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Image: Will.i.am
Kevork Djansezian  /  AP
Will.i.am's star-studded viral hit "Yes We Can" was a hit on YouTube.
updated 5/18/2008 5:57:15 PM ET 2008-05-18T21:57:15

Barack Obama is closing in on the Democratic nomination for president, but he clinched the race for the best campaign soundtrack long ago — no superdelegates needed.

John McCain and Hillary Clinton also have plenty of musical support in the first presidential election of the YouTube era. But from will.i.am's star-studded viral hit "Yes We Can" to amateur odes folk to Spanish-language tunes and even a Jamaican reggae tribute, Obama is the leader in what observers are calling a new form of political campaigning.

"Songs about candidates have really taken off," says Steve Grove, head of YouTube.com's news and politics division. "They've found a new way to support their candidates. ... it stretches from regular average voters all the way up to somebody like will.i.am in terms of being kind of like a new, broader trend in political video."

Annie Palovcik is one of those regular people. She penned the prideful folk tune "Illinois Boy" for Obama when he first came to national prominence a few years back — then put it on the Web when Obama became a serious presidential contender this year.

"The concepts of his character and the place of Illinois filtered through my mind into this allegorical country song," said Palovcik, a songwriter and manager of two musicians.

"He is energizing those around him, daring them to look for a new way to dream," she says.

Not that Obama has a lock on musical inspiration. McCain has had songs penned for him, such as "Lead the Way" by a lawyer named Judd Kessler. Clinton has inspired numerous tuneful tributes — no less than Sir Elton John gave her a benefit concert in April — and "Stuck on Huck" was recorded for Mike Huckabee. Even Republican long shot Ron Paul had a song about him that got 60,000 views on YouTube.

Slideshow: Celebrity endorsements Obama has strong support among young people, which may explain some of his Internet music presence. While Grove says there's no specific statistical data to prove it, just on YouTube alone "it seems that (Obama) has really garnered a lot of songs. I think the early success of the Obama girl music video (the song by a scantily clad woman that became a national sensation last year) probably had something to do with that."

Even Dulce Maria Gonzalez, a musician who supports Clinton, notices an Obama imbalance: "When I started to write a song for her, I noticed that there weren't that many on YouTube, and then I saw a lot of them, but they're just not as popular as the Obama songs."

She's hoping her "We Need A Woman" will help reverse the trend. Featuring Gonzalez crooning about Clinton's feminine power, the midtempo tune has garnered about 5,000 views on YouTube (will.i.am's "Yes We Can," in comparison, has gotten more than five million).

"I wanted to do something special for her, and let her know that she did have a Latin vote, and a young vote as well, and give her this song as a gift," said the resident of Brownsville, Texas.

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It's not just musicians writing songs to show their support for Obama. Rolling Stone put him on the cover when endorsing him for president, Bruce Springsteen has announced his support, while performers like OK Go and Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz have performed for his benefit. Jay-Z has been taking time out on stage during his tour to flash a picture of Obama and tell the audience, "It's time for a change."

"Musicians generally do not like authority, establishment or bureaucracy. Obama is the first candidate in my lifetime, certainly in memory, that represents any kind of new wave of change," said Craig Wedren of the rock group Shudder to Think, which was part of an indie-rock bill, including OK Go, that recently gave a concert for Obama.

Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings It's hard to pinpoint whether the popularity of songs translates into any particular voting surge. will.i.am released "We Are The Ones" a few days before the Ohio and Texas primaries, but Clinton won both states.

But there has been record turnout in many states this year. will.i.am said he specifically used music to support Obama instead of just lending his celebrity because "people are tired of that."

His song "is driven by inspiration and it's creative and it's love, it isn't anything else," he said.

That's what makes the majority of these songs so key, especially for Obama, says Grove.

"The dream scenario, by the way, is what the Obama campaign has basically landed, which is to inspire a group of supporters to do this on their own without any real top-down campaign control," he said.

And if candidates can move the songwriter, they may be able to move the nation as well.

"I keep wondering, if (Obama) is inspiring so much creativity for songwriters," asked Palovcik, "what is he doing for farmers?"

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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