"MTV said that if Trump was in our video, they'd put it on high rotation straight away": The story of Donald Trump, $250,000, and the all-girl metal band

Donald Trump with Precious Metal's Janet Robin and Leslie Knauer
Mr Big Stuff: Donald Trump with Precious Metal's Janet Robin (middle) and Leslie Knauer (Image credit: Chameleon Records)

In 1980s America, one man’s name had become synonymous with the gratuitous pomp of a self-made billionaire. His casinos, hotels and skyscrapers were dotted along the East Coast of America; his then-wife was as much of an exhibitionist as he was (the pair reportedly spent $7million on gold leaf alone when renovating Mar-a-Lago, their Palm Beach palace) and he was in business with some of the biggest names in real estate. The man, of course, was Donald Trump. That year, he’d have an affair with a model 17 years his junior, and his subsequent divorce from first wife Ivana was juicy tabloid fodder.

In a 1989 Time magazine cover story, Trump boldly declared: “I love to have enemies. I fight my enemies. I like beating my enemies to the ground.” That mentality prevailed, and despite vocal opposition from liberal America, Donald Trump – the perma-tanned, bizarrely-coiffed, anti-choice, climate-change-denying, conservative caricature – was elected President of the United States.

Back when he was a real estate mogul being profiled with a large side-order of salt by the US entertainment media, it was inevitable that he’d come into contact with some of the big players in the music industry. One such man was Danny Pritzker, whose father Jay was a co-owner, alongside Trump, of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York.

At the time, Danny ran Capitol imprint Chameleon, and one of his signees, the short-lived girl band Precious Metal, was on the cusp of hitting the big time. Formed five years previously, their deal with Chameleon was their first with a major label, and they were working on their second album, which featured appearances from Heart and Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson. But enthusiasm for their brand of hair-rock was waning in Los Angeles, and Danny needed a gimmick to get them noticed. His solution: to cast Donald Trump in a music video.

Precious Metal promo image

(Image credit: PolyGram)

“Trump said he’d do it for ten grand and give it to his favourite charity,” remembers vocalist Leslie Knauer. “So we went to New York, to the Grand Hyatt hotel, just me and Janet [Robin, lead guitarist]. He showed up with an entourage and about ten bodyguards, in the suit he always wears with the red tie. He was very professional, he said how much he loved the song.”

Robin adds that “at the time, I had no reservations about working with him. He was someone I’d seen in the trash magazines, and it was funny.” The video, for a rock cover of Jean Knight’s Motown classic Mr Big Stuff, had Trump sat at a desk being playfully mocked by Knauer. 

“It was all scripted, he acted it out, he was fine with it,” she says. When the video shoot wrapped, Robin saw a glimpse of the Trump we now know: “We were doing PR shots at the end and he put his arm around me and said, ‘you’ve got a hot body, no cellulite there!’” she says. “It was inappropriate, and I felt uncomfortable.”

Things were only going to get weirder. “MTV said that if Trump was in our video, they’d put it on high rotation straight away,” Knauer remembers. But before the video aired, Trump turned on the band, claiming in the press that he hated the song and that his appearance in the video was more than he signed up for. 

He demanded his fee was increased to $250,000, while rumours flew that the real reason for his tantrum was a disagreement with Jay Pritzker over his struggling airline the Trump Shuttle. “I heard from our old manager that Jay Pritzker told Trump, ‘if you’re in this video, I’ll buy the Trump Shuttle,” says Knauer. Pritzker didn’t buy the shuttle, and it went bust in1992.

Unable to pay the extortionate figure Trump was demanding, the video was re-shot with a Trump double. It never made it to MTV, Chameleon crumbled as grunge-mania took over, and Precious Metal were dropped. Three years later, in what could be seen as an indication that the fallout over the video was simply Trump throwing his toys out of the pram over existing business disagreements, he sued the Pritzkers over their involvement in the Hyatt hotel.

Needless to say, neither Robin nor Knauer voted for Trump – and neither are surprised by his lewd comments from 2005.

“He’s been saying these kind of things, or making women feel uncomfortable, for many years,” says Robin. “Forget 2005, we’re talking about 1989! That’s just the kind of person he is. He probably wasn’t thinking he was going to run for president when he said these things over the years.” 

Or maybe, he just didn’t care.