“It’s not gonna be a ho-hum lineup of the typical politicians,” Ivanka Trump said of the Republican National Convention months ago. She was right: It was, instead, a ho-hum lineup of D-list celebrities and employees of Trump’s business ventures. But according to a new report, the Republicans tried to get Justin Bieber to play at the RNC, TMZ reported Friday. And Bieber wouldn’t, according to the story, because, well, Republicans.
The story, first reported by TMZ, is that a group of wealthy Republican donors offered Bieber $5 million to play an event near the Quickens Loan Arena in Cleveland during the convention. They assured him that the performance wouldn’t need to be political in nature, and Bieber reportedly considered. (Bieber has not publicly confirmed the report; ABC, among other news outlets, have asked his representatives for comment.)
Bieber’s talent agency, CAA, as well as his manager Scooter Braun, a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter, felt otherwise, TMZ reports. Furthermore, Bieber’s all-black band made clear that they didn’t want to do the show, according to TMZ. What apparently convinced Bieber not to take the gig — which would have been the highest-paying of his career — was news that LeBron James would be skipping Cleveland during the convention. James’ people allegedly recommended that Bieber do the same, and that was that.
This is one of the starkest examples yet of the GOP’s chronic inability to court high-profile celebrities to its cause. The Democratic National Convention featured Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, and Lenny Kravitz; the Republican Convention featured Scott Baio, Antonio Sabato Jr., and Willie Robertson from Duck Dynasty. There simply isn’t a comparison.
This phenomenon may be more consequential than it seems. Conservative writer Matt Lewis has argued that the Republican Party’s inability to establish establish a presence in pop culture and ingratiate itself with the entertainment industry has damaged the party’s attempts to swing public opinion in the GOP’s favor.
“In a democracy, once you’ve lost the cultural institutions, all political victories are temporary,” Lewis writes in his recent book Too Dumb To Fail. “While we were busy winning elections, our civilization became less traditional and more socially liberal. For every Republican elected to office, there were a dozen films or songs selling sex or drugs — many of which were far more entertaining than anything heard on C-SPAN.”
Bieber’s reported reluctance to play the RNC is, in one sense, simply a reflection of his personal decision-making process. But it’s also an illustration of how mightily the GOP struggles to retain any sort of influence or clout in American pop culture. And that may, indirectly and over time, be seriously hurting the party’s ability to shape the country in its image.