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youtube's new music campaign explores identity politics

Five commercials for the YouTube Music app feature marginalised individuals, and are meant to run during the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

Blair Cannon

YouTube Music's latest ad campaign is perhaps the company's most provocative yet, and purposefully so. In fact, YouTube CMO Danielle Tiedt has openly stated, "There's no doubt that these will cause controversy," and it is no accident that they dropped during the opening day of the GOP Convention — they will run through the Democratic National Convention as well. The five-ad series is called It's Who We Are and each commercial features a YouTube Music user emotionally connecting to a song while defying commonplace stereotypes.

An Asian American boy named Jaysyn dances and head-bops through the metro to the Korean track Eung Freestyle, which gives him the confidence to walk past a group of intimidating, older guys. A woman named Tina leaves court-ordered community service with Walshy Fire's Machet - Naturally playing on her phone, and happily finds her partner and young daughter waiting outside for her. Rural white teenager Alex leaves his job at the drive-thru to dress up in women's clothes and makeup in the comfort of his room, shaking his hips to Elliphant and Big Freedia's Club Now Skunk. Hijab-clad Afsa spits Blackalicious' Alphabet Aerobics as she walks down the school hallway. The most ambiguous clip is Kristen's, the woman who quietly cries on a plane to James Blake and Bon Iver's I Need a Forest Fire.

Each individual in the campaign represents a larger community of marginalised people. And the campaign somehow subverts the associations commonly made with Asian masculinity, criminal history, cross-dressing, wearing a hijab, and even crying in public. "These are exactly the kind of lightening rod identity politics that are going crazy in the world right now," says Tiedt. "One of the reasons why we're kind of leaning into that a little bit is because at YouTube, we have such a commitment to this idea that everyone should have the freedom to belong." 

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Text Blair Cannon
Image via YouTube