The Democratic and Republican conventions of 2008 had guest lists that read like any legitimate Hollywood party. Ben Affleck, Oprah Winfrey, Kanye West, Susan Sarandon and literally dozens of other celebrities had a massive presence at political events and on the streets of Denver and St. Paul.
Four years later, the tip sheets for the conventions’ big events in Tampa and Charlotte, N.C., are decidedly less glamorous. Is this a sign that celebs have fallen out of love with politics? Is hope so 2008? While there will still be some Hollywood presence, the majority of A-listers will be of the political variety at these upcoming conventions, and according to some experts, that’s to be expected.
“It was unlikely to happen again. (2008) was a really unique confluence of events,” former democratic strategist Matthew Hiltzik told NBC News of the 2008 conventions. “You had the entertainment world, which typically does skew democratic, and the opportunity to have a Democrat in the White House for the first time in eight years combined with historic nature of Barack Obama’s candidacy. It lead to overwhelming enthusiasm. I think this year it’s a lot more focused on the issues.”
That is definitely the case with the One campaign, Bono’s anti-poverty organization. In 2008, One was behind the DNC’s toughest party ticket: a Kanye West performance attended by Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker and Ashley Judd. This year, One is hosting panel discussions.
“No big parties this time, instead we’re focusing on policy-heavy panel discussions,” One spokesperson Ari Goldberg said. “It’s not that celebs weren’t interested. It’s definitely a decision that was made on our end to be more policy heavy. It’s a time of fiscal responsibility, too.”
Hiltzik agrees that there’s added focus on the cost associated with such events. Headliners don’t perform out of the kindness of their own hearts, after all. At a minimum, it’s standard to cover travel expenses and accommodations for most celebrities, and some also command appearance fees. “Four years later with many Americans facing challenging economic times, it would seem that the celebratory celebrity tone would be off message,” said Hiltzik.
Even though One has swapped Kanye in Denver for talks in Tampa it doesn’t mean there won’t be some fun. The Recording Industry Association of America (which was also part of the One/Kanye event in Denver) is teaming up with charity Musicians on Call for a Gavin DeGraw fundraiser concert in Tampa and one featuring Common in Charlotte, N.C.
“For us, it’s a bit of the same as 2008,” said RIAA’s Cara Duckworth. “We celebrate music so we always get a good level of interest. And we’re seeing that leading up to both events. We’re happy to accommodate.”
Rock the Vote says its presence will be quite similar to that of 2008.
“We’re doing a concert at each of the conventions, which is what we did last (time),” spokesperson Chrissy Faessen said. “For Rock the Vote, it’s core to our history. Musicians and artists have always been a part of how we deliver our message to young people. They’re great messengers for getting young people out there to vote.”
Regardless of the economy, “people still love the music,” said Hiltzik. “Some people are going to come out for the access to that concert, to the performance. The primary celebrity is most helpful when it’s musical talent performing at fundraisers. Those events have a much bigger draw than one where Joe Schmo celebrity shows up.”