Kid Rock feels like he emerged from a time capsule left for us in the Nineties, perhaps along with Dunkaroos and the decaying corpses of the Simpsons, who were replaced with inferior clones around the dawn of the millennium.
In those heady days of nu-metal, Jackass and the Attitude Era, bored suburbanites and neglected “rednecks” unleashed their frustrations into jubilantly crass and confrontational entertainment that turned the raising of a middle finger into a kind of sacred ritual.
Mr. Rock’s breakout hit “Bawitdaba” hailed “the topless dancers” and “the…heroes at the methadone clinic,” and scorned “the crooked cops” and “all you bastards at the IRS.” Both he invited to, well, “Bawitdaba da bang da bang diggy diggy diggy.”
This kind of inchoate anti-authoritarianism finds a voice again on Mr. Rock’s new single. On “Don’t Tell Me How To Live,” Rock tells the “snowflakes” and “pussies” that, well, they can’t tell him how to live. “Every kid got a motherfucking trophy,” he sneers, and “every opinion has a millennial offended.”
Let us be frank: the song is trash. But its trashiness is worn as a badge of pride. What else can one conclude when the lyrics feature lines about being “like Brad Pitt” except “[slinging] more dick” and the video features Rock soaring on a giant middle finger? It dares critics to insult it — and, in doing so, give Rock a perverse form of praise. You imagine that he was delighted to see Rolling Stone call his song “terrible.” Let the finger waggers wag their fingers, I’m sure he thinks. What matters are the good times!
His flaunting of bad taste used to make Rock a curious outlier among Republicans. He offended veterans when he wore an American flag that had been cut open and shaped into a poncho at the 2004 Super Bowl, perhaps evading greater controversy only because Janet Jackson’s nipple slip occurred on the same evening.
Yet when the nonetheless pro-war Rock performed at President Bush’s inauguration in 2005, social conservatives were appalled. Randy Thomasson of the Campaign for Children and Families was moved to condemn the singer, whose debut single had announced that “the best type of oochie coochie is the type that tastes like sushi.” “If this sex-crazed animal, whose favorite word is the F-word, is allowed to sing at Bush’s inauguration,” Thomasson said, “this will send a clear message to pro-family Americans that the Republican Party has taken them for a ride and ditched them in the gutter.”
Rock did not appear (leaving that honor to Hilary Duff, 3 Doors Down and a band named Fuel, whose lead singer no doubt sent Mr. Thomasson’s blood pressure lurching when he dropped a cheerful F-bomb). He then drifted away and voted for Obama in 2008 but was back to campaigning for Romney in 2012. Romney even used his 2010 single “Born Free” as his campaign song (God knows what poor Mr. Thomasson thought of that). Donald Trump, in all of his natural irreverence, was Mr. Rock’s ideal candidate, and the singer was among his most energetic supporters in 2016 and 2020.
Mr. Rock is an especially ornate example of how cultural figures whose crudeness and social liberalism jar with traditional images of Republicans have ended up drifting to the right. You could also mention Dave Portnoy, CEO of the jock-ular Barstool Sports empire, or Dana White, the swollen president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Their anti-authoritarianism puts them at odds with the safetyism and censoriousness of progressives, as does their instinctive American patriotism. As Rock illustrated as far back as 1998 with “Bawitdaba,” they do not think much of taxation. Added to all this is their deep contempt for people who look down their noses at them — which applies to suited moralists and liberal sophisticates alike.
This demographic — sketched out, granted, in broad terms — is an expansive one, ranging from the macho libertarian-inclined cash-flashers of Las Vegas and Miami that the social commentator Matthew Walther dubbed “Barstool conservatives” to the ranch-dreaming Southerners who blast out Kid Rock as they screech into the sun. It is an important demographic for Republicans as they contemplate 2024.
It is interesting to reflect on how, or whether, there can be concordance between Kid Rockian conservatives and the more religious, traditionalist, authoritarian and intellectual right-wingers of the “New Right” who gathered at Yoram Hazony’s National Conservatism conference in Orlando. The always interesting commentator Tanner Greer sees an insurmountable contradiction: “The New Right faces a fundamental mismatch of means and ends: they hope to build a post-libertarian national order on the backs of the most naturally libertarian demographic in the country!”
This, Greer concludes, “is an unstable foundation for a post-liberal body politic if there ever was one.”
Well, mutual dislike counts for a lot. If traditional and religious conservatives could overlook so much of what President Trump has spent his life saying and doing, perhaps Kid Rockian conservatives can overlook what may strike them as the wackier and stuffier elements of the New Right if it lands punches on snowflakes, oikophobes, mask mandaters and music critics.
Still, there will be conflict, or compromise, or both. A lot of people who might now be singing “Don’t Tell Me How to Live” with thoughts of SJWs and Dr. Fauci in mind will not take kindly to being told that actually the common good does mean that people have the right, in certain circumstances, to tell you what to do. You can only imagine how Mr. Rock would respond to that. Perhaps it would go something like, “Bawitdaba da bang da bang diggy diggy diggy.” You might disagree with his beliefs but you cannot fault his energy.