Donald Trump has spent decades palling around in the celebrity world and once dreamed of a movie career. But for his presidential inauguration, he is finding little love in return.
With a few days to go before the real estate mogul becomes the 45th president of the United States on Friday, Trump has struggled like none of his predecessors to find household names as entertainment.
Jennifer Holliday, an African American Broadway veteran who said she agreed to sing in the interest of national unity, pulled out just a day after she was announced following a fan backlash.
Trump in late December claimed on Twitter that stars were begging for inauguration tickets but he also hit back, noting accurately that election rival Hillary Clinton’s overwhelming support from celebrities failed to propel her to victory.
Some of the A-list musicians and actors who supported Clinton including Katy Perry, Cher and Scarlett Johansson will be coming to Washington — not for Friday’s inauguration but for the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, which will press the new Trump administration on civil rights.
Trump said the inauguration would still have “tremendous talent,” including military bands.
“We’re going to have a very, very elegant day,” said the former reality television show host, whose style at his New York skyscraper home is rarely described as understated.
Tom Barrack, chairman of the inaugural committee, told reporters that Trump already had “the greatest celebrity in the world” in himself and did not want a “circus-like celebration.”
“So what we’ve done instead of trying to surround him with what people consider A-listers is we are going to surround him with the soft sensuality of the place,” he said.
– B-list performers –
Trump has been a fixture in the celebrity gossip pages since the 1980s but he alienated liberal friends with his presidential campaign, in which the billionaire cast himself as a champion of working-class whites with denunciations of Mexican immigrants, Muslims and other minorities.
Trump’s team has made known that it has reached out to a number of top musicians including pop all-star Elton John, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and country legend Garth Brooks. They declined.
Meryl Streep used the Golden Globes award stage to castigate Trump over divisive rhetoric, while rapper Snoop Dogg has threatened retribution against any African American “Uncle Tom” who plays the inauguration.
The most famous performers at Trump’s inaugural festivities will be Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood, country singers with forthright patriotic anthems, and emerging 16-year-old soprano Jackie Evancho.
The Rockettes, the all-female dance troupe known for their high kicks and popular holiday shows in New York, will also perform, although the management gave members the right not to take part after objections.
One possible A-list act is The Beach Boys, who have indicated they were considering a role. The classic pop group, whose current lineup does not include creative force Brian Wilson, was close to previous Republican president Ronald Reagan.
Literally heading into the B list, the B Street Band — which covers songs by Bruce Springsteen, an outspoken critic of Trump — had been expected to participate.
But in the end, the group — which took part in balls during President Barack Obama’s two inaugurations — canceled its appearance at New Jersey’s state ball, out of “respect and gratitude” for Springsteen.
– Divided country –
While Hollywood and the music world lean decidedly to the left, previous Republican presidents have pulled in top stars. Ricky Martin performed for George W. Bush and Barbra Streisand, a noted liberal, sang at his father’s 1989 inauguration.
But polls place Trump as the most unpopular president at the moment of his inauguration in modern times, and his campaign was flooded by complaints from artists whose songs he played at rallies.
Eric Kasper, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire who studies music’s role in US politics, said that while Trump was unique, the nation as a whole was increasingly divided with candidates obliged to appeal to bases rather than the center.
“Even in 2000 and 2004 we didn’t have this level of polarization,” Kasper said.
Kasper said that artists, even in more conservative genres such as country, recognized there was ideological diversity among their fans and that they could risk a backlash for controversial politics.
Broadway star Idina Menzel, speaking to Vanity Fair, offered one potential solution to Trump’s inauguration woes.
“Maybe he’ll just have to sing something himself,” she said. “He probably thinks he has a great voice; he thinks he does everything great.”