invader, an unrelenting cough and a letter F with less staying power than David Davis, Theresa May probably isn’t that bothered about Florence + the Machine being cross with her conference speech.

But cross she is – Florence Welch tweeted that the Tories’ use of You Got the Love “was not approved by us nor would it have been had they asked”. She was joined by onetime collaborator Calvin Harris, whose track with Rihanna, This Is What You Came For, was used for May’s walk-on music. He wrote on Twitter: “I do not support nor condone happy songs being played at such a sad event … Also cough plus grey complexion suggests liver cleanse needed – blood prob very dark – body trying to cleanse but lack of nutrients pls google.” Given Harris once looked like a white pudding squeezed behind some novelty sunglasses and is now an Armani underwear model, May should probably take heed.

Anyway, they’re actually quite appropriate song choices, though not for the right reasons. One lyric in This Is What You Came For – “Lightning strikes every time she moves” – perfectly reflects May’s galumphing inability to leave Downing Street without further alienating herself from the electorate, while another – “Everybody’s watching her, but she’s looking at you” – neatly sums up how her Corbyn/Boris fixation, at the expense of inspirational rhetoric, perhaps undermines the Conservatives’ voting base. “We say nothing more than we need”, finally, is surely a Tory backroom mantra.

May, meanwhile, tries to turn You’ve Got the Love, secularised by Welch from Candi Staton’s gospel original, back into an anthem of faith. It could be a cosy affirmation of the Tory congregation, May telling them, “you got the love I need to see me through”, but perhaps it’s the reverse, as May casts herself as a Tory deity who will see her supporters through.

Maybe some Steve Hilton-style Tory strategist, putting the blue in blue sky thinking, has deeply pondered the song choices, but probably not. It’s likely This Is What You Came For was chosen for its title alone, but, while Rihanna makes the line an affirmation of her sexual power, that probably wasn’t how May was advised to play it. Instead, it’s merely an intimidating reminder to the audience of why they are there: to see and support May.

This skewing of songcraft – and the subsequent opprobrium of songwriters – is a classic Tory conference meme. Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop is a song about determination in the face of marital dischord; David Cameron turned it into a song about determination in the face of Ukip. Cameron was also fond of the Killers’ All These Things That I’ve Done, whose central lyric – “You gotta help me out” – was twisted into a mantra for the Big Society, a trick repeated with Bryan Ferry’s Let’s Stick Together.

Cameron also used Keane’s Everybody’s Changing, another song chosen for the title alone, ignoring the lyrics about alienation and simmering psychological strife – though “I try to stay awake and remember my name” is probably how most conference-goers are feeling by day three.

Keane said they were “horrified” their music was played, and in 2011, Primal Scream said they were “totally disgusted” with the Tories after they apparently played Rocks, a song that celebrates cheap sex and drug use – perhaps the conference is more bacchanalian than we imagine – but it turned out not to have been aired after all. Instead they had played the Dandy Warhols’ Bohemian Like You as Theresa May’s exit music, a song in which a complete arsehole makes a series of empty promises, avoids commitment, and expects everyone to be cool about it. After finding out, Dandy Warhols frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor bemoaned “rightwing jerkoff politics”, adding: “Rightwing people aren’t creative, visionary or any fun to be around.”

The Tories would be wise not to pick songs for their titles alone, but rather those that truly speak to their values – or preferably both, as when New Labour managed to crystallise their promise to the country in the form of D:Ream’s Things Can Only Get Better. That song’s success showed that music is a small but significant political battleground, and one that Jeremy Corbyn is currently dominating.

Some might cringe at his support for Stormzy at the GQ awards or his quoting of the “man’s not hot” UK rap meme, but his avuncular charm means these stunts mostly add to his millennial appeal. The Tories, meanwhile, use music in only the most shallow, literal-minded way – one that announces culture is mere window-dressing, rather than something at the heart of the nation.

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