Revisiting Pearl Jam’s Anti-Trump Anthem ‘Can’t Deny Me’
When Pearl Jam unexpectedly released their song “Can’t Deny Me” in March of 2018, the band made it clear they were tired of America’s political discourse under President Donald Trump.
That the group would wade into such subject matter was no surprise. Pearl Jam has long been involved in movements such as Rock the Vote and Vote for Change. In previous years the band vocally criticized President George W. Bush, questioned America’s involvement in the Iraq War and rallied behind former presidential nominee John Kerry.
Frontman Eddie Vedder had made his feelings on Trump known long before the former reality star was elected president. In a concert prior to the 2016 election, the singer openly insulted the then-Republican nominee. “Fuck Donald Trump,” Vedder sang during a performance a New York’s Madison Square Garden, changing the lyrics to Pearl Jam’s 1998 track “Wishlist.” “It’s like his penis gets smaller every time he says ‘huge.'”
Trump would win the presidency several months later. His administration quickly became known for controversial decision-making, much to the ire of the nation’s liberal-leaning sector. America soon felt like a country divided. Protests from both sides of the political aisle garnered headlines across the country. Some, such as the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va, even erupted in violence.
Like many Americans, Pearl Jam were angered by these societal shifts and responded with a standalone single, "Can't Deny Me." For the artwork, the band used an image of a young female protestor that was created by bassist Jeff Ament alongside videographer Kevin Shuss.
The track was initially released on March 10 as an exclusive download for members of Pearl Jam’s Ten Club. It was made available to the general public two days later and would eventually climb to No. 11 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.
The song coursed along a frantic drum beat, made all the more searing by Mike McCready’s forceful guitar riffs. In the lyrics, Vedder laid to waste to the political establishment, taking direct aim at the Trump’s administration.
“You plant your lying seeds / Watch as the roots take hold / The country you are now poisoning / Condition critical,” Vedder sang at one point, his distinctive growl delivering an impassioned cry. On the song’s chorus, the frontman stood proudly defiant, singing “The higher, the farther, the faster you fly / You may be rich but you can’t deny me / Got nothing, got nothing but the will to survive / You can’t control and you can’t deny me.”
“Can’t Deny Me” was released just days before Pearl Jam’s 2018 tour began. The song was far from the last barb thrown from the band in Trump's direction. During the tour, one concert in particular would rattle the president and his supporters. At Pearl Jam’s Aug. 13 show in Missoula, Mont., a poster -- designed by Ament -- depicted Trump’s dead body being picked at by an eagle outside of a burning White House.