This article examines how Barack Obama has used popular music over the last several years as part of a populist communication strategy. It argues that thinking about the aesthetics of popular music helps us understand how populist logic functions. Examining the music used during the campaign, the inaugural celebration, and the In Performance at the White House series, I show how the aesthetic problems of Obama's musical spectacles are symptomatic of a postpolitical populism that is potentially unstable. Using a number of theories of populism and popular music, in particular those of Ernesto Laclau, Slavoj Žižek, and Stuart Hall, I argue that while the Obama White House effectively utilized a heterogeneous populist aesthetic to structure identification with Obama as a leader to win the 2008 election, its postelection praxis has left it unable to articulate the agonistic pluralism necessary for sustaining an effective political movement, setting the stage for the recuperation of populist affect by the homogenous populism of the right.
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