Global Citizen spoofs pop videos to call awareness and action to important issues

Non-profit organization Global Citizen is reworking the melodies and videos of top pop songs in its latest effort to help solve the world’s biggest challenges.

Through its advocacy and outreach, Global Citizen connects people on big issues through a mix of content, events, grassroots efforts and social media. Its Global Citizen Festival works with some of the biggest musical artists, including Beyonce, Coldplay, Pearl Jam, Demi Lovato and others, to help raise activism and awareness, especially on the issue of poverty. So it seems natural that the organization would utilize pop tunes to forward its messages.

What they did was take top 40 hits and rework them with different lyrics on subjects like trying to reach congress, women’s rights and food waste. The first was inspired by Adele’s “Hello”.

Liann Kaye, head of video at Global Citizen, said it started with someone on their policy team after Trump announced his executive order on immigration.

“They wanted to reach someone in congress, and (after not being able to get through) said it felt like Adele singing ‘Hello,'" said Kaye.

From that spark, the team got together and thought it would be a great idea to rewrite the popular ballad with lyrics that showed how frustrating it is to get through to congress, but with an outcome of people getting motivated to call and talk with their representatives about their issues.

“My sister is a musician in New York City and in a pop band called San Fermin, Charlene Kaye,” she said, noting that she helped rewrite the lyrics to some of the songs, including this gem from the Adele spoof:

“Till you listen to us

We’ll never leave you alone

But when I call Paul Ryan

He never seems to be home.”

The organization had to clear the lyrics with the policy team to make sure it fell under being a political spoof rather than being partisan.

“We’re a non-profit. We can’t campaign against politicians,” said Liann Kaye, noting that it’s only acceptable if a politician crosses one of their red line issues, and in this case, Paul Ryan “literally cut his phone lines."

Added Madge Thomas, deputy director-global policy and advocacy at Global Citizen: “We can get away with a more playful tone. We’re not directly targeting anyone.”

That Adele video, released on the Global Citizen website, Facebook and YouTube, has garnered 3.7m views on Facebook alone and has led to several smart spoofs, including “If Bruno Mars’s ‘That’s What I Like’ was About Women’s Rights” (4.2m views) and “If Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ was About Food Waste” (2.8m views).

While the videos are smart and entertaining, they also have a point beyond just awareness. Each of the videos are tied to a content piece about the issue and an action that viewers can take to help move each of them forward.

For example, the Adele video drove over 80,000 actions around the refugee travel ban, while the Bruno Mars video sparked nearly 90,000 actions to empower women and girls around the world, and the Ed Sheeran effort drove 64,000 actions calling on the EU to cut food waste in half by 2030.

Since the Facebook videos play on silent, the crew tries to make them look as much as the original music video as possible, which catches their eye. Then when they watch and listen, they engage and hopefully click through to activate.

“Global Citizen has always been an organization at the top of policy and pop. We encourage our audience to take action…our audience is already engaged in social issues,” said Kaye, adding that tying a big pop hit to a cause and a motivated audience can be highly effective.

While the Global Citizen fan base leans towards millennials – especially since the company was built through the promotion of a concert with social actions – these now viral videos have appealed to a wide range of ages, showing the power of music reaches across generations.

“From a policy standpoint, we’re trying to get people to learn our issues. We’re communicating complex issues with a simple (music video),” added Thomas.

Since people are taking action after viewing the videos and clicking through to the cause pages, Global Citizen wants to keep making them.

“We’d love it to keep going for a year or two more. There are always new audiences we want to reach, new issues to push. We wouldn’t want to force it from a production or policy stance, especially with changing world we’re living in,” said Thomas, but noted that any new song that becomes an anthem, or when any world event hits, that becomes fair game for the team.

“Our job is to be on top of the cultural conversation globally,” said Kaye.

“It’s great that these have encouraged difficult discussions. It’s an entry point. It’s a way of engaging us more – we get them in a conversation that educates and takes them further down a path that makes them want to be active. These are critical global issues,” concluded Thomas.

Kyle O'Brien

I am a reporter for The Drum covering a wide array of topics but always trying to tell the best stories possible. I am a former west coaster from California and Portland, Oregon, now living in Pennsylvania — with time spent in NYC each week.

I also play saxophone professionally.

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