From a Snapchat discussion with grime artist JME to an on-stage appearance with the Libertines and last weekend’s interview on Copa90, Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaigning has been intense. But irrespective of who you might be planning to vote for on 8 June, the Labour leader’s election journey is also noteworthy for another reason: it marks the emergence of a new era in British media influence.
Politicians have always courted the young and looked to be at one with the masses. But from kissing babies’ heads to Blair’s keepie-ups with Kevin Keegan, they did so via the BBC, ITV or – more recently – Sky News. Until now. For the most thrilling final legs of this general election battle are being played out on a very different media battlefield.
Articulate young grime artist JME cut through the noise with a typically pointed and compelling exchange in which Corbyn came across as not ‘trying’ to be something he wasn’t, but simply positioning his policies in a framework that suited a young grime fan. JME asked the right questions about why people should even register to vote in the first place. And the end result – engaging young people with passion predicated on a political discourse which so often runs concurrent rather than an essential part of their lives – felt healthy and right, as it would for any democracy.
Afterwards, JME got pelters on Twitter with ignorant folk crying foul about celebrity endorsement of political figures. Rightly, the young grime superstar pointed out that he isn’t a celebrity and wasn’t pushing any one party over another on the issue of voter registration – confronting the doubters head-on in social spheres where the trolling was most rife.
Far from staying just in an echo-chamber, the social video spread far and wide into mainstream news narrative. It popped up on the BBC via youth media mainstays like GRM Daily. And it benefited from heavy rotation in editorial via recommendations on YouTube and Snapchat Discover – the new digital home of magazine culture.
It was almost as if, by being so far behind the Conservatives in the opinion polls, the ailing Labour campaign had little to lose. It was, perhaps, this same philosophy that prompted Corbyn to walk out on stage before a recent Libertines concert. And then again when Copa90 interviewed Corbyn at Hackney Marshes on a scorching Saturday morning in late May.
Billed as 'Corbyn and Chill', the interview snaked around such subjects from ‘Wenger In or Wenger Out’, to the influence of grime music on the British youth and comparing a possible Labour victory to Liverpool’s unlikely turnaround of the Champions League final in Istanbul.
Copa90’s Poet and Vuj are the masters of accessible interviewing. They achieve this by breaking down every possible parameter and convention by creating a hugely relaxing – even fun – environment for people to divulge information outside of the normal media straightjacket. And Corbyn’s interview is an exchange which – just like his Libertines appearance and the JME discussion – resonates. It has meaning for a young Generation Z audience. And it will live on YouTube channels, through native content on Facebook and across multiple digital places and locations.
From grime to indie music to an online sports network in just a matter of days, Corbyn has charted a sophisticated media map not easy to tick boxes with and demanding of time. He has done so to put politics on the map for a disaffected, disenfranchised youth who are accused of apathy but are often anything but. And the tactics he is using are the modern media mix; the modern use of talent.
Today, our heroes live in four dimensions. Artists like Stormzy have risen to worldwide notice scoring Number One albums through a combination of incredible work ethic, pop-up gigs on street corners, dominance of every social platform and friends with influence unashamedly pushing album links.
Meanwhile, today’s football heroes are now super heroes. They are made into modern day deities through immortalisation via Fifa games, where you can play impossible-looking roles and out of this world skills with life-like imitation. With every goal, they are further elevated towards martyrdom and sainthood. And with their graphical assets becoming memes, they travel and are re-purposed into different channels and platforms.
This is the modern way. We’re in a new world; a new era. But often what gets forgotten is how to operate in this new media space with sophistication and skill. It might be that Corbyn’s campaign team had to try something new and or different. Whatever the necessity or motivation, however, the result is clear as a more modern blueprint for harnessing true influence in the UK right now emerges.
What an exciting time we live in.
James Kirkham is Head of Copa 90