The former members of R.E.M. are becoming old hands at responding to Donald Trump appropriating their music for his own purposes. And they’re actually getting kinder and gentler — or maybe just more sardonic — in their reactions. When the president retweeted a meme that makes a mocking use of “Everybody Hurts” to mock Democrats on Friday, the band struck back by invoking another of their classic songs.
“World Leader PRETEND!!!” the group said in a statement. “Congress, Media — ghost this faker!!! Love, R.E.M.”
That was in response to Trump spreading a video that rips off R.E.M.’s 1992 ballad of consolation amid emotional devastation — a song that’s been associated with suicide prevention causes — as the soundtrack for a montage of Democratic lawmakers with glum or stern faces during his State of the Union address.
In prior instances of Trump borrowing the band’s music, band members had been in a more obviously vituperative mood. During the 2016 presidential campaign, after Trump used “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” at a rally, Michael Stipe responded, “Go f— yourselves, the lot of you — you sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry little men.”
This isn’t the first time the band has used “World Leader Pretend” to refer to Trump. In 2016, they licensed a previously unreleased live version of that track for “30 Songs, 30 Days,” an online anti-Trump song series.
At least in the case of this video meme, everyone understands the president’s purpose in appropriating a rock song without permission — unlike, say, his never-ending use of the Rolling Stones’ “You Cant Always Get What You Want” at the end of his rallies, which not a soul, presidential friend or foe, has ever been able to figure out.