I’m quite surprised that what I’m about to discuss in this post hasn’t made too many waves in the LGBT-oriented press as of yet, or at least the news sources I regularly follow. While everyone’s attention (LGBT or otherwise) seemed to be directed towards some annoying political convention (except for me), YouTube unveiled an ad campaign for its subscription-based music service, YouTube Music.
The YouTube Music ad campaign’s tag line is, “It’s not just what we listen to. It’s who we are.” What do they mean by that? Music is more than something conveniently playing in the background; it helps us express and define who we are, helps ease our emotions, and help build connections with new people and new places.
To coincide with that tagline and theme, the campaign features images of people from different backgrounds with different stories, each of which is told through their use of YouTube Music (you gotta highlight the product, of course). Among the ads are a woman finishing her debt to society; another woman on a plane, clearly sobbing for reasons unknown; and the ad posted below, which features a character named Alex. I’ll talk up this particular ad after you watch it:
Yeah, now you know why this particular ad piqued my interest. The other ads, though they’re fine in their own right, give only cursory treatment to their main characters’ backgrounds. But this ad, dubbed “Alex’s Theme” (the ads all have a “Theme” in their title), paints its character’s world in real detail. Here, we see Alex, a young lad in what appears to be a small, somewhat conservative town. He’s finishing his shift at the ice cream stand. He’s catching up with a close friend (from school perhaps?). He’s trying to pay no mind to the closed-minded thugs (yeah, that’s what I’m calling them) staring him down from their dumb pickup truck. He’s greeting his father back at home.
But then Alex heads to his room, reaches for his phone, hits the YouTube Music play button for Elliphant’s “Club Now Skunk,” and begins a transformation… into, well, another side of Alex. (Note the gender-neutral first name.) And what had been a young lad moments earlier now becomes a stunning female: Makeup skillfully applied. Awesome outfit. Flattering blonde wig. Subtly rockin’ to the music. Add a nice sky blue jacket to the outfit and the female side of Alex is ready to present herself to the world.
All of the ads in YouTube Music’s “Theme” campaign really give dignity to their centerpiece characters. That dignity is really noticeable in the depiction of Alex. The ad doesn’t treat Alex as a strange, perverted freak. Rather, Alex is shown as just an everyday teenager (late teens?) with a job, at least one friend who likes him, and at least two people who look askance at him. And, yes, there’s the inclusion of Alex’s male and female sides.
As with the other ads in YouTube Music’s campaign, there are some details in Alex’s life that are left to the viewer’s interpretation: Alex’s sexual preference. Alex’s familial background (we just see Alex’s dad at home). How far out of the closet Alex is in regards to gender fluidity. Even no indication of where Alex is headed as the commercial closes. At least the ad lets the viewer fill in the details in their own mind. The images and ambiguity makes for an awesome depiction of youth and gender expression. Oh, yeah, and it’s promoting a music service. Kudos to YouTube Music for this great ad, and for making an incredible statement.
Oh, wait, there’s a **BONUS AD!!** There’s another spot in YouTube Music’s campaign I got a kick out of and would be remiss if I didn’t include it here. The ad, “Afsa’s Theme,” depicts a young woman of, it is suggested by her dress and use of Farsi language, Middle Eastern ethnicity. We see her leaving what may be an “English as a second language” class, speaking in Farsi. But she hits “Play” on YouTube Music and… well, she raps in English, and as you’ll see below, she does a pretty cool job following along to the lyrics. No other real background details are depicted in the ad, but you sense Afsa’s willingness to learn a new language, a new culture, and new things she perhaps didn’t have opportunities for in her native land. Check it out!
** 7/26/2016 UPDATE ** One of my WordPress peeps, Anna, shared this post about the “Alex” ad by another WordPress writer, Ophelia. Be forewarned that Ophelia’s post displays, from online commenters, “lines upon lines” of hate and disgust over the ad (you just knew the closed-minded would unsheathe their swards at first sight). To counter those brickbats, Ophelia notes that the ad, as I hinted above, shows no indication of Alex’s sexual preference. Indeed, dressing up as the opposite sex has no bearing whatsoever on who you are attracted. As Ophelia, puts it, “the only thing we really see is what appears to be a cis male crossdressing.” Of course, her post is not a negative one, rather just a highlighting of how the “Alex’s Theme” ad “speaks volumes” about how far the LGBT community has come. She highlights a message on Alex’s bedroom wall, one that I’m sorry I didn’t include above, but it’s quite a moving message: “Give Love to All. Obey Thy Heart.”