If you’ve ever been to a Donald Trump rally trying to help Make America Great Once More, then it is likely you heard a fair amount of Elton John while milling about the adoring crowd.
Trump has personally curated one of the more eclectic and perplexing campaign-trail playlists of the 2016 election. “Remember, the more inappropriate for a political event, the better,” a Trump volunteer in charge of one rally’s music told The New Yorker, regarding the Trump-approved songs.
The playlist has included showtunes from Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, The Beatles, Twisted Sister, Aerosmith, Adele, opera star Luciano Pavarotti, and The Rolling Stones (though several featured artists have complained or demanded their song’s removal).
One of the pop songs most prominently featured at Trump events was “Tiny Dancer,” with music by Elton John and lyrics by Bernie Taupin.
Yes, that “Tiny Dancer”—the song you felt proud of yourself for knowing and appreciating well before Almost Famous gave it another injection of popularity sometime in the early, early aughts.
(The Trump campaign has also been incorporating John’s “Rocket Man.”)
“Tiny Dancer” might be one of the last songs you would expect to hear blasted over the loudspeakers at the political rally of a vulgar, authoritarian, tough-talking figure whom the hard-right in America has crowned as their savior. Same goes for the Andrew Lloyd Webber Broadway numbers, but perhaps those can be chalked up to his New York Values. (In fact, both John and Lloyd Webber have been tenants at Trump Tower.)
Sadly for The Donald, Elton John wasn’t so enthused about his inclusion.
“Elton’s music has not been requested for use in any official capacity by Donald Trump,” a publicist recently announced. “Any use of his music should not be seen as an endorsement of Donald Trump by Elton.” John later clarified his position.
“I don’t really want my music to be involved in anything to do with an American election campaign,” he told The Guardian. “I’m British. I’ve met Donald Trump, he was very nice to me, it’s nothing personal, his political views are his own, mine are very different, I’m not a Republican in a million years. Why not ask Ted fucking Nugent? Or one of those fucking country stars? They’ll do it for you.”
So why was Trump so keen on conspicuously and loudly promoting John’s work as he campaigned for president? Simple: Trump has long been a yuuuge fan. (Last August, Trump even mentioned his Elton John fandom to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.) And the real-estate mogul and English singer-songwriter have been friendly for decades.
“Taking piano lessons from my friend Elton John,” Trump said in December 2013, tweeting an old photo of them at a white grand piano.
“Nobody gets audiences like I get,” Trump said at a rally in Michigan back in December. “We broke the record. And I don’t have a guitar, no guitar. Elton John said, ‘You get the biggest crowds in the world for a guy without a guitar.’”
The two of them have rubbed elbows numerous times over the years. When Trump and Ivana Trump went through their messy divorce in 1990, their celebrity friends were forced to chose sides. The tabloid press largely reported that John was on Team Donald.
The Daily News reported in February 1990 that Ivana’s postnuptial allies included Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Calvin Klein, and Oprah. Donald got Elton John, Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith, Oscar de la Renta, Cher, Liza Minnelli, Mike Tyson, and Frank Sinatra.
The same month, it was announced that John would perform at the inaugural arena concert at his pal’s then-new Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City. “I want the biggest and the best to play at the Trump Taj Mahal, and when Elton John takes the stage, the future of entertainment in Atlantic City will never be the same,” Trump said in a statement at the time. (Yeah, about that future...)
Here’s bootleg audio of John performing “Tiny Dancer,” the Trump favorite, at the Taj Mahal in 1990:
Nowadays, Trump and John certainly have little to agree over politically. For instance, the openly gay musician probably isn’t thrilled that the Republican presidential frontrunner says he would appoint Supreme Court justices willing to “stand against” marriage equality. John, however, won’t necessarily let politics get in the way of a decent friendship. In 2011, he sang at right-wing radio star Rush Limbaugh’s fourth wedding, and smiled for the photos.
“When it comes to people like [Limbaugh], or people who might enrage you sometimes, dialogue is the only way,” John told The New York Times in 2014. “You have to reach out.”
“I mean, let's face it. There are so many clichés about conservatives and liberals and so forth,” Limbaugh said on his show, discussing the wedding gig. “[Elton] loved it. He just had a bang-up great time, and we did with him…Trust the fact that he was exactly what you would hope to be, if you had a chance to meet him. Just a great guy.”
John’s longstanding relationship with Trump is another example of how the rock star doesn’t seem to demand ideological purity in his friends. It is also an example of how Trump—himself a pop-cultural icon—has been able to wield his celebrity status to bring pop stars, Hollywood starlets, and world-famous media personalities into his expansive social circles.
Elton John’s publicist did not respond to a request for comment, and the Trump campaign did not get back to us about John’s recent comments, or whether they have removed John’s music from the campaign playlist entirely.