Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen was generally pretty laid back about the fact that one of the most famous songs he ever wrote only really got that way in the hands of others. While he occasionally nodded to the argument that his 1984 ode to religion and horniness, “Hallelujah,” had reached some kind of saturation point around its 300th or so cover version, Cohen also never seemed to be more than distantly amused by its unexpected ubiquity. (If he had any specific thoughts on Shrek, the movie that, bizarrely, injected the song directly into the mainstream consciousness—courtesy of a cover by John Cale—he kept them to himself.)
It’s not hard to imagine Cohen being a bit annoyed, though, by the song’s broadcast tonight, coming as it did at the culmination of the extended circle-jerkery of the Republican National Convention, and the nomination of Donald Trump for a second run in office. Operating, as usual, without the permission of the artist, Trump’s people closed out the night by playing Tori Kelly’s version of the song—off the Sing soundtrack, which feels oddly apt—with no one involved presumably paying very much attention to the parts of the lyrics that are pretty clearly about seeking religious fulfillment through vigorous sex. (Say what you like about Zack Snyder’s use of the song in Watchmen; he at least got that part right—moreso than when he brought it back out for his Justice League trailer last Saturday.)
Weirdly, there is a connection between Trump and the song, albeit an oblique one that takes a detour through the world of late-night comedy. It was, after all, “Hallelujah” that Kate McKinnon memorably performed during the cold open of Saturday Night Live the week after Trump won the 2016 election—a dual tribute to Cohen, who’d died the week before, and to the depressing end of her regular gig as Hilary Clinton on the show. We’re absolutely not suggesting that the song was picked to underscore Trump’s nomination as some sort of jab at that moment, though, mostly because that would require a frankly pathological pettiness and obsession with the workings of popular TV sketch comedy shows on behalf of our current elected head of state.
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