Now that Barack Obama has picked his national security and economic policy teams, outlined the largest public-works program since the New Deal, and held seven press conferences in four weeks, it’s time for him to really get to work. I refer, of course, to finalizing the entertainment lineups for his inaugural galas and balls. At this stage in most recent transitions, many performers had already been announced, so clearly, the Obama team has been slacking off. But while pundits may be fixated on weightier matters, the question of which artists will share the global spotlight with Obama during his historic inauguration is not without cultural—or political—significance.
Jimmy Carter’s inauguration featured Paul Simon, whose beautiful but somber “American Tune” would foreshadow the malaise to come. In 1993, Bill Clinton tapped Aretha Franklin, staking his claim—which lasted until recently—as America’s “first black president.” George Bush’s 2001 inaugural, cast as a return to respectability after the Clinton years, featured the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and several country stars. So what will Obama do? His musical taste is—surprise—eclectic, with something for just about every Democratic constituency. Stevie Wonder is his “musical hero,” he told Rolling Stone in June, though he also likes rappers Jay-Z and Ludacris—not to mention Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. Several of these performers are considered inaugural possibilities, along with Will.i.am, the rapper behind the “Yes We Can” viral video, and Latin pop star Shakira. But Washingtonian magazine this week reported a disturbing new possibility. First daughters Sasha and Malia, the magazine said, would be thrilled to see the Jonas Brothers. We’re about to find out what kind of leader Obama really is.