Donald Trump would probably never claim to be a Leonard Cohen fan, but that didn’t stop him or his campaign from choosing to use the Canadian artist’s signature song, “Hallelujah,” not once but twice following the conclusion of his speech at the Republican National Convention Thursday night.
Many Cohen fans were displeased when they heard Tori Kelly’s recording of the song playing during the fireworks that capped Trump’s address — sandwiched right between “She’s a Grand Old Flag” and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” as pyrotechnics spelled out “TRUMP” and “2020” over the Washington mall.
Said fans were even less enthused when “Hallelujah” was quickly reprised, on camera and at greater volume, in an operatic rendition by Christopher Macchio.
Some social media users demanded that Kelly explain the song’s use or disavow Trump. Clearly wanting to be kept out of it, Kelly took to Twitter with an expression of plausible deniability. “Seeing messages about my version of ‘Hallelujah,'” the singer tweeted. “All i know is neither myself nor my team received a request.”
Inevitably, many music fans pointed out the irony, or just incongruity, of choosing a deeply cynical song by a Canadian as the triumphant exit music following a hyper-patriotic American acceptance speech.
Cohen, of course, was unavailable for comment, having died the day before the 2016 election — a passing some followers still jokingly or sentimentally attribute to an eagerness to avoid a Trump presidency by the songwriter who wrote the hugely sardonic protest “Democracy.”
There’s nothing new about “Hallelujah” being mistaken for an uplifting or even religious song, not just by politicians but many of the interpreters who’ve taken it on since the “Shrek” soundtrack and a Jeff Buckley cover popularized Cohen’s 1984 composition.
Some have contended Trump’s use of the song is a troll on “Saturday Night Live” for having Kate McKinnon sing it as Hillary Clinton at the top of the first “Saturday Night Live” following the ’16 election, though the likelier explanation — that 90% of listeners take it as inspirational — would seem to ring truer.
Earlier in the night, Ivanka Trump had taken the stage to the strains of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” — one of the very few times any pop music was heard during the convention at all, in contrast to the Democrats’ constant employment of performances and song snippets the week before. John has repeatedly disavowed Donald Trump’s use of his songs on the campaign trail in the past, but he is not among the artists who have sued or threatened to sue Trump over song usage.
The only sign of a popular music performer during the Republicans’ week came the previous night, when famously conservative country singer Trace Adkins doffed his cowboy hat followed Mike Pence’s speech with a bass-voiced “Star Spangled Banner” that drew mixed reactions online.