You Only Get What You Give, David? Really?

Why the rubbish music played at party conferences matters.

"Dealers keep dealin', thieves keep thievin', whores keep whorin', junkies keep scorin'." Not exactly the musical accompaniment you'd expect Home Secretary Theresa May to choose to soundtrack her speech at the Conservative Party Conference.

And it wasn't.

As much as Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie, allegedly a card-carrying member of the Socialist Workers Party, might want to give the Tories a kicking, it was actually Dandy Warhols' Bohemian Like You that sounded out as May left the stage.

That isn't really any better, however. The song featured on a Vodafone TV advert for years, and I'm pretty sure the Tories wouldn't want to remind everyone about the £6billion-tax-bill-sized ball they dropped with that one.

David Cameron didn't exactly lead by example either, walking on to the sounds of You Get What You Give by The New Radicals.

If our ruddy-faced premier had anything to do with the song choice at all -- and let's hope he spent all available time perfecting his speech rather than poring over his iPod -- it suggests no more than a cursory glance at the tracklisting of whichever Now That's What I Call Music compilation that particular chart-bothering one-hit wonder came from.

"You get what you give? I like the sound of that idea, Samantha, it's like my Big Society. And the band are called The New Radicals. How jolly! That's what they used to call Boris and me when we were at Eton."

If Call Me Dave had delved deeper into the lyrical content of the song, of course, he would have discovered lines about "trashing Mercedes-Benz" and chasing the rich back to their mansions, plus an honourable, topical mention for lying "big bankers buying".

His exit music, meanwhile, was The Lovecats by The Cure which, on the surface seems rather lovely with its melodic double bass and kooky piano-led chorus, but it's all too easy to imagine Cameron and his cabinet "slipping through the streets while everyone sleeps, getting bigger and sleeker and wider and brighter". The slippery buggers.

Ed Miliband is no better. Choosing Florence + The Machine's cover of You Got The Love is as lame a grab for the zeitgeist as there ever was. I'm actually surprised, given the ubiquity of Flo's appearances at UK festivals over the past couple of years, that she didn't float out onto the stage and demand to perform it as a duet.

Now, I may have been giving the music used at the various party conferences too much thought lately, but that's only because I wish the parties cared as much. I'm not stupid; with 80,000 more unemployed people on the streets in the last six months and Mervyn King warning of the most serious financial crisis in decades, I realise there are more important things to fret about than which Killers song to play as the PM takes the lectern.

But I think it does point at something far more worrying - that they Just. Don't. Get. It. On any level. Politicians have long battled to appear connected with the voters, and an easy way of doing this is with shared cultural influences. Gordon Brown saying he loved Arctic Monkeys in 2006 was a pathetic, last-ditch attempt of grabbing some young voters. And he got found out, which is even more embarrassing than lying in the first place, although perhaps not quite as desperate-looking as Mr Tony Blair carrying his Fender Stratocaster everywhere with him. He was in a band at uni, you know...

David Cameron learned nothing from the Brown debacle and keeps on insisting he's a fan of The Smiths. Music is in the public domain once it's released, and no matter how much Johnny Marr forbids Dave from listening to The Queen Is Dead, he can't stop him.

Cameron, however, should know better than to endorse a band born during Thatcher's formative years. How can he seriously enjoy songs such as Miserable Lie, I Don't Owe You Anything and Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now? And an album title that rejoices in the fact his boss has carked it.

Dismiss the Tories' musical faux pas as unimportant if you will, but for me, their lack of research into the matter is symptomatic of a government not only obsessed with the superficial, but worryingly slack with the details too.

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Only Drake could wow the O2 by pointing out random audience members' clothing

It takes charisma to pull off abandoning hits halfway through.

On the last London night of his Boy Meets World tour (20 March), Drake doesn’t come on stage until 10pm, which is enough to kill off most gigs at the O2 Arena (hello, Bieber), as people are worried about getting the Tube home. The amount of rum and Coke in the room – a steaming, unrecognisable space with a false ceiling of globular lights and a stampeding crowd split in half by a fence – certainly helps keep the buzz. But who’d have thought that a man standing onstage diligently pointing at audience members and saying what they’re wearing (“You in the blue dress shirt with the ­lager!”) would constitute one of the most exciting nights the O2 has seen in a while?

“Tonight is not a show, not a concert, not about me,” says Drake, who runs an annual “Drake Night” in Toronto and once visited Drake University in Iowa.

So far, the world’s favourite rapper – his latest album, More Life, recently got 90 million streams on its first day of release on Apple Music alone – has had a shifting identity. His songs capture a new strain of emotionally literate but solipsistic hip-hop, which can feel intense or whiny depending on how you look at it. His offstage behaviour is Type-A rapper – he has been accused of throwing beer bottles at Chris Brown, he has been punched by Diddy and he has had altercations with Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T and Ludacris.

But Aubrey Drake Graham, the son of a white, Jewish mother and an African-American father who once played drums alongside Jerry Lee Lewis, does skits about his petulance on Saturday Night Live (see “Drake’s Beef”). Emotionally demonstrative, openly dysfunctional, a bit of a bruiser, with an ability to flit between a dozen styles of music while expressing a desire for crowd participation that borders on the needy . . . Could this man be the ­Michael Bublé of hip-hop?

Drake’s sprawling two-hour roadshow is held back from chaos by the force of his physical presence. Blunt-headed with muscular, sloping shoulders and mesmerising, nimble feet, he prowls the edge of the stage. He has had so many hits (and has so many guest stars tonight) that he is not interested in playing them all the way through. Instead, recalling Prince in the same venue ten years ago, the show becomes a series of medleys. With just a drummer and a synth player at the back of the stage, he demonstrates an invisible, physical control over the music, operating it like a string puppet, stopping or starting songs with the drop of a foot or the shrug of a shoulder, so they collapse in the middle and are gone.

It takes charisma to pull off abandoning hits halfway through. Pointing at people in the audience, real or imaginary, is a music hall thing. Bruce Dickinson and Metallica’s James Hetfield do it too. Amid a hokey message to follow your dreams, he recalls his time spent singing for $200 a night as a John Legend tribute act. Cue a perfect demonstration of Legend-style singing – before he suddenly sloughs off “all this bathrobe-and-candle-sexy acoustic Ed Sheeran shit”, while huge columns of flame engulf the stage.

Drake is still at his best with blue, slinky songs of alienation – “9”, “Over”, “Feel No Ways” and “Hotline Bling”, which doubles up as make-out music for the couples in the crowd. One pair of lovers, Drake establishes during one of his crowd surveys, have been together for ten years. “I can’t even make a relationship last ten days,” he laments. In 2012, he told the Guardian, “I’ve had too many girls to ever feel uncomfortable about the man that I am.” An old-school boast from a modern man.

The guest stars serve to highlight Drake’s variety, rather than shine on their own. Their songs, too, are started, suspended, chopped and screwed. Drake is more macho when there’s another guy onstage with him – doing “Successful”, with the literally named Trey Songz, or dueling with thefrenetic Skepta, who sounds so much tougher (maybe because he’s a Londoner). The two whirl around the stage like helicopter seeds.

Nicki Minaj, apparently Drake’s one-time lover, rises fembotishly from a hole in the stage and says in a London accent, “I want some fucking crumpets and tea.”

She adds, of her host, “This nigga single-handedly changed the game.” Minaj sings her song “Moment 4 Life”: “I call the shots, I am the umpire . . .” But she doesn’t really. Even her presence flares up quickly and is gone.

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution