08.05.10

When Pop Stars Become Politicians

Wyclef Jean running for president of Haiti may sound rash, but musicians actually have a good track record in politics. VIEW OUR GALLERY, from Sonny Bono to Rubén Blades.

It’s official: Despite no prior experience as an elected official, Wyclef Jean—who rose to fame with hip-hop trio the Fugees and has held on stubbornly ever since—is planning to run for president of Haiti.

Jean, who is 37, told Time magazine, “If not for the earthquake, I probably would have waited another 10 years before doing this.” He went on: “If I can't take five years out to serve my country as president, then everything I've been singing about, like equal rights, doesn't mean anything.”

Click Below to View 5 Politician Pop Stars

Of course, it’s not what you sing about that matters in office—it’s what you do. Obviously Jean knows a thing or two about selling records—1996’s The Score, his second and final album with the South Orange, New Jersey, trio the Fugees (short for “refugees”), sold some 18 million copies worldwide and cemented hip-hop as the forefront of American pop. In the years since—and long before the earthquake—Jean has been a one-man Haitian Recognition Front, proudly declaring his nationality on records and elsewhere. Three years ago, Jean was made an ambassador-at-large by Haitian President René Préval. In February, Jean helped organize the 25th-anniversary re-recording of “We Are the World” for Haitian relief, and he’s been active in other relief efforts though his foundation, Yéle Haiti, which came under fire for mismanagement and dubious tax practices. (“I took responsibility,” he told Time. “I took the bullet.”)

Peter Lauria: Inside Wyclef’s CampaignNevertheless, Jean’s chances at the office don’t appear too bad—and coordinating the agendas of the world’s superpowers can’t be any more difficult a task than doing the same with the three Fugees. Kidding aside, going from the tour bus to the campaign bus is a pretty big leap, but Jean isn’t the first successful rock or pop musician to attempt to move full-time into politics. Everybody knows that actors often go into politics. But more and more, so do pop musicians. Let’s take a closer look at a few.

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Michaelangelo Matos is the author of Sign 'O' the Times (Continuum, 2004), part of the 33 1/3 book series, and writes columns for The Stranger, Cowbell, and Flavorwire. He lives in Brooklyn.