A detailed music theory analysis of Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ song
5 July 2017, 10:40
At the Independence Day celebrations at the Kennedy Centre this year, a new song called ‘Make America Great Again’ was debuted - then Donald Trump tweeted it, and now everyone has heard it. But how good is it, technically speaking?
Just so you know what we’re talking about, here’s the song in all its glory:
Some background: the song, titled ‘Make America Great Again’, was composed by Gary Moore, who is the minister of music at the First Baptist Church of Dallas. Since Trump tweeted it, conversation has been quite divided with regard to the musical quality of Moore’s efforts, so we thought we would give the definitive musical analysis. So let’s begin…
The first thing that leaps out is how musically conservative (small ‘c’) this song is. As soon as the brass give way to the opening chord progression, it’s difficult not to predict where each melodic leap might go next. That chord progression, with its secure home in B flat major (shared with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 and Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’), is perhaps the most egregiously unsurprising aspect - a simple descending bassline that covers the whole scale, a quick turnaround to the dominant and straight back home again.
Then, as if to make the song even more harmonically vanilla, Moore changes key suddenly to the even homelier key of C major with no fuss at all. Bosh: little linking passage, straight into lovely, comfy C major, the key which has no sharps or flats, no diversity unless it’s very definitely inserted on purpose. If you were attempting to write a piece of music for the masses, C major would be the most thematically logical key in which to do it.
Similarly, the song’s melody, sung with unisonic vigour in this performance but without any sign of harmonic invention until the very end, strives for inclusivity, something that everyone could sing. The trouble is, it is so anonymously simple that it runs the risk of being completely forgettable. You’re liable to wander off into other melodic territory just because everything is so familiar. Most prominently, you’ll find it eminently preferable to hum snatches of Pachelbel’s Canon, or maybe even Green Day’s ‘Basket Case’, over the top.
Musically, there’s nothing technically incorrect to get upset about here. And you can even understand the reliance on musical simplicity and clarity. What’s disappointing is, given how awash we are with national anthems and patriotic tunes across the world that conform to certain rules and conventions, that this was an opportunity missed. Say what you like about the Trump Presidency: musically speaking, it’s currently not making strides into a bold new future.